What is a Word Processor?

Posted By BrokenClaw on December 1, 2007

A word processor is a computer application used to create and edit any kind of document. Besides letters and reports, modern word processors are sophisticated enough to produce just about any type of professional quality document, including newsletters, pamphlets, brochures, manuals, and even books.

The first word processors in the 1970s were actually stand-alone office equipment intended to replace the typewriter for creating business letters and reports. By the late 1980s they had advanced to the point where they were essentially a computer, with a CPU, computer memory, keyboard, monitor, and disc drive. So it wasn’t long before they got incorporated into the office PC. In other words, it was more efficient to purchase a desktop computer and then add the word processing feature as a program.

The simplest type of word processor is a text editor, which just allows you to type and edit words. Every computer program that allows you to type text has a text editor. Everyone who writes email is familiar with text editing tools which are part of the email program. If you use webmail like Hotmail or Yahoo, you use the text editing tools (Cut, Copy, Paste, Delete) that are built into every browser.

What really defines a word processor, however, is the host of other tools which allow you to change the font (style and size of letters) and color, alignment, and layout by letter, word, sentence, paragraph, or document. Additionally, a word processor allows you to embed tables, charts, graphs, and pictures into the document. They can also check for spelling, grammar, and punctuation errors. The other fundamental feature is the ability to create and store templates, sometimes called boilerplates, to standardize the look and content of letterhead, memos, order forms, contracts, policy and procedure manuals, etc.

A word processor is almost always included with the purchase of new computer. For example, all versions of Windows include Wordpad®. A step up from Wordpad is the word processor in Microsoft Works® or Apple’s iWork®. These packaged programs are scaled-down versions, but they have enough features for printing letters and reports, and for creating simple family, school, church, and other organizational newsletters and bulletins.

In business, a full-featured word processor has been a universal tool for many years. In the 1990s there were dozens of choices for word processing software, with names like WordStar, AppleWriter, ProWrite, WordPerfect, and WordPro. Today, most of them have disappeared and have been replaced with Microsoft Word®. The word processor is essential not only for personnel who create documents on a regular basis, but also for anyone who needs to receive and read electronic documents from within the company and via email.

Professional publishers have always had their own software programs, but full-featured word processors have much of the same functionality, now described as desktop publishing.

A word processor is an integral part of a group of software known collectively as an office suite or productivity suite, which may include a spreadsheet, database, and presentation software. Open Office is a suite of open source applications which is a free alternative to Microsoft Office. More recently, online word processors, part of the phenomenon known as cloud computing, provide another option for casual users.


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