Originally Published: Saturday, 9 September 2000 Author: Rob Thomas
Published to: enhance_articles_desktops/General Page: 1/1 - [Printable]

Word Processor Series Part 1: Abiword

The office and word processor market has always been critical to the success of most computer platforms, as most users use these applications more than any other. Many groups of people, both corporations and free software developers, have been working hard to deliver useable word processing solutions to Linux. For the first installment of this Word Processing series, we will take a look at GNOME-Office's Abiword.

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The office and word processor market has always been critical to the success of most computer platforms, as most users use these applications more than any other. Unfortunately, when adventurous Linux users were trying out the alternative operating system on their desktop workstations for the first time, the lack of anything easier to use than the arcane LyX typesetting system was a real disadvantage. However, since then many groups of people, both corporations and free software developers, have been working hard to deliver useable word processing solutions to Linux. The first such application we will review in this word processing series is Abiword, a core component of the GNOME Office Suite. Abiword is actually being developed as part of the AbiSource Project, a project to deliver free open source productivity applications. They are sponsored by the SourceGear Corporation.

First Impressions When you open Abiword for the first time, you are greeted with a familiar word processing interface. In fact, if you have experience using any other popular software package, such as Microsoft Word, you'll recognize most of the toolbar functions. For screenshots of Abiword running on several platforms, refer to AbiSource's Developer page. Being a theme fanatic, I was happy to see that being a GNOME application, Abiword was using the same theme the rest of my Helix GNOME desktop was using. Aesthetics aside, the interface is very clean, organized, and well presented. The application follows good interface guidelines, and provides the user with tooltips for most of the buttons.

Formatting Text Any combination of font or style can be applied to a string of text, or instead a pre-defined style can be used, such as "Heading" or "Block Text". Unfortunately, I could not find any way to modify those definitions, which makes them useless if they don't match exactly the style of text I want to use. The standard bold, italic and underline are available, as well as extra useful styles such as strikeout, superscript, and subscript. Lines can be spaced, columns created, and paragraphs formatted and justified. The user can insert page breaks, create margins, and modify the size of the indentation. In other words, most functions required for creating a formatting a professional-quality document are available. Unfortunately, Abiword does not yet support TrueType fonts, the accepted standard for quality fonts. The installation comes with its own fonts, which includes all of the standard fonts such as Arial, Courier, Helvetica, and Times New Roman.

Features Like other word processing applications, Abiword will check your spelling as you go. You can also run a more detailed spell-check whenever you like as one of the supplied tools. Fixing the error is as simple as right-clicking on the red-underlined word. Abiword uses the popular Ispell utility to handle this. Unfortunately, a grammar-checking utility is not yet implemented. The application also includes a word count function, which displays a report on how many characters, words, paragraphs, and lines the document contains. A limited "Insert" menu allows the user to embed images in the document. Unfortunately, I was unable to open any images; I received an error message stating that the image was "not the type it claims to be". I'm not sure why, and I tested several different formats. Using the "Insert" menu to insert special non-alphabetic characters, however, worked fine. Inserting the "Date and Time" gave me seventeen different date and time formats to choose from.

Compatibility Abiword offers a small selection of document formats to read and write. The standard Abiword format, .abw, is a variety of XML. A few formats can be imported, such as plain text (.txt), and Rich Text formatted documents (.rtf). Most importantly, Microsoft Word documents (.doc) can be read. I tested this on several documents I had received from colleagues who happen to use Word, and I was able to read the document with preserved formatting and embedded images. Fortunately, Abiword cannot execute embedded script in the document, and is thereby unaffected by the many virii that have been plaguing the Microsoft Office suite of applications lately. Abiword can also save files in Rich Text or plain text formats, and most notably HTML This makes publishing documents online very convenient. Unfortunately, Abiword cannot save files as Microsoft Word documents, so you will have to use the Rich Text format to share files with those users.

Conclusion Abiword is a very capable product. Day-to-day users who do not require the more powerful professional features provided by layout software such as Adobe Pagemaker, QuarkExpress, or perhaps even Microsoft Word will find Abiword very nice to use. Users who enjoy using the Helix GNOME desktop will appreciate the level of integration provided. Like most free software projects, Abiword is in a continual state of development, and more functionality is added with every release. Abiword has won awards from the Linuxworld Expo two years in a row now, and can only get better.

Information The version of Abiword we reviewed was 0.7.10, and was included with the Helix GNOME installation. To download Abiword yourself, refer to http://www.abisource.com/free.phtml, where you can find a version for your platform. You can even Abiword on Microsoft Windows, if you are looking for a free word processing package for that platform.





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