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Word Processors

Tom's Definitive Linux Software Roundup: Office Applications

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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