July 10, 2007

Siag Office is far from pathetic

Author: Peter Enseleit

"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



make install

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

own system.

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

to go.

Pathetic Writer

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

that position.

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.

Siag Spreadsheet

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

plotting graphs.

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.

Egon Animator

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.

Associated Tools

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

siag@siag.nu 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.


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