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AbiWord: The Underappreciated Word Processor

Collaboration, Speed, Simplicity

  • May 25, 2010
  • By Joe Brockmeier

Network effects being what they are, OpenOffice.org tends to suck all the oxygen out of the room when talking about open source productivity applications. But OpenOffice.org isn't the only game in town for open source word processing. One of the best, if underexposed, open word processors is AbiWord.

AbiWord has been around for ages, but without the weight of a company like Sun behind it, the little word processor has gotten less attention than it deserves. Let's try to remedy that a bit.

Linux users shouldn't need to hunt too hard to get started with AbiWord. All of the major distros have AbiWord packages, just search for "abiword" and grab the packages you want. You might also want to check for additional packages that add functionality to AbiWord, like the grammar plugin (abiword-plugin-grammar) on Ubuntu. Windows users can also find packages, so if you need cross-platform support AbiWord is good to go on at least two of the big three. AbiWord packages for Mac OS X are also available, but they may be a couple of versions behind.

AbiWord isn't quite as full-featured (some might say "bloated") as OpenOffice.org Writer. On the other hand, AbiWord has a few features that you won't find in OpenOffice.org.

Collaboration Features

AbiWord's best feature, hands down, is its collaboration support. When talking about collaboration in other word processors, its dependent on one person working on the document at a time, then sending it to others with markup and comments. AbiWord, on the other hand, provides real-time collaboration.

When using AbiWord you can choose to use the AbiCollab free service, connect to another instance of AbiWord running on someone else's computer, or connect via Jabber (XMPP). I won't go into great detail of each method, but the upshot is that you can work with someone else on a document in real time. If you're preparing a document and want to work with someone else, this is the way to go.

Speed and Simplicity

AbiWord is fast. It's not Vim-fast, but as modern GUI word processors go, it's one of the speediest you'll find.

This is really important if you're working on an older computer (as many Linux users are wont to do) or a netbook with limited resources. AbiWord fires up almost instantly, and it's snappy through and through.

I've also found AbiWord easy and simple to use for simple and straightforward documents. It's easy to find preferences and make changes, the style manager is much simpler to use than OpenOffice.org's, and the interface is a bit less cluttered.

AbiWord's preferences are simple as pie. You can't customize as much in AbiWord as in OpenOffice.org, but users also won't get lost in a twisty maze of preferences. You can enable auto-save, and the intervals to save, spell-checking, turn off smart quotes, and a few other tweaks. One thing that I would like to see is a way to customize the toolbars in AbiWord.

Want to concentrate on writing and nothing but? AbiWord has a nice full-screen mode that's almost as clean as PyRoom. It's a good way to get rid of distractions and focus solely on writing. (Yes, OpenOffice.org also has a similar feature.)

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