In the arena of office application suites, you know all about the big two: Microsoft Office and OpenOffice.org. Integrated suites of applications became all the rage in the '90s, when the Windows 3.1 version of Microsoft Office cleared the completion of standalone products such as WordPerfect, Lotus 123, and dBase.
Although the issue may seem settled, if you dig deep enough, you can find individual alternatives that are, in some cases, better suited for the actual job than the mighty giants. In these instances, you can find word processors not so insistent upon gulping up massive amounts of memory, space, or budget; you might even find those "little apps that could" do their job just as they should.
Two such word processors are AbiWord and KWord. We ll look at these word processor alternatives in this article.
At one time, AbiWord was positioned to become the word processing software for a planed GNOME office suite. When it became clear that OpenOffice.org had taken that title, AbiWord kept working hard to become the best stand-alone word processor it could be.
KOffice is exactly what it sounds like: The KDE Office suite. Among that office suite are numerous tools -- more so than are included in MS Office -- among which is KWord. KWord is another outstanding tool that does exactly as you would expect it to; it allows you to write words.
With the above introductions in mind, let's take a closer look at each.
To better understand where we're starting from, let's examine our environment. I will be running on an older installation of Fedora (FC6). The processor is an AMD 64 bit (running in 32 bit mode), with 1 GB of RAM. My test machine doesn't warrant using tools with smaller requirements, but I would be remiss in saying that both word processors (especially AbiWord) excel in the area of bringing new life to older machines.
The desktop you're using doesn't matter with either tool; even if not running KDE, you can still run KOffice. You will, however, have to have KDE installed before you can install KOffice. My desktop of choice is Enlightenment.
Although KWord is a part of the KOffice suite, I will only deal with KWord (not the entire suite of tools).
The first thing you'll have to do is install AbiWord; it generally doesn't come installed by default on most modern distributions, but installation is very simple. If you're using a yum-based distribution, you can run the command yum install abiwor; if you're using an apt-based distribution, you can issue the command apt-get install abiword.
Once the package is installed, start AbiWord one of two ways: run the command abiword, or select AbiWord from the Office menu of either KDE or GNOME, as shown in Figure A.
When you start AbiWord what you will see might surprise you; it looks pretty much like every other word processing software out there. The UI is standard, clean, and simple to use. Take a look at Figure B; minus the LCARS Enlightenment theme, you will see nothing out of the ordinary. If fact, I would venture to say the learning curve with AbiWord is probably the lowest of all the word processing software packages available.
Unique AbiWord tools
Instead of running the gamut of more obvious tools, I thought it best to highlight some of the tools unique to AbiWord. There aren't many of them, but those that are available are really quite nice.
The first is the Babelfish translation tool. Many of you have probably already used AltaVista's Babelfish translation site. Well, if you are using AbiWord and you write a word you need translated, highlight the word, select Use Babelfish Translation from the Tools menu, and a new window will appear, as shown in Figure C, prompting you to select a language to translate.
Finally, a browser window will open to the Babelfish site with your translation in place. You can do the same thing with the Free Translation site.
The Wikipedia plug-in is a similar tool. Highlight the text you want to reference and select the Wikipedia Encyclopedia entry from the Tools menu; a new browser window will display the Wikipedia entry for whatever it was you were referencing.
Another interesting feature is the Views. In AbiWord, you can view your document in four different views: Normal layout, Web layout, Print layout, or in a Web browser. Let's take a look at the differences.
Figure D illustrates our document shown in the Normal layout. This is an old-school layout format; notice the page break indicator, no rulers, and no gray-space indicating outside of the page boundaries.
Figure E shows the Print layout. This is the layout that most have grown accustomed to in modern-day word processors.
There are two ways to view your document as if it were a Web page. From the View menu, select Web Layout to see how the page will look as a Web page in AbiWord. You'll then see the screen shown in Figure F.
To get the full effect of the Web browser view, you have to actually go to In Web Browser from the View menu. When you select this, you'll be asked to make a couple of selections, as shown in Figure G.
Figure H shows just how the document looks in a browser. As you can see, the page breaks are single spaces, the bold text does come out as bold, and the hyperlinks created in AbiWord actually do work.
Shifting gears, let's take a look at KDE's KWord. Figure I shows the same document -- originally created in AbiWord, saved in .doc format -- open in KWord.
KWord doesn't have your everyday UI. Instead of the basic elements, KWord offers up not only the standard window but also the Document Structure window, which illustrates all elements included in your document. This can be useful if you're working on a more complex document, but for a basic text document, this tool is unnecessary.
This is easily resolved by going to the View menu and selecting Display Mode | Text Mode. This will get rid of the Document Structure pane and leave you with the straight-up word processor, as shown in Figure J.
Make it Personal
One of the nicer features of KWord is the Personal Expressions. This tool allows you to save phrases that you repeat and add them quickly. Suppose you're writing documentation using the phrase ./configure | make |make install frequently. Instead of having to type this over and over again, you can use KWords Personal Expressions tool. To do this, go to the Tools menu and select Personal Expressions. A new window will open where you can edit, add, and delete these phrases, as shown in Figure K.
Enter the phrase in the Edit window and press OK. To add that phrase, simply go to the Insert menu, select the Expression submenu, navigate to New Group, and select the expression to add. You'll see the screen shown in Figure L.
Bookmarks: not just for browsers
Another outstanding tool included with KWord is bookmarks. Especially when dealing with longer documents, adding bookmarks at various points can help make your work more efficient.
To add a bookmark, simply place the cursor in the document where you want the bookmark, go to the Insert menu and select Bookmark. A new window will open with only a text area and a couple of buttons. Enter the name for your bookmark and press OK. To go to the bookmark, select the Tools menu and choose Select Bookmark. From the new window, shown in Figure M, select the bookmark you want to go to and press OK.
Words, words, words
One of the issues I've known about for quite some time is the discrepancy in word counts between the various word processors. To test this, I saved and opened this very document in three tools. The word counts were quite different.
- KWord = 1,557
- AbiWord = 1609
- OpenOffice = 1651
It's interesting to note that OpenOffice.org couldn't initially determine the word count. This is most likely due to an issue with saving in the .doc format. After a couple of saves, however, OpenOffice was able to capture a word count. OpenOffice.org and AbiWord were fairly close in their counts.
This brings up another issue: compatibility. Opening files between applications brought me little problem, in general. Outside of OpenOffice not being able to count words, the only other issue was KWord having letter spacing problems.
One issue that I was happy to not have to deal with was fonts. For years, I've struggled with getting various applications to locate the many fonts I have on my machine for graphic design purposes. This time around, both KWord and AbiWord used the fonts installed for OpenOffice: TrueType fonts, located in /usr/lib/openoffice.org2.0/share/fonts/truetype.
I have to confess to being a big fan -- and frequent user -- of OpenOffice.org. However, in a pinch, or on a lesser system, either of these word processors make an outstanding alternative. Both tools read and write in many formats with little or no discrepancies, but where both of these tools shine -- especially AbiWord -- is on systems lacking beefy hardware. So if you want to resurrect an older machine and know you're going to need word processing, take a look at either of these tools. You'll get your work done efficiently and cleanly.
Jack Wallen is an award-winning writer for TechRepublic and Linux.com. He’s an avid promoter of open source and the voice of The Android Expert. For more news about Jack Wallen, visit his website getjackd.net.