"Siag, it sucks less!" This is the slogan for Siag Office. This and the
self-effacing name for the Siag Office Word Processor,
Pathetic Writer, might leave you thinking that this office suite is a mere
plaything, a university student's cobbled-together programming
assignment. But don't be fooled by first impressions. Siag Office is a lightweight
suite of applications which might be just the right set of office tools for you,
especially if you have older hardware.
Siag Office is an office suite for Unix systems which contains a spreadsheet,
(Siag), a word processor, (Pathetic Writer) and an image animation program,
(Egon) as well as a file manager, (XFiler), a text editor, (XedPlus) and
a postscript document viewer (Gvu). The main
applications -- Siag, Pathetic Writer, and Egon -- were written by Ulric
Eriksson, who started working on them well over 8 years ago, the length of
time they have been available on freshmeat.net -
Siag Office has a venerable heritage. In the days before Open Office was
available and KOffice was still in its infancy, it was one of very few
open source office suite alternatives for Unix\Linux. It was
designed with the tools available at the time to work in the graphical user
environments (GUIs) of its day, using a variant of the Athena Widget library for its
interface controls. It therefore looks and feels a little antiquated when
compared to the latest and shiniest Linux desktop applications.
Its design aims, as stated in the Siag help files, reflect much of what
is still valued in Open Source Software today:
"Unlike commercial applications, where the vendors try to
lock users into proprietary file formats and standards, these applications use
free, non-patented routines and data whenever possible. In
addition, data portability is ensured through support for multiple file
Pathetic Writer and Siag Spreadsheet files, saved in their default formats,
are simple text files. Once plugins are included, the files are bundled
together as tar archives, so their contents can easily be unpacked and
examined. This philosophy of using open formats might be familiar to us now
with the Open Document Format standard, (ODF), but Siag Office has been doing
this since its inception.
Each of the component applications of Siag Office is designed to be simple and
lightweight, but extendable through extension languages including Scheme,
(SIOD), Guile, Python, Ruby and Tcl. On first observation it looks as though
Siag Office is very lightweight and lacks most of the features we have
come to expect in maistream office suites, but because it is
designed to be extendable you can add your own functions to make the software
do what you need it to do. Of course, this is beyond what many
end users would expect to have to do with an office suite these
days, but if you are willing to sit down and take the time to learn the ins
and outs of Siag, its flexibility will reward you.
I have to be honest: installation was not easy. You will probably have trouble
finding Siag Office packages for your system, and even if you do find some, you
may find they depend on old packages which are no longer in
common use in today's Linux distributions. I tried compiling Siag from sources
and it worked, for the most part, but Egon would not run for me at all.
Siag Office can be downloaded from http://siag.nu.
You will need to download the source code for the XawM and
Mowitz projects as well. Links to these projects are included on
the main Siag Office site.
To compile Siag from source on my Ubuntu Feisty machine, I needed to install
some extra development files along the way.
- XawM needed the neXtaw libraries.
- NeXtaw needed libxmu development files.
- Mowitz needed libxaw development files.
- Siag needed libxpm and ncurses development files.
With each project you use the standard
routine to get your compiled files installed under /usr/local by default.
If the thought of compiling from source code is a little daunting for
you, you can try Siag Office before you take the plunge by downloading
VMWare player and a VMWare image of Puppy Linux which has packages for Siag
Office available for it. This way you can take it for a test run
and see what it can really do before you delve into compiling it for your
The VMWare image for Puppy Linux is available at
The Puppy Linux packages for Siag Office are available at
(Note: These packages do not include Egon Animator).
Once I'd built and installed neXtaw, XawM, Mowitz and then siag, I was ready
Pathetic Writer does most of the basic things you expect a word
processor to do. It supports styles, font selection, and simple formatting. Tables can be implemented by importing a Siag spreadsheet plugin into the
document. The plugin architecture also supports images, text,
latex, dvi and html, and can be extended to include other file types. I
find using Siag plugins easy to figure out, although
moving plugins from one position in the document to another is a little
unintuitive. You have to position your cursor at the point you want your
plugin moved to, then choose - Plugins -> Move to get the plugin to move to
The text editing window does not display your text in the prettiest
representation I've seen. If you're looking for Mac OS X-quality font rendering
you'll be disappointed, but it does a reasonable job. To see what your
document will really look like when it is sent to the printer, however, it can
be viewed in postscript format by invoking the File -> Preview command
to launch your document in Gvu. Gvu, through postscript, renders your
document in a much more attractive manner.
