August 28, 2009

Four More Cool Word Processors

If you've seen one online word processor--or even a handful of them--you haven't seen them all, not by a longshot. In addition to Google Docs, Zoho Writer, and emerging competitors such as EtherPad, other online offerings you might want to try include AjaxWrite, Writeboard, picoWrite and MonkeyTeX, to name a few.

As we've talked about in previous articles, online word processors can provide certain advantages as alternatives to Microsoft Word over non-Web-enabled counterparts like and Sun's StarOffice.

To sum up quite quickly, because online word processors are browser-based, they can often operate easily on just about any PC running just about any operating system (OS), including Linux. Generally but with some exceptions, documents can be stored either online or on your own machine, and they can be shared collaboratively regardless of which OS your friends and colleagues are using.

AjaxWrite drew a lot of fanfare on its initial rollout way back in 2006. The other offerings we'll explore in today's article are newer, and lean very strongly in collaborative directions. Writeboard is one of the easiest-to-use collaborative writing and editing environments you're likely to find anywhere.

The now emerging picoWrite, on the other hand, emphasizes rich functionality, through features ranging from multicolumn text layouts to serverless doc sharing. For its part, MonkeyTeX is tightly focused on simplifying (and even teaching about) implementation of LaTeX, a document prep system tailored to pulling together scientific and academic reports.

Yet much as in the word processing software arena, the online offerings are in various stages of their respective life cycles. picoWrite is now in private alpha testing, with a public beta release not slated until the end of this year. Writeboard and MonkeyTeX are both already available, while still in the process of ongoing development.


Unlike EtherPad, a collaborative environment now under way by ex-Google staffers, Writeboard is entirely free of charge. Produced by 37signals--the makers of Backpack and several other crossplatform Web 2.0 applications--Writeboard is “guaranteed compatible” with the Firefox, Safari, and Internet Explorer (IE) 6.0 browsers. But it won't function with IE 5.0, and “may or may not work” with other browsers, according to information on the Writeboard site.

To get started on creating a document, all you need to do is assign a name to your own “writeboard,” give it a password, and type in your e-mail address for ID purposes. If you'd like to share your writeboard with others, just enter their e-mail addresses, and they'll be sent a link to the writeboard, along with the document password.

Writeboard does lack certain features you'll find in some other online word processors, such as color-coding by author. You can't import text from an external source, either, although you can cut-and-paste text from outside. But Writeboard is especially adept at versioning.

Each time you (or one of your collaborators) makes an edit, a new version gets added to the sidebar. You can conjure up a visual comparison between two different versions by first clicking on the versions you want, and then clicking on a “compare” button.

Everything that's been deleted will be gray and struckthrough, while everything newly added will show up in green.


AjaxWrite was the brainchild of Michael Robertson, a developer who had previously challenged Vonage and Skype with his work on SIPphone and Gizmo Project. Upon initial launch three years ago, AjaxWrite was widely hailed as a possible eventual replacement for MS Word. But now as then, the program is a lot leaner and less capable than the nemesis from Microsoft.

A spellchecker planned at the outset has never been implemented in AjaxWrite. The find/replace function is similarly greyed out. Moreover, AjaxWrite still works only with Firefox, despite initial intentions to expand support to other browsers.

Yet AjaxWrite does remain a handy online alternative for basic word processing tasks on either Linux, Windows, or Mac OS X.

AjaxWrite is free, and you don't even need to register to use it. You can import and export documents in popular formats, including PDF and Microsoft's .DOC. You can save your work to your computers, and you can highlight word and phrases with bolding, italics, and underlining.

You can change font colors and sizes, too, although AjaxWrite currently provides only about 17 built-in font styles.

AjaxWrite is now part of a suite which also includes AjaxSketch, AjaxTunes, and the AjaxXLS spreadsheet.


picoWrite is a new designate for supplying full MS Word-like functionality online. Although this Web-based offering is still in alpha, its creators envision what-you-see-is what-you-get (WYSIWYG) functionality with “pixel-true” rendering in the final product.

Advanced word processing features are also in the works, including multi-column text layout, zoom, footnotes, undo/redo, and online/offline functionality with Google Gears support.

picoWrite is one component in an online suite now under development by Torben Weis, a professor at the University of Duisburg-Essen in Germany who formerly worked on projects with KDE and Trolltech.

The forthcoming picoScribe suite will run on far more than just Firefox, according to Eric Hellmich, who heads up the German-based company behind picoScribe. Support is also planned for Safari, Opera, Internet Explorer, the iPhone browser, and ultimately, Google's Chrome.

picoWrite will also carry a few other twists of its own, Hellmich said in an interview. Although Web server-based collaboration will be supported, too, serverless collaboration will be furnished through P2P.

Also, through close integration with picoCalc, picoScribe's spreadsheet, you'll be able to embed spreadsheets into your word processing docs, a feature which Hellmich views as particularly useful in invoicing, for example.

An online presentation package dubbed picoShow is underway, as well. And Hellmich is looking to eventually add document management capabilities, along with an online application for managing mathematical formulas.


Much like James Allen's ScribTex, Precipice Technologies' MonkeyTeX lets you work online with LaTeX, a macro-based document preparation language designed for consistent formatting. MonkeyTeX, however, is distinguished by the educational slant it takes to LaTeX.

On the MonkeyTeX Web site, you can upload, create, and perform crossplatform sharing of LaTeX files. You can also convert them to PDFs. If you're collaborating on LaTeX documents with colleagues and co-workers, you can view changes to documents as they're being made.

But MonkeyTeX also includes both a “LaTeX Tutorial” and “LaTeX Cheatsheet” in its online help section. Moreover, if you inadvertently break a LaTeX rule, an error message is likely to spring up, trying to explain to you just what went wrong.

MonkeyTex offers a particularly elegant and uncluttered user interface (UI), too. BibTeX is supported for bibliographical references, and an application programming interface (API) recently saw the light of day.

MonkeyTeX is free. Registration is required, but all you have to do is supply your e-mail address and create a password for gaining entrance to this collaborative Web site.

Around the Corner

In a future article, we'll consider a few other online word processors geared to across Linux and other OS, including Peepel WebWriter, FlyWord, and JDarkRoom.