Tom's Definitive Linux Software Roundup: Office Applications

Word Processors

The foremost criteria for word processor inclusion is MS Word .doc compatibility. Being able to collaborate or just share with other users, many of whom likely use MS Office on a Windows machine, is essential. Not being able to do so is a deal-breaking situation for most. To test compatibility with MS Word .doc files, I found a test .doc online which includes a number of different formatting options. This is not an extremely complicated document, nor is it in the newer .docx file type. It simply includes a number of different headers, footers, indents, lists, bullets, colors, tables, etc. Nothing super fancy, just the stuff that appears in everyone's documents.

In order to apply a quick test on performance, I used the .odt file for this article, which is rather large and contains complex formatting. This article was also saved as a .doc in each app, to test backwards compatibility into MS Word 2007.

OO.o Writer (v.3.0.1)

OO.o Writer is the fastest and most responsive word processor available for Linux today. By the time I added many of the icons and links to this article, all other word processors became sluggish, unresponsive, and in some cases even crashed.

Writer's feature set is also unparalleled, with functionality near that of MS Word 2007. It also has a pleasantly familiar user interface which makes it a natural fit for anyone who has used any pre-2007 version of MS Word. As far as compatibility, Writer opened the test .doc file, only displaying minor differences from Word. There were two numerals that appeared highlighted that shouldn't have been. In one cell of a table, the bottom border lost some thickness. When this article was saved as a .doc and opened in Word 2007, the tables lost all borders and links embedded in the pictures did not make the transition.

Unless you're constrained to a larger organization's software environment, or your .docs have extremely intricate formatting, Writer is professional-ready software.




TextMaker (2008 Trial Edition)

This article, which has a ton of images and hyperlinks, caused TextMaker to experience some scroll-lag when fully loaded, but the document did load rather quickly and it displayed all elements properly. Image sharpness in TextMaker is fantastic; it's even better-looking than in OO.o Writer.

TextMaker also handled the test .doc file flawlessly. In the trial version, I was unable to save a document as a .doc file, so I could not test cross-compatibility. My only real issue with TextMaker was the small size of the icons in the toolbars. If you're like me and do not care about MS Word compatibility, and mostly print or export documents to PDF, you can't beat OO.o Writer's price tag.




AbiWord (v. 2.6.6)

AbiWord is one of the oldest Linux word processors still being actively developed and has the cleanest interface in this category. Abi does have a rock solid backup system which creates a documentname.extension.SAVED file, in the event of an unexpected halt or interruption. This feature actually saved my work multiple times, but unfortunately, it was AbiWord's Insert/Symbol function that caused all of the crashes.

Another feature that left me with mixed feelings was the default view being Page Width. While this improves on-screen readability, it tends to distort the perceived font size. Fortunately, this can be easily changed from a drop-down box in the standard toolbar. I began writing this article in AbiWord, but was forced to switch back to OO.o due to severe slowdown caused by Abi's overzealous grammar checker. It saw every period as the end of a sentence, and that's problematic for a technology writer (e.g. OO.o, .exe, .zip).

Another mark against AbiWord is that it uses its own .abw file type by default. It does so even though it can open, edit, and save a plethora of other document formats, including the industry standard MS Word .doc and the preferred .odt open document standard. Links embedded within pictures and picture-to-text alignment did not survive the transition from the AbiWord .doc file to MS Word 2007. If you seldom create new documents, yet still need more than the barebones feature set of a text editor, AbiWord is a good option.



KWord (v. 1.6.3)

KWord is fast. It's probably the fastest-loading and maybe the most responsive word processor in the roundup. This was despite the fact that I was running KWord in Ubuntu with GNOME. It should run even more smoothly from its native KDE GUI.

One feature that sets KWord apart from the pack is the document structure sidebar that breaks down documents into elements (text, tables, images) and sorts them in a file tree. This could come in handy for large or complex documents with multiple elements, or when using a template.

The first issue that I noticed in KWord was pretty major. It broke up and hyphenated large words at the end of a line, auto- matically...yikes! The second issue was that image quality was noticeably poor when compared to the other word processors in this roundup. Again, this isn't nearly as apparent when run from within KDE. The overall pixelized look of the document did transfer to MS Word 2007 from KWord's saved .doc file. Like AbiWord, the links and formatting of pictures did not carry over. On a more positive note, the hyphenation of words at the end of a line didn't carry over either. Overall, this isn't my first choice in word processors.

