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April 4, 2001

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AbiWord - A Free, Decent, MS Word Clone for Linux, MS Windows, & Other Platforms

Mike Angelo -- 4 April 2001(c)

Microsoft Word likely is the most used word processor, and it has become the industry standard for word processing software -- at least for the Microsoft (MS) Windows platform. However, if you use one of those other platforms such as Linux, or if you would like a free MS-Word-like program for your MS-Windows-based computer, take AbiWord for a spin around the block.

AbiWord is a free, open source, cross-platform (XP), lightweight word processor. It looks and feels much like MS Word. Please see Figures 1and 2.

AbiWord is still in the beta stage. Nevertheless, it is quite usable for limited, regular duty.

The newest release is AbiWord 0.7.13. You can download the source code or you can download binary builds. AbiSource, publisher of AbiWord, currently supplies binaries for the BeOS, Linux, QNX, UNIX, and Windows operating systems (OSs). (Links in the Resources section below.)

An older AbiWord preview version is included in the Red Hat Linux 7 distribution. It's preinstalled there and included in the GNOME menu under Applications.

Figure 1. The AbiWord desktop running in MS Windows 98 SE
Figure 2. The Microsoft Word desktop running in MS Windows 98 SE

AbiWord has its own file format, .abw. However, it can import plain text, HTML, RTF, Word 97 (.doc), XHTML, and other formatted document files too. Export-wise, you can save your AbiWord documents as plain text, ABW, HTML, LaTeX, RTF, and other file types.

AbiWord does not have the rich set of language tools that MS Word has. However, it does have a decent spell-checker and also a word-count tool.

MS Word has lots more tool bars and is much more-fully featured than is AbiWord. On the other hand AbiWord is leaner than MS Word and mean enough for many word processing tasks. The AbiWord download binaries run about 3.5-MB (MS Windows) to about 5-MB (Linux tar.gz).

Installed, AbiWord sucked up less than 6-MB of hard drive space in Windows 98 SE. MS Word eats up 22.9-MB of Windows Memory compared to 5.37-MB of Windows memory for AbiWord.

The Windows version of AbiWord installs easily and in a snap. AbiWord seems to behave nicely when running in MS Windows.

(Note: in Linux, it's generally not a good idea to change libs or other system files or packages merely to accommodate an application -- unless you are a very experienced Linux user. Even if you are an experienced Linux user, you should proceed with caution before changing system critical files. Those changes could negatively affect other applications that are working nicely on your Linux system, or your Linux system itself. So, if you find that you do need to change libs or other system files or packages merely to accommodate an application, forget the application.)

On the other hand, we encountered (mostly lib) problems when trying to install, to upgrade, or to run the Linux version of AbiWord on Caldera OpenLinux eDesktop 2.4 and Red Hat Linux 7. Those are the only Linux distributions on which we tried AbiWord.

For more information about the status of features already implemented in AbiWord, please check the AbiWord Feature Matrix and the AbiWord User Interface Matrix. If you want to sneak a look at what features are planned for AbiWord but not yet included, check the AbiWord Roadmap. (Links in the Resources section below.)

You can customize AbiWord to your keyboard-picking heart's content. It's open source. That means you can change the widgets, modify features, or even add your own features. If you are into creating themes and skins for programs, you can use the AbiWord customizability to make your own AbiWord theme.

For more information about building your own customized version, check AbiWord Personal in the Resources section at the end of this article.

Conclusion

AbiWord is off to a darn good start. Even though it is still in the pre-release, beta stages, AbiWord is worth downloading, installing, and using. However, it's a preview release not a final shipping version. So expect to find that all AbiWord's features are not fully implemented -- or in some instances not implemented at all, yet.

It is not nearly as heavy duty as its commercial counterparts such as Microsoft's Word, Sun's StarOffice, or VistaSource's Anywhere Desktop (formerly Applixware). However, AbiWord's lighter features-package also makes it lighter-weight resources-wise. It takes less hard-drive space and less RAM.

Although AbiWord is a darn good MS Word clone, it is not MS Word. It is doubtful that MS Word users are going to part with their MS Word and flock to AbiWord. However, where resources or budgets are tight, AbiWord can be a nice supplement or alternative to MS Word on MS Windows PCs.

On platforms such as Linux and the other *NIXs where MS Word is not available, AbiWord has the makings of a very nice substitute for MS Word. As development continues and more features are added to AbiWord it might well become as good as the heavy-duty word processors -- perhaps better.

Of course the heavier word processors are getting better all the time too. Moreover they are becoming available for more platforms also. The bottom line here is that all this means even more choices for software consumers and users.


Resources

Related Articles

Composer: The Netscape & Mozilla Graphical HTML Editor & Word Processor

AbiWord

AbiSource

Download AbiWord

Summary of Features

AbiWord Feature matrix (detailed features list and development status table)

AbiWord User Interface matrix (detailed features list and development status table by OS and/or desktop)

AbiSource FAQ

AbiWord Roadmap

AbiWord Personal

Related Products

Microsoft Word

Mozilla Composer

Netscape Composer

Sun StarOffice

VistaSource Anywhere Desktop (formerly Applixware)


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