Pathetic Writer does not natively support recent Microsoft Office file
formats, but the command line program wv can be used to convert Word 97
documents into other formats which can be opened by Pathetic Writer. Nor does
it support ODF documents, but it can save documents in its native pw format,
Rich Text Format, (rtf), html, text, Adobe's Portable Document Format, (pdf)
and Postscript, (ps). It can open pw, text, rtf, html, Abiword, (abw), and
older Open Office, (sxw), files.
The Siag Spreadsheet is the champion of this office suite.
Siag stands for Scheme in a Grid, but, according to Siag's help file, Siag stands for Siag Is Not An Excel Emulator, which seems to set its tone. If you are expecting all of the features of
Excel or Open Office Calc you'll be disappointed, but Siag boasts a lot of
features which make it useful as a lightweight spreadsheet in its own right.
For a start, it's not bloated. It has the same plugin architecture as Pathetic
Writer and it boasts hundreds of built-in functions, many of them Excel
equivalents, and because of its extensible architecture you can tailor it to
your personal needs.
As with Pathetic Writer, it supports styles, font
selection, and simple formatting. It has column and row sorting, allows you to
send your document via email and, as an example of
what can be done with the extension languages in Siag,
it even allows you to create a one-shot Webserver to
display your file. With GnuPlot installed, Siag also supports
Siag can open its native siag files, as well as Lotus
1-2-3, Open Office Calc files saved in the sxc format, csv, text and html. It
can save to siag, text, html, Lotus 1-2-3, Postscript, pdf and Latex. The help
file recommends exporting your existing spreadsheets to Lotus 1-2-3 format
before opening them in Siag. From my testing it seems some loss of formula
information does occur when opening from Lotus 1-2-3 and Open Office Calc
files, though the data seems to remain intact.
As I mentioned above, Egon Animator would not work for me so I couldn't take
it for a test run. It is described as an animation program, which, from the
sound of it, could be used for simple presentations. Whether
it could function well enough to be a suitable replacement for a
true presentation program such as Open Office Impress or Microsoft Powerpoint,
I am not sure. It boasts the same plugin architecture and extensibility as the
other programs in this suite, so presumably could be extended to do more
than the built-in functions alone.
Extra Fonts can be installed if the small default set does not satisfy you, but
it is a manual process that requires editing a font configuration file.
The default programs used for KDE and Gnome environments in Tools ->
Environment have dated a bit, but you can configure a custom environment and
add more up-to-date programs for viewing help files; i.e. yelp; launching a
file manager, i.e. nautilus; launching a terminal; and a few others.
It is helpful if you know your way around the Linux CUPS command line interface
for printing from Siag Office, because there is no user interface for its
print functions. It sends documents to the printer with the command line
options you configure. Below are a couple of websites which will help in this
Siag is largely the work of one man. Considering this, it is an
impressive suite of software. The Siag mailing list
email@example.com is still active, as evidenced by
the fact that I had a question I posted to it answered within a day, so support is
available if you need it. The freshmeat website indicates that it was last
visited by the developer in April 2007, so development seems to have
slowed rcently. If anyone is interested in lending a hand on the project, I
encourage you to do so. It is still useful for older
hardware or even on newer hardware where users want a small-footprint office
application. Extending Siag Office's functionality with its built-in
language support requires some learning and a degree of technical ability, but
you can say the same about power users in Microsoft Office, with its Visual Basic
for Applications or about Open Office, with its own version of Basic. While not as
feature-rich as larger office suites, Siag Office covers the basic tasks reasonably well in a
very small package.
Peter Enseleit is a software developer. Among his interests are Linux, woodwork, music, using whatever meager talent he has in graphic design, and a newly acquired enthusiasm for torturing his thighs through mountain biking.