Word to the Wise: Reviewing Linux Word Processors - page 8
Introducing Our Series
This is a great time to be a Linux user if you're the type who's ever wanted polished productivity applications. Those with no qualms about running proprietary commercial software have their pick of several good entries. Free (as in libre) software enthusiasts get to witness an Open Source insurgency that may rid the entire community of the tendency to treat any commercial venture into the Linux desktop as a messiah. Either way, the future for Linux on the desktop is bright.
All that said, it's inevitable that comparisons be made and winners named. Read on... there may be a few surprises.
Best of Class: High End
Though troubled by the feeling of bulk and outright clunkiness, we give the nod to StarWriter, which boasted the best ratio of features to stability to cost. StarWriter will be right at home on any corporate desktop, and does an all-around good job mimicking most of the features people have come to expect (right or wrong) from the desktop publisher/word processor hybrids that make up the best of commercial word processors.
We thought, going in, that we'd likely call things in favor of Word Perfect 9, which has the richest featureset of any we looked at. Unfortunately, stability issues got in the way of our initial enthusiasm. We expect that as Corel works out the issues with the WINE libraries and folds customer feedback into the next release, we'll see a better product. Stability and speed keep us from recommending it over the other entries.
Applix Words is another close contender. We like how lightweight and responsive it is, and had little to complain about. The highest-end features aren't there, though. This aside, though, those making software procurement decisions might want to consider this as an alternative if a word processor, not a desktop publisher, is what's required.
Best of Class: Midrange
If Applix Words didn't have quite enough "stuff" to put it past StarOffice in the high-end feature wars, it certainly came out shining in the midrange tests. We can easily imagine the average corporate word processor user making a smooth and easy transition to Words. It's well-behaved, well-documented, and easy on older hardware.
Word Perfect once again lost out largely due to stability issues. Stability aside, like StarOffice, we didn't like the idea of having to run such a demanding program on the midlevel desktop, where less well-endowed machines still lurk on secretarial desks.
At this level, AbiWord also made a presentable showing in the "high-potential" area. We don't know where this product will end up once it's out of prerelease development, but we saw enough to know that it will likely be a strong contender.
Best of Class: Household and Student
If the task at hand is nothing more than letters or simple papers, there's no reason to spend money or put up with bulk. AbiWord, even in its state of prerelease development, proved reliable and usable. Some pitfalls in the form of "Under Construction" signs here and there may not make it a good choice for inexperienced or easily startled users; but a Linux-savvy user who just needs light formatting capabilities at this point is a perfect fit.
If you're willing to spend less than $50 to get a finished product that shines and seems more likely to go over well with migrating Windows users, Applix Words is probably the best choice. It doesn't misbehave, it doesn't carry a lot of weight, it can run on the kinds of machines you still find in family rooms all over the land, and it offers more than enough features that are easily accessed.
We don't know if there's an "average" user out there, and it's hard to make a call about a best overall word processor. Going into this series, we decided it wouldn't make sense, having carefully delineated between different complexities of task, to crown a clear winner.
On the other hand, if any program among those covered should get the nod, it's likely Applix Words. Anyone with $50 in hand can buy a package that will serve them in just about every capacity except the most specialized or complex. By sidestepping the worst of "feature creep," Words remains fast, stable, and relatively lightweight. By offering some integration with a common and open desktop environment, it hints at the powerhouse desktop Linux has the potential to provide.