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62 comments
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  • ksa-_-jed
    And don't bother looking for any anti-virus becuase you don't need it or cracks for your software becuase almost all app are free !!!!!!!
    -5
  • DjEaZy
    ... for my laptop @ work the only licensed thing are win7hp and KAV... all other apps are free... infrerecorder, inkskape, OOo and so on...
    5
  • bloody llama
    Open Office and the other open source software are great for what they are, but try replacing Access 2007 or 2010 with something open source, and you'll be tearing your hair out.
    0
  • jsowoc
    I assume that OO 3.0.1 is what you have in the repositories - was that the reason for testing the older version (version 3.2 came out two months ago)?
    1
  • JonathanDeane
    bloody llamaOpen Office and the other open source software are great for what they are, but try replacing Access 2007 or 2010 with something open source, and you'll be tearing your hair out.


    This is very true, I love Open Office and for my home use it does 100% of what I would use MS Office for, that being said if I had to run a business on it I am afraid it would be worth it to pony up the dough for an MS product.
    1
  • ejmarkow
    Tom's Hardware omitted the best performing, most comprehensive, free and Open Source Accounting ERP software available for download. It's called "xTuple ERP PostBooks Edition" and utilizes PostgreSQL. This software is capable of running anything from a small to large business. Link: http://www.xtuple.org
    -3
  • killerclick
    We installed Linux and OOo into one of our offices (sort of an experiment to cut costs) and it was a riot. Not that Linux and OOo are bad, it's just that the power of habit is too strong to break when Windows and Linux are concerned. Windows and OS/X... not so much apparently.
    -3
  • Anonymous
    Open Source is the future. ...... companies that profit millions or billions off of proprietary software. They are what hold us back.
    5
  • randomizer
    killerclickWindows and OS/X... not so much apparently.

    Well it's not like Office on Windows and Mac are vastly different, I'd hope that users would feel comfortable using the exact same software...

    I must attest to the uselessness of OOo Calc though. It needs a ground-up rewrite. It's slow to load and process even a small to moderately sized amount of data and charts are slow to redraw when altered. I have not tested GNUMeric enough to comment on that but it's supposedly alot faster.

    I'm interested in looking at those project management programs. There's also OpenProj to add to the list.
    2
  • haplo602
    hmm ... not my area of software, I try to avoid office apps as much as I can, but last time I worked in Writer/Calc it was slow and unresponsive. The best thing in Writer was the TeX like equation editor, way better than what MS had to offer. I think they made some progress on OOo since that time, so I'd have to test.
    0
  • Tjik
    Adding Inkscape to the productivity set and you've got a really strong offer.

    A note about Scribus: I don't how rich set of PDF tools MS Publisher has, but with Scribus you're able to create active PDF elements, optional JavaScript control of these elements, without having to buy Adobe editing software. In contrast to Adobe's software (I think this still applies) you can create whatever you want from a clean sheet. It looks simpler but when you start to dig deeper there are tons of options and possibilities.

    When it comes to productivity it's hard to beat LaTeX. Word processors are clumsy beasts, not automatically producing good documents. Linux is a better platform for LaTeX.
    3
  • mitch074
    Scribus almost as good as MS Publisher? What are you smoking?!

    OK, to be fair, quality-wise there are three products at the top: Quark Xpress, MS Publisher and Scribus. However...
    - MS Publisher sucks when you send the file to a print shop: they don't like it. They scoff at it. It sucks for professional jobs. I cite my print agent here.
    - the Postscript and colour management code in MS Publisher is so far from the two others that, if you want reliable results, ... you simply won't use it. Scribus allows you to manually set the colour space of each and every element on your document, which is a MUST for professional printing, and has so many PDF export options (including a debugger, a MUST to ensure no transparency elements remain on the document and that all glyphs in custom fonts are exported with it).

    Scribus is bare when you open it: that's NORMAL. You want to see the documents, not the template collections MS Publisher feeds you.

    Next, Koffice and its document explorer: that's what Navigator in OOo is for. It used to be open by default in OOo, but MS Word users got so distracted by it they asked OOo to have it closed by default in version 2.0. Koffice didn't get the message.

    Font rendering in OOo: A complete rewrite happened between versions 2.4 and 3.1. 3.0 had most of the code in place, but it was deactivated. Versions 3.1.1 and 3.2 have nicely hinted, antialiased output.

    Database front-ends: OOo base has one very nice feature, in that it can draw interfaces on top of external databases. While Access allows you to create all-in-one files (forms and data in the same package), Base allows you to create forms that are actually Writer documents hitting on, say, a MySQL DB.

    Spreadsheet: Calc is the part that got the most work in version 3.2. You may actually forget about older versions, OOo Calc 3.2 is a different app altogether.

