July 24, 2009

Open Source Word Processors Give You Lots of Free Choices, Part 2

If you're like most PC users, the word processor is one of your own most mission-critical applications. On the Linux side, the OpenOffice.org Writer word processing program has garnered a lot of attention lately, partly due to the inclusion of the OpenOffice.org suite on high-profile netbooks. But literally dozens of other word processing applications are also out there for Linux, and some of these are lighter in weight, suiting them to possible use on either a netbook, an embedded device, or that old legacy PC sitting around in your storage area.

Last week, in the first installment of our series of articles on word processors for Linux, we took a look at five of the best known open source offerings: OpenOffice.org; an alternative full-featured word processor dubbed AbiWord; and three offerings honed for specialized purposes: KWord, LYX, and e:doc.

Now we're moving on to five more entries in the open source Linux category. EZ Writer is the grand-daddy of them all. The other four on this week's list--Ted, FLWriter, WordGrinder, and EZ Word--all hold relative smallness and sleekness as their main claims to fame.

In contrast to so-called proprietary word processors for Linux--StarOffice and the much newer ThinkFree, for example--these open source applications are free software programs that will cost you zilch.


OS Platforms: Linux and other Unix OS.

If you buy a new Linux netbook such as the Dell Inspiron Mini 10 or HP Mini 100 Mi Edition, it will come with OpenOffice.org Write. Meanwhile, Chinese vendor HiVision last fall released a $98 Linux netbook outfitted with AbiWord.

But some users prefer lighter word processors--either to save space, to gain speedier performance, or simply because they don't want or need a lot of fancy capabilities.

While Ted is smaller than either Write or AbiWord, it's still strong on features, ease of use, and compatibility with Microsoft Word. Developed by Mark de Does, the multingual program actually started out as a text editor--more along the lines of Microsoft WordPad than Word. In response to user feedback, de Does has then fixed bugs and added more capabilities along the way.

Ted comes with a built-in spell checker, but this function won't annoy you by spelling as you type. Other current features include text alignment, multiple fonts, and support for headers, footers, and tables. You can also find and replace text, spice up your document with paragraph borders and shading, and insert pictures, hyperlinks, and bookmarks, for instance.

While Ted doesn't run on Windows, it's expressly designed to achieve as much compatibility with Windows as possible. You can save documents in the Windows .RTF format for later use on Windows systems. Ted can also be configured to read formatted e-mail sent from a Windows machine to Linux or Unix.

Along with source code licensed under the General Public License (GPL), binary files packaged in RPM and tar.gz files are also available for Ted. The binaries are statically linked with the Motif libraries, meaning that you don't need to install these proprietary libraries in order to run the word processing program.


OS Platforms: Linux and other Unix OS.

In the name FLWriter, the letter “F” stands for “Fast,” whereas “L” is for “Light.” Regardless of the initial intent, however, this small what-you-see-is-what-you-get (WYSIWYG) word processor hasn't seen any further development--or very much use--in several years. It's now being usurped by rivals.

In an indication of FLWriter's decline, the Damned Small Linux (DSL) project dropped the program from its distribution in favor of the fuller-featured Ted way back in 2006. The last version of FLWriter was only released in XD640, a now practically defunct project to build a desktop environment at 640-by-480 resolution for legacy PCs.

FLWriter uses UTF-8 XHTML as its native file format. That format, however, has since been merged into the FTLK library, so that a separate library is no longer necessary if you still wish to try out the program.


OS Platforms: Linux, other Unix OS, Windows, and OS X.

Now in beta, WordGrinder has recently enjoyed some copious open source development from members of the Puppy Linux community, for example.

WordGrinder is emphatically not a WYSIWYG word processor, according to its creator, David Given. “It is not point and click. It is not desktop publisher. It is not a text editor. It [does] not do fonts and it barely does styles. It's designed for writing text. It gets out of your way and let you type,” Given writes in the online documentation.

Consisting of only 6,300 lines of code, the tiny program DOES offer Unicode character support; an intuitive menu system; fast-access keyboard shortcuts configurable from within WordGrinder; a certain amount of character and style support; HTML import and export; and LATEX and Troff export.

Pathetic Writer

OS Platforms: Linux and other flavors of Unix.

Pathetic Writer is part of the long-time Siag Office suite, together with the Siag spreadsheet, Egon animation program, Xfiler file manager; Sed Plus text editor; and Gvu, a PostScript document viewer.

On its own, Pathetic Writer is a simple but rather complete word processor, supporting functions such as styles, selectable fonts, simple formatting, and column and row sorting. Its Toolbar offers icons for things like opening a file and saving a document, yet many other functions are still command-driven.

However, this X-based word processor offers big benefits in terms of customizability (if you know what you're doing with that, at least.) People conversant with programming lantuages such as Scheme, Ruby, Python, Guild, or Tcl can easily built extensions that let them make Pathetic Writer do exactly what they'd like it to do.

Pathetic Writer supports RTF for file exchange with Microsoft Word. Moreover, external converters such as Carolan McNamara's WV can be used for reading documents from a wide range of outside programs,

While PW is copyrighted by its creator, Ulrick Eriksson, it's available for use by anyone free of charge.

EZ Word

OS Platforms: Linux and additional Unix variants.

EZ Word is less likely than a lot of other word processors to get installed on any type of PC these days. But it's good to know about, anyhow, from a historical standpoint.

Originally devised as part of the Andrew User Interface System (AUIS), a user-interface research project conducted by IBM with Carnegie Mellon University, EZ Word was the very first graphical word processor to become available for Linux.

Despite its name, though, EZ Word was never easy for most folks to use. If you didn't climb EZ Word's learning curve more than a decade ago, you probably won't want to start now. Although still available under a BSD free sofware license, the program hasn't been updated since the release of version 8.0 in 1997, and bugs still linger.

Coming Up

If you shell out money for a Linux word processor, is your investment worthwhile? In a future article, we'll start to explore some of the proprietary word processing applications currently available for non-free downloads.

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