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The StartX Files: Word to the Wise: KWord's Quest for Completion
November 6, 2001
There is, at least in the United States, a certain rite of passage that most boys undergo around the age of nine. There is no name for this rite, really, but it is pretty common in most parts of the country, as anxious little boys huddle near the fence at the back of the playground so the little girls (and the grown-up teachers) won't hear what they are talking about.
It is about this time that boys begin to figure out that it's them against the rest of the world and that the girls (and their sissy ways) are going to figure heavily in some mysterious way in their future. This is unsettling news, and many boys tend to go into a state of denial and throw the dodge balls even harder at those same girls. At the same time, they try to build their own egos as much as possible. Which leads us to the rite of passage I mentioned: the "My Ancestry is Better than Yours" Rite.
The rules of this rite are simple: you gather in a group and tell the rest of the group some obscure bit of your family history that relates you to some cool ethnic group. Invariably, someone in the group always proclaims that they are part-Indian (usually Cherokee or Apache) and the rest of the boys whisper in hushed, awed tones how cool that boy must be.
Wanting to be cool myself, I went home and inquired where my own family was from.
Needless to say, my rite of passage did not go well. When asked the next day where my family roots were from, I made one serious error in my revelation: I told the truth.
"Well, part of my family is from England..." This immediately brought howls of derision. England, it seemed, were the bad guys that we Americans had to fight in the revolutionary war. There was nothing cool about being English. They talked funny, my classmates declared, and all they ate were fish and chips.
(Before any Brits jump down my throat, remember: Fourth Grade, Indiana. 'Nuff said.)
The ridiculing went on for quite some time, so much so that I declined to share with them the other half of my family tree: that we were also descended from Swiss Mennonites. If these guys nailed me for fish and chips, you could imagine the cheese jokes that would come from admitting Swiss ancestry.
So, while the other boys had Indian, German, Italian, and other "cool" ethnic backgrounds, I was burdened with British/Swiss, which essentially barred me from this particular rite.
Recently, the English background served my in better stead, as it allowed me to wear my first kilt at a black tie function with a Scottish theme. I figured that since my grandfather's family could be traced back to England, there had to be some Scots blood in me somewhere. So I rented a kilt, with the whole Prince Charles jacket, and went to the party with my lovely wife. And, out of 500 guests, including the governor of Indiana, I was the only one wearing the kilt (except for the guy hired to play the bagpipes).
I am too old to feel full-fledged embarrassment, though it was somewhat awkward at times as I watched peoples' eyes catch my eye, then drop down to my legs and back up again. Luckily, I have a damn nice set of gams, so they could stare all they want.
This feeling of awkwardness has passed, as the kilt is on its way back to the rental agency. But it was soon rekindled when I sat down to look at KWord this week for the next installment of this Word to the Wise series.
The Quest For Success
Before I launch into my look at KWord, a brief program note for those of you who are waiting for my column on HancomWord: keep waiting. The public beta for HancomOffice 2.0 was launched last week, but I had some problems getting it to run. I don't think this is an application problem (though I am casting a suspicious eye at the installation documentation on the HancomLinux Web site), just an installer's problem. The solution actually came to me last night at 2:41 in the morning, but by that time I had already moved on to KWord.
There is no denying that KWord (and the rest of the KOffice suite) has made some significant strides in its evolution to KOffice 1.1. The interface is well-integrated with the K Desktop Environment, as you would expect, and the application itself is fast and stable.
You can hear the "but" just screaming to be let out now, right?
But, I am sad to say, there is still quite a bit to be done with this word processor before it could be considered a first-class product.
This is the source of the awkwardness I have while writing this column. I like KDE and I really want to see KWord and the rest of KOffice to succeed. Some would argue that this makes me a biased journalist, but they should keep in mind that while I am writing under this byline, this is an opinion column.
That being said, what was it I did not like about KWord?
From a tool level, this application is a bit on the light side when stacked up against contenders like OpenOffice and AbiWord. Right away, I had problems with the navigation icon bar that sits off to the left side of every KOffice screen to let you access either KOffice components or documents. This is a really good idea, but in practice it proved awkward, because in KWord there are additional tools over on the very far left of the screen. I clicked the navigation bar twice accidentally while working in KWord, and ended up with extra open documents that I did not need.
It would have been okay if I could have figured out how to make this go away, but I was not able to figure that out. So I was left begrudging the valuable screen real estate being hogged by this bar.
Font support was okay, in that the fonts were anti-aliased as they should be. But the display was really small by default. Trying to read 10-point type at 100% was a squinting exercise. There are ways to adjust this semi-permanently, but a new user will balk at having to figure them out.
File management was one area where KWord seemed to do better at. Opening existing or creating new documents was a snap and easy to manage, as I really liked the comprehensive dialog KWord has to create new documents. I did find a glitch in the filtering process, however. Word documents could not be opened with the Open tool, but you could get them open with the New tool. According to KWord developer David Faure, this is due to a glitch if you have the binary that was compiled in kdelibs-2.1. He recommends that you recompile the app under kdelibs-2.2.
Speaking of filters, yes, KWord will open a Word document, and other proprietary formats as well--but it will just do that. Styles came across in name only and were not accurately conveyed in KWord. Revision marks and other collaborative features were also lost. Saving back to Word is impossible, as you can only save to KWord's format and AbiWord.
There were a lot of little things like this that added up to give me a real sense of incompleteness about this application. If someone asked me if I would recommend it now, I would have to politely say no.