April 18, 2014

Word to the Wise: Reviewing Linux Word Processors - page 7

Introducing Our Series

  • May 4, 2000
  • By Michael Hall

We would never claim that our survey represents the entire field of available editors and word processors. The Linux word processing and editing scene is as rich and diverse as the rest of the Linux world. We looked at a few other packages worth your consideration.

GNU Emacs and Xemacs
Emacs and its GUI-oriented sibling Xemacs enjoy a long pedigree in the UNIX/Linux text-processing world. Though it isn't appropriate to consider them "word processors," they offer a variety of features common to the genre plus a few extras. Both, for instance, offer basic text formatting (centering, justification, bold, underline, italics) and Postscript output.

If you prefer to use a structured markup language like LaTeX or generally prepare content for the Web with HTML, they offer support for both, including helpful syntax highlighting. They also both offer version control, helpful for authors of documents that are shared or change quite a bit; rich search and replace features; and access to spell-checking mode. One package, flyspell mode, even offers the "on-the-fly" spell-checking/typo highlighting that's become so popular in recent years.

If you need to prepare heavily formatted documents without using a markup language, Xemacs and Emacs aren't very good choices. On the other hand, if you work in an environment where you need to prepare text efficiently and with good support features, they excel. If you work in a fairly heterogeneous environment where you share basic text with coworkers, they may also be worth a look.

Donald Knuth's TeX and Leslie Lamport's extensions to that formatting language, LaTeX, have long been a favorite of academic writers who prefer a structure-based approach to document preparation. As opposed to word processors, which focus on the design of a document, TeX and LaTeX allow authors to merely mark up structural elements, freeing the author to concentrate more fully on the content of the documents.

LyX (and its KDE port KLyX) is a graphical front-end to LaTeX, which allows users the sort of GUI controls they might prefer, as well as more immediate feedback on the appearance of their document.

Though it isn't necessary to understand LaTeX to make either of these programs work, it helps. Their structurally-based approach to documents means that they'll throw a few curves to the inexperienced user who's used to making all the decisions about document appearance. On the other hand, once you learn to stop fighting their control of appearance and start appreciating the time you have to simply write content, you may find they beat the word processor you've been using hands down.

KWord: Part of KOffice
KWord is part of the KOffice suite, which, in turn, will be part of KDE 2 when it's released later this year. A lot of excitement and anticipation are centered around the release of KOffice, and KWord looks to be a genuinely powerful word processor with some high-end features that will make it appropriate to most desktop-publishing tasks.

One of the key features of KWord is its orientation toward using frames for layout and design, which is shares with the popular Adobe Framemaker.

Unfortunately, KWord (and the rest of KOffice) is still of alpha quality right now. The FAQ on the software's Web site is careful to point out that KWord isn't suitable for much more than writing letters or other small projects. Getting KWord isn't quite as simple, either. Having a working installation of KDE 2 is necessary to use the binary releases that have been made available.

Dodging them all for a real alternative
As mentioned a few paragraphs up the page, word processing isn't only way to prepare documents. Structured markup languages like LaTeX or the less well-known but featureful lout provide a way to produce high quality documents that free you to consider what you're saying, not how it looks. As a side benefit, they don't require anything besides a reference on how to apply their particular markup and a simple text editor. While you may not have the clout (or the chutzpah) to walk into a secretarial pool and announce that you're moving them all over to vi and LaTeX, you may want to consider structured markup languages as an option for yourself.

And Final Proof that Open Sourcers are "Chasing the Taillights"
The cries of "foul!" that went up when Microsoft's Steve Ballmer suggested that Open Source and Free Software developers have been relegated to "chasing the taillights" of the likes of Microsoft were ignored by one developer, who brought the UNIX world vigor, which manages to provide the sort of functionality Linux users have been missing all along. If StarOffice just doesn't have that extra "oomph," if Emacs seems lightweight; or if Applix Words just feels skimpy... fire up vigor: it's faster than dual-booting.


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