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That being said, I would STRONGLY recommend that you use styles. Styles make writing documents MUCH EASIER. It's true that Microsoft Word's styles cause serious problems, but this is a failure of Word, not of styles. Some versions of Microsoft Word actively fight against people who try to use styles by "making up" its own styles "automatically" -- which means you spend all your time undoing its "smart" actions. But if you reconfigure Word to stop doing this, or use a better program, it's not a problem.
Most writers have switched to using styles. Give them a chance with a program that's good at them; I think you'll find they're very helpful.
I once used Word Perfect, and OpenOffice.org works just as well in terms of starting from a "blank sheet". The one thing I miss from Word Perfect is "reveal codes". Neither Word nor Writer have it (both can reveal SOME things, and Writer's in particular is helpful, but it's not quite the same).
If you REALLY want "reveal codes", you can unzip the OpenOffice.org file and edit the raw text, but that's an extreme way to get it.
I do know that there is a project to add "reveal codes" to OpenOffice.org, I don't know how far they are.
I use both Word and OpenOffice.org... at short sizes, it's hard to say either has an advantage. As they get longer, Word gets left behind.
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