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The StartX Files: Word to the Wise: Wrapping Up and Picking a Winner - page 2

None Dare Call it Settling

  • November 30, 2001
  • By Brian Proffitt

Available from: http://www.abisource.com
Version reviewed: 0.7.14 for Linux/Intel
Version currently available: 0.9.4 for Linux/Intel
License: GNU General Public License
Cost: Free to download as binary or source

Of course, looking at the AbiWord 0.7.14 release for Linux, you'll immediately notice the interface's similarity to Word. Built with the GTK libraries, AbiWord molds very well into the GNOME 1.4 interface on which it was tested. (It also worked well on the KDE2 environment, though there were some screen refresh problems in the left-margin ruler.)

This level of detail shows up throughout the application. There are features missing from AbiWord (some of them that I believe are fundamental) but only once did I see evidence of this in the interface itself. Besides this one glitch, the menus and toolbars were seamless in form and functionality.

AbiWord has some font problems apart from the inheritance of Linux's font issues. Most glaring was the program's complete crash whenever I tried to apply color to any passage of text. This is that glitch I was talking about earlier. Now, in fairness, the version number does indicate a pre-production product, and if this is the only glitch to be found (and for me it was), then AbiWord can be forgiven the slip-up.

Printer support was seamless with the printer queues I had set up, and color support was available, too.

Overall, the tools presented in the two main toolbars were the usual gamut of word processing tools. There was even an Extra toolbar where applied font features like strikethrough and line spacing and leading buttons resided. I missed the ability to customize the toolbars, but only a little bit.

Image insertion needs a bit more help, since you can only insert aniline images, and only .png, .bmp, and .svg formatted-images at that. Hey, I'm all for the GIF boycott, but if you're going to let bitmaps in, why not GIFs and JPEGs? Autotext insertion was available, too, though there was no way to customize the passages. Style formatting is on the menu, but according to the message dialog box that pops up, it is not available yet. Tab management is in place, and works pretty well.

What leaped out at me as a fundamental feature that needs to be added was table creation. There was simply nothing along these lines, which is unfortunate. I hope AbiWord adds this functionality soon. Also on my wish list is indexing and table of contents creation and revision marks. There's no grammar checker or thesaurus, either, but it'll be cold day in you-know-where before I'll wish for those.

One feature that AbiWord has that Word will never have is the ability to emulate the vi and Emacs keyboards, making it a nice migration point for those of you who are text editor jockeys.

An area where AbiWord really shines is file compatibility: all sorts of open and common file formats are used by this application. Even the AbiWord native format (.abw) is XML-based, so could easily be picked up by other applications' filters, should their developers put forth a little effort. Until then, rich text format documents can be opened, as well as: .rft, .txt, utfs, .html, .wml, .dbk, and Word's .doc. The DocBook functionality made me giddy, and you can save files in that format, as well. You can save in all of these formats I've listed, save the .doc format. But what really filled me with glee is the fact that you can also save documents in LaTeX format and PalmPilot .pdb format, giving you a lot of mobility for your words.

And speaking of mobility, recall that I mentioned HTML formatting. AbiWord does a nice job of creating simple Web pages without (thank the Deity of your choice) all of that extra nonsense Word shoves into its HTML documents.

AbiWord is a word processor that in a few respects looks it 0.7.14 version-age. And there's no getting around it, these shortcomings will need to be fixed before version 1.0. But there are a lot of areas where AbiWord has positioned itself very well against the product it is emulating. I look forward to seeing more out of this strong open source project.

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