April 24, 2019

Word to the Wise: Reviewing Linux Word Processors - page 4

Introducing Our Series

  • May 4, 2000
  • By Michael Hall

AbiWord 0.7.8 is one of two word processors we covered that has an Open-Source license. A visit to the AbiSource website shows there's an active community of developers making continual improvements to what may be one of the most anticipated projects in Linux. AbiWord is also a commercial endeavor, which, combined with its Open-Source license, makes it unique in the field of word processors we surveyed.

AbiWord makes use of the GTK+ programming toolkit, making it cousin to the popular GIMP graphics application and GNOME desktop environment. As a matter of fact, much recent development on this project has occurred in the area of GNOME integration. Indications are AbiWord will be the word processing component of the upcoming GNOME Office suite.

As the version number indicates, AbiWord is still in development and not yet feature-complete. As such, it wasn't able to compete with its larger and more polished competitors, and likely isn't up to much but the lightest requirements. There are also a couple of annoying gaps in the menus where users are invited to contribute missing functionality. This isn't a product to hand over to the office secretary or a novice user with need for advanced features.

Features that are available with this release are the basic text formatting options, the ability to set multiple columns (though without the usual options to draw separator lines or other advanced features), set line spacing, and spell-checking (both on-the-fly and as a function from the menus). In addition, some indentation and orphan control features exist.

AbiWord is also able to read Microsoft rich text format files and Microsoft Word .doc files, and save in rtf, doc, HTML, and LaTeX.

One feature we liked a lot was the ability to set the keyboard to respond to vi or Emacs keybindings while providing friendly and standard GUI dialog boxes in response to such commands as the vi search '/' or the Emacs C-x C-s save command. This may eventually make it a favorite among users who prefer vi or Emacs for general utility editing but want nicely formatted output for the occasions where it's warranted without having to bother with markup in one of the more traditional Linux text formatting languages.

General Use and Interface
AbiWord, in addition to providing its vi and Emacs keyboard emulations, provides the editing and menu access keystrokes users of Microsoft Word will be used to. It was a simple matter to find text within a page, or to cut, copy, or paste text.

AbiWord is also nimble and responsive, loading very quickly and having a small RAM footprint. Because it uses the GTK toolkit, it shares some of the speed problems GTK is known to suffer from when using pixmapped themes. On the other hand, the use of GTK makes AbiWord fit aesthetically on the GNOME desktop--something that seems to matter more often than some purists might consider appropriate.

It seems unfair to put AbiWord up against larger and finished products like some of the other commercial efforts we covered. Despite the current disparity in features, though, AbiWord shows a lot of promise. Its light use of system resources is a big plus we hope continues as development on this project progresses.

Users who only need to perform light correspondence are probably the most likely to use AbiWord at this point in its development. Those who'd like to use a word processor to generate HTML, saving themselves having to mark up basic HTML tags will also find a pleasant enough editor. AbiWord is also a useful tool for those forced to read simple Word documents from their Windows-using colleagues and correspondents from time to time.

We're looking forward to revisiting AbiWord once it's had time to mature a little more, and fulfill more of its promise as a stable, light, quality product.

Available from: http://www.abisource.com
License: GNU General Public License
Cost: Free to download as binary or source


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