It’s fast to start up, stable, and very easy to navigate. Most major commands are available within a menu of icons at the top of the document window. These include Save, Print, Undo/Redo, Bold and Italic, Left, Centre and Right text alignment and Spelling. There’s also a button labelled Media, which is a direct link to iLife. It lets users access their iPhoto image library from within the application to add images to text. All that’s required is to select the appropriate image and drag and drop it to the text. Images can be resized to fit the page, although text can’t be set to wrap around the image.
FreeText also offers colour, style and font control (using Font Book). The menu bar provides easy access to bullet points, lists, new paragraphs and a selection of ways to present the date and time. Because it’s so easy to understand and navigate, the application is more focused on the specific needs and behaviour of children than most word processors. Documents are saved in RTF, so they can be opened by other applications.
There’s a series of tools that reflect the publisher’s goal of developing educational software that meets real needs. One such utility is the word bank. This is populated with a series of lists: 100, 300, 10,000 words; dinosaurs; and sets of useful words in foreign languages, including French, German and Spanish. Teachers can import new word lists into the application and pupils can assemble their own word lists, which can contain useful phrases and whole sentences.
It would be nice to have a dictionary to help boost word comprehension, but Apple’s built-in dictionary is available. The application also works with OS X’s ‘Services’ feature, the chief utility of which is access; FreeText supports VoiceOver, so pupils can listen to their text being spoken by the computer.
Microsoft Office it’s not – but is that a criticism? For an easy-to-use word processor that won’t confuse children, or force them to become interface experts before the age of seven, FreeText has what it takes. With budgets an ever-present concern for schools, the price is attractive too – you can get a site licence for just under £100. FreeText is also available for Windows.