September 4, 2009

Visionaries Experiment with New Word Processing Ways

Word processors that work across Linux and other OS can offer advantages you won't find in MS Word, even beyond crossplatform operability. But whether or not they're free of charge in the financial sense, there can be other sorts of price tags attached. In working with some of the newer and less conventional alternatives, you're likely to encounter certain learning curves. Feature sets and operability aren't always up to par and--ironically enough--privacy concerns can rear their heads, in some cases.

In recent articles, we've weighted the pros and cons of several dozen word processors for Linux, MS Windows, Mac OS X, and other environments. These range from open source offerings like's Write to commercial software like IBM Lotus Symphony and Web-based options such as Google Docs.

We continue today with a look at three alternatives from smaller players, each of which departs from word processing tradition in some ways. Of this trio, FlyWord--a Web-based with online storage and extensive permission--is the only one that will cost you any money. Even then, the sum is merely US$39.

Available without charge are Peepel WebWriter--a key component in a newly location-aware office and mobile suite--along with the “distraction-free” JDarkRoom, a Java-based equivalent to the popular Windows-only DarkRoom and Mac-only Webroom applications.

Peepel WebWriter

Without hogging disk space on your netbook, notebook, or desktop PC, Peepel WebWriter gives you an wide array of advanced word processing capabilities. Beyond standard fare, its feature set includes handy buttons for formatting titles to match text, and for inserting subscripts, superscripts, and tables, for example. Templates are readily available for producing letters, business cards, and resumes.

You can save files either online or offline and share them with online collaborators. Peepel WebWriter uses a unique approach to collaboration in which a “control token”--which appears as a colored icon in the title bar of the document--can be released or taken by anyone with write privileges. You do your work in OpenDocument Format (ODF), but you can now import MS Word files, too.

WebWriter is part of a Web-based suite that also includes several other components. The new and location-aware Peepel WebMap is designed to let you “track your friends, create PeepelPoints and explore Earth with an interactive map” through installation of another new application, called Pocket Peepel, on mobile devices.

Pocket Peepel can automatically determine where you are through use of either a built-in or attached GPS unit or detection of Wi-Fi or cell tower locations. Alternatively, you can specify your location manually. Initially, Pocket Peepel supports Windows Mobile devices only, but support for other mobile environments is planned for later down the road.

Aside from WebWriter and WebMap, additional Web-based elements of the Peepel suite include a contact manager, spreadsheet, calculator, and photo viewer, for instance. With the exception of Pocket Peepel, the suite can ostensibly work across Linux, Windows, and Mac OS on Mozilla as well as non-Mozilla browsers. Yet you might encounter error messages about incompatibility if you try to use Microsoft's Internet Explorer (IE). Also, Peepel's creators admit on the site that one tool--for quickly moving rows and columns in tables--works only with Mozilla Firefox and Seamonkey.

Peepel also supports the use of AgileRSS feeds across Windows, Mac OS X, and all flavors of Linux for change notification. The RSS reader can tell you whether anyone shared a file with you while you were away, or added you as a contact, for example.

WebWriter is certainly user-friendly enough. But still, you might need to invest some time into geting accustomed to its graphical user interface (GUI). You do your work in a moveable and resizable window which is totally detached from a set of menus for functions such as formatting and image sharing. You can move this “half-window” to the left- or right-hand side.

You can also expand the window to cover most of the screen. Even if you do so, though, you won't be totally obscuring an underlying Web site, which on recent visits to the site has featured a comic-book style ad for their own Pocket Peepel application.

Essentially, the Peepel suite is offered free of charge because Peepel's Web site is ad-based. In a three-page document outlining its privacy policy, Peepel Technology acknowledges that it uses aggregated tracking information derived mainly from page views to “better tailor our content to readers' needs and to help our advertisers better understand the demographics of our audience.” Also according to the policy, however, “Under no circumstances does Peepel divulge any information about an individual user to a third party.”


Ads can be distracting, and JDarkRoom doesn't run any of them. However, you will see bids for contributions on the Web site to help support the “distraction-free” writing environment.

To start using the JDarkRoom application, you first need to do a quick software download.. After you've installed the software, what you'll get is a blank, black screen. By default, the characters will appear in neon green when you start to write.

There's no GUI at all in JDarkRoom, either. To perform word processing functions, you'll need to resort to old-fashioned DOS-style commands. To save a document, for example, you use Ctrl-S, while to delete a previous word, it's Ctrl plus the backspace key. For a word/line/character count, you hit Ctrl-L.

You can set preferences for colors, fonts, and font sizes via a settings screen, which comes up when you push down the F6 function key.

Some operations vary by OS, though. To switch between JDarkRoom and another program, you use Command (Apple)-Tab on a Mac, but Alt-Tab on a Windows PC.

The Web site gives specific instructions on how to get JDarkRoom to work with Java 1.6 on the Ubuntu and Xandros distributions of Linux, and with Java 1.5 on Linux-based AsusTek Eee netbooks.

If, like most folks today, you first embarked on computing some time after the dawn of the DOS era, you might find JDarkroom a bit of a chore. But clearly, some people like its minimalist approach, which is intended to let you concentrate exclusively on your writing. According to info on the Web site, JDarkroom had already undergone over 30,000 downloads as of August 2008, some two years after its inception. Built by developer Jason Chauncey, JDarkRoom is now in version 14.

Strictly speaking, JDarkRoom is more of a text editor than a word processor. But JDarkRoom has drawn so much attention that we're including it in this article as a counterpoint to the other, graphically oriented offerings for Linux and other OS we've been discussing.


For its part, FlyWord looks like just what you'd expect from an online word processor. Whether you're working on Linux, Unix, Mac OS X, or Windows, you can write and edit documents in Word 97 format.

FlyWord is part of the FlySuite suite. You can perform certain functions on the FlySuite Web site--such as “print” and “print preview”--free of charge. But to do much of anything else--even to save a document--you need to register and buy a license.

Some of the things you can do if you do buy a license are kind of cool. You can e-mail from directly inside FlyWriter to recipients. You can also collaborate with recipients, while placing file-specific limits on their abilities to edit, save, save copies, copy-paste, and print documents. You can set expiration dates for those permissions. Also from within the application, you can hold chat conference calls about your projects.

Your collaborators don't need to purchase licenses. When they open FlyWord e-mail attachments, the application will launch automatically.

For the fee of $39, you get not just the word processor but a digital image editing application and a one-year subscription to 1 GB of online storage. (But you can save files to your own PC, too.) Pay an extra $10, and Natium--the company behind FlySuite--will throw in a license to its FlyCalc spreadsheet.

FlyWord can be kind of funky, too, though. To cite just one example, in one of the templates--designed for use in writing a business letter--the salutation appears in the center of the page instead of justified to the left margin, where it belongs.

Around the Corner

Some word processors are parts of suites, while others aren't. In a future series, we'll zoom out from word processors to take a birds-eye view of the many suites available for Linux, of both open source and commercial varieties.

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