    Grisbi has one nice thing going for it: it's developed in cooperation with the French Ministry of Finance (through APRIL). GNU Cash is more US-based. If you're not French, Grisbi has no advantage over GNU Cash. If you are, though, Grisbi is damn cool.
    4
  • adamovera
    randomizerWell it's not like Office on Windows and Mac are vastly different, I'd hope that users would feel comfortable using the exact same software...I must attest to the uselessness of OOo Calc though. It needs a ground-up rewrite. It's slow to load and process even a small to moderately sized amount of data and charts are slow to redraw when altered. I have not tested GNUMeric enough to comment on that but it's supposedly alot faster.I'm interested in looking at those project management programs. There's also OpenProj to add to the list.

    Doh! Good catch, yeah it looks like OpenProj should have been here. This story has been in the system so long I forgot to give you a heads up that it came out today. Next time I'll be sure to link you to the preview before it hits.
    0
  • adamovera
    jsowocI assume that OO 3.0.1 is what you have in the repositories - was that the reason for testing the older version (version 3.2 came out two months ago)?

    The office suites and the word procs, spreadsheets, and presentation apps were done first - like several months ago before Communications Apps published - Ubuntu 9.04 repos. Good news is that the links are to the latest stable versions, so ya'll might not have the issues I did with the older versions.
    0
  • Bolbi
    "But what value has MS Office really added in the past decade?"
    As opposed to OpenOffice.org (which I really HAVE used extensively), MS Office loads much quicker. But the main plus that OpenOffice.org just can't overcome is the huge MS collection of clipart, photos, etc. I tried importing OpenClipart into OpenOffice, but there's no way to search it, and so you have to scroll through thousands of images to find the one you're looking for. Not fun. Creating cards with Word? Developing a website with Expression Web? I need that clipart!
    -1
  • randomizer
    mitch074Spreadsheet: Calc is the part that got the most work in version 3.2. You may actually forget about older versions, OOo Calc 3.2 is a different app altogether.

    And it's still horribly slow. For production environments you'd spend more time waiting for it to redraw a chart than you would actually getting work done. I have little or no problem with other OOo components (bar subjective preferences) but Calc just isn't up to par performance-wise. The addition of antialiasing was a much-needed feature so it's good that they added that. Charts (particularly line graphs) without AA are hideous to say the least.

    adamoveraDoh! Good catch, yeah it looks like OpenProj should have been here. This story has been in the system so long I forgot to give you a heads up that it came out today. Next time I'll be sure to link you to the preview before it hits.

    Haha, no problem. I'll just bug you more often to see if there's anything in the pipe :D
    -1
  • mayne92
    I love Linux articles! However, besides that...nice article Adam and the references to the others. I will have to read them later :D
    -1
  • adamovera
    TjikAdding Inkscape to the productivity set and you've got a really strong offer.A note about Scribus: I don't how rich set of PDF tools MS Publisher has, but with Scribus you're able to create active PDF elements, optional JavaScript control of these elements, without having to buy Adobe editing software. In contrast to Adobe's software (I think this still applies) you can create whatever you want from a clean sheet. It looks simpler but when you start to dig deeper there are tons of options and possibilities.When it comes to productivity it's hard to beat LaTeX. Word processors are clumsy beasts, not automatically producing good documents. Linux is a better platform for LaTeX.

    Inkscape is in the next segment - Multimedia Apps (Video/Audio/Images). I'm sure if I used Scribus more that I would find more positives to it, but ease-of-use is a big issue for people coming from the MS sandbox, and the thing about publisher was "Oh snap, it's who's birthday today?!?" and within five minutes you've made a card. But hey, Scribus is the only game in town and not bad at all considering the price tag, especially since Publisher is now $170 (considerably more than it was when I used it - like double!).
    0
  • Miharu
    For normal user, perhaps OpenOffice is a good alternative.
    But I feel MS Office product have more stuff and you really appreciate it when you know how to use it.

    I have tried OpenOffice since everyone said is a good alternative.
    After few tests, I perfer paid for something good than a open source.
    -Things like Access turn very badly. (weird format understand by OpenOffice only. You can't do multi-platform db.)
    -MS Doc have some notable differency. Just open the same .doc in MS Office and OpenOffice, you'll find many differency. This could be really trouble some when you want the same thing everywhere.

    But my point is just on "most valuable MS Office Product" (Word, Excel and Access). You can use alternative like OpenOffice for others products.
    0
  • randomizer
    MiharuJust open the same .doc in MS Office and OpenOffice, you'll find many differency.

    Unfortunately that's because the developers have to reverse engineer the format due to its proprietary nature. If something like OpenDocument Format was used there would be no such cross-compatibility issues because the standard is there to read by anyone, including Microsoft. But so far MS have refused to implement OpenDocument properly.
    0