AbiWord is an open source word processor, whose version 3.0.0 was
released in October 2013. After downloading and compiling it from
source, as explained in my previous post on TechRepublic, I played with the program a bit to see what it looks like.

First, let me explain what AbiWord does not do. AbiWord is not a whole office
suite and, unlike Apache OpenOffice, LibreOffice, or Calligra,
AbiWord does not use the open, international
standard called OpenDocument Format (ODF) as its native file format.

Consequently, if you really need the same
look and feel as other word processors, or things like common macros, for your slideshows and
spreadsheet software, AbiWord isn’t for you. The other issue may be more
substantial. If you must co-edit complex documents with users of the
other office suites I mentioned, you’ll likely have problems, even if
you’re all using free/open source software.

Taking all of this into account, there are still good reasons
to use AbiWord — and from what I saw, they remain all valid for version 3.
Besides being multi-platform, AbiWord has a clean interface (Figure A) and takes much less space on your drive than its competitors, even if
it does need several shared libraries to actually work. 

Figure A

AbiWord 3.0 has a clean interface.

The binary you
see in the screenshot is just over 22 KB. If that’s still too big, you can make it even smaller by recompiling the sources as I did but selecting less options. Above all, AbiWord 3.0 is sensibly faster than
those other programs, both at start up and during normal usage, and even on
low-end computers.

Speaking of file formats

The degree of support varies greatly from format to format, but AbiWord
(with the right plug-ins) has many options to import and
export your documents (Figure B), from ODF text to relatively niche formats as MIF or almost forgotten ones like WML. 

Figure B


AbiWord output formats.

The HTML export filter (the result
and source are shown in Figure C) seems to produce smaller, much
cleaner code than OpenOffice or LibreOffice.

Figure C

The HTML export filter.

The AbiWord default file format, with the .abw extension, is the plain
XML text that you can see in Figure D. Pictures are MIME-encoded in the
same file instead of staying in a dedicated subfolder of one archive as
it happens with ODF. However, the format is still “plain text” enough
that one may generate or process AbiWord files automatically, in all the ways that are possible with ODF

Figure D

AbiWord default file format.

Plug-ins for AbiWord

A quick look at the screenshots should be enough to prove that
AbiWord has all the basic functions a word processor needs, so let me
point out something else: AbiWord can do a lot of more interesting
things through its many plug-ins.
Just remember that not all of them will work, or work in the same way,
on all the versions of Linux and other systems on which you may install
AbiWord. My personal favorites include:

Figure E

A plug-in for AbiWord.

RDF and AbiWord

AbiWord 3 has a simple revision system (Figure F), support for
collaborative editing with your IM contacts, and basic support for the Resource Description Framework (RDF). The RDF system helps format and embed data inside files, in such a way that
software applications can recognize and reuse their structure and
meaning. Adding contact information in RDF format to names of people in a
document, for example, would allow any RDF-aware software to pop up a
window that says, “This is Mr. Smith: click here to email him, here to call him via Skype, or here to import him in your address book,” whenever you place the cursor over those names. To know more about RDF and how to use it in AbiWord, read the RDF AbiWiki.

Final thoughts

I have to say that the specific instance of AbiWord 3.0.0 that I
compiled myself and used on my Fedora 17 computer to write this post
isn’t ready for general usage. It dumped core when cutting and pasting
a paragraph (but only one, curiously) from one place to another.
It flickered when moving the cursor around, cancelled text with the
arrow and DEL keys, and even the revision control seemed buggy. These
would be all show-stoppers if I had reviewed an official package, but
don’t let them discourage you.

I’m pretty sure that those are all temporary or very particular issues,
from the unavoidable glitches present in the X.0.0 version of any
software to compilation or configuration errors I may have made. It may
even be that Fedora 17, or more exactly some of its system libraries,
is simply too old for this software. So, don’t worry, and give AbiWord 3.0  a try as soon as you can, and then be sure to share your thoughts and opinions about it in the discussion thread below.