Word to the Wise: Reviewing Linux Word Processors - page 5
Introducing Our Series
Applix Words is a product from another long-standing supporter of the Linux productivity desktop: Applix. In just the past few days, Applix has spun its Linux division off into a subsidiary named VistaSource and seeded the new company with $6 million to get it underway. It will be interesting to note what this means for a line of products that have always had the respect, if not the enthusiasm, of the Linux community.
Applix Words usually appears as part of the larger Applixware office suite, but it's also available as a standalone product as of version 5. This is a welcome variation. Customers who might blanch at the thought of paying $100 for a complete suite (no matter how reasonable that sounds after dealing with the +$200 world of Windows packages), or don't want the bulk of extraneous applications should welcome a full-featured $50 word processor.
One additional new wrinkle in Applix Words is the adaptation of the Open-Source GTK programming toolkit, which is an interesting departure from OSF/Motif. We'll explore that change a little later in the review.
Applix Words held up well to our testing when it came to the features we considered high end. Though we're not sure how we feel about the ongoing and apparently unstoppable convergence between desktop publishing and word processing, Applix Words delivered in this category.
We were able to create multicolumn layouts with column-spanning headlines. Graphics in a number of common formats were easy to integrate into the text.
One area on the high end where Applix didn't fare as well was in the more precise typesetting-oriented features. We couldn't adjust kerning or leading. While we tend to look on these features as closer to cruft than to enhancements, some have come to depend on them.
Looking at Applix Words as a mid-to-low level package, we were even more impressed. Mail merge was available from plain text or other Word files, and it was simple to set up after brief consultation with the help and a look at the self-documenting merge template files. Formatting commands on a variety of levels were easy to understand and use. Applix Words also boasts a usable and flexible level of control over styles. We were able to use the styles provided with little trouble, and it was easy to create and modify new ones of our own. Headers and footers were also pleasantly easy to control with the Quick Header and Footer options.
We were also happy that Applix Words ran as smoothly as it did, which makes it an easy recommendation for the user who might have less complex needs. Users tapping the low end of its feature set won't be put off by a lengthy start time or an interface that seems over-cluttered with unneeded features. Despite the large and useful feature set, it's easy to relate to this word processor comfortably after a very little time in front of it. We noted that it was tested for use on Pentium 166s and have no reason to believe it wouldn't perform respectably well on them.
In all, Applix Words was able to perform every general task we had for it with little trouble. Everyone from the "power user" to a college student working on simple papers will find adequate support with this package, and those who are just typing letters or notes will be pleased with how simply and quickly it runs.
Interface and Use
Taken on its own merits, Applix Words was easy to understand and use. The online documentation was useful and clear. When we installed the package, we were offered a choice of "Classic" or industry-standard (which we took to mean Microsoft Word) interfaces. Even though the "Classic" interface was generally easy to pick up, the newer, Word-like option will make Words even easier for a transitioning office worker to learn with little fuss.
The use of GTK as the toolkit for Words was welcome, as well. Though not particularly obsessed with theming or particularly upset with products that have stuck with Motif, we enjoyed the fact that use of the default GTK theme, or one of the lighter-weight alternatives, made for a responsive application.
We would have been content to enjoy having a more integrated-looking application, but we were really impressed when we discovered that Words is also drag-and-drop compatible with the GNOME Midnight Commander file manager. We were able to introduce graphics into our test files from gmc with ease.
Applix Words has never seemed to enjoy the enthusiasm of the Linux community. Because it tends to lack some of the more sophisticated features high-end professionals look for, there's a disturbing tendency to write it off as unsuited for "serious" work.
The fact remains, Applix has produced an outstanding all-around word processor. The smooth and responsive performance, coupled with integration with the GNOME desktop, a respectable featureset, and good online documentation are a sure indicator that VistaSource has a good start as they move more aggressively into the Linux space.
We recommend Applix Words for all levels of users.
Homepage: The VistaSource web site at www.vistasource.com
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