Novice to Novice

As part of a regular series by and for novices, Dean gives a novice's point of view on some of the many spreadsheet and text editing programs that run under Linux.
vi clones

vim (3.0, on disk “AP”) stands for Vi IMproved. I've already stated that I'm not enthused about vi. Sadly, vim doesn't improve my opinion. It may be improvement over vi but it still doesn't make the commands any more intuitive or the vi idea any more palatable.

fpted is another clone. Unfortunately I couldn't really try it because it crashed. It looked like, at least, a help menu was easily available.

celvis required compiling, which produced a multitude of warnings. Yet it ran without any apparent problems. A unique aspect to this clone is that with the proper terminal you can write in Chinese.

vile and xvile for X-Windows are yet more vi clones. I liked these two because of the highlight bar at the bottom which, in part, clearly tells the command for help. I keep focussing on help because for novices it is perhaps the most important command to know. Considering that many of these programs do not include help files or tutorials, a menu bar saying that help is ^h-? or something is a great benefit.

nvi (1.03) is—guess what—yet another clone of vi but without a helpful menu bar at the bottom. [It's the official “new vi” from Berkeley—Ed]

xvi needed compiling which I passed on. My guess is this program is yet another variant on vi and will run under X-Windows.

Other editors

jed (0.96, also on disk “AP”) is a program that I like. It uses the cursor keys for easy movement. There's a menu at the top and another available that appears at the bottom when you hit ^h-?. However, one warning about that: option 6 will not exit you from the secondary menu but from entire program! [Jed can also use Emacs, EDT, and Wordstar keys, and the curser keys work the same no matter what keyset you are using, so most people will be comfortable with it one way or another—Ed]

joe (2.2, disk “AP”) is a program I also like but not quite as much as jed. The screen is cleaner, not as cluttered with a help menu, just a simple bar at the top. joe uses Wordstar-like commands so I had no problems with cursor movement and other commands. The help was a bit tricky. ^k-h to turn it on but to page through required an awkward ^[-. or ^[-, (for backwards).

ed stands for “standard editor” and I couldn't stand it. This is a very small program with no obvious help command. In fact, to figure out the commands you have to read the source code; fine for hackers, not so good for novices. [Even most hackers avoid this like the plague. It complains about errors with only a question mark; the manual says, “Experienced users will usually know what is wrong.” —Ed]

ez (7.0, ATK 6.3.1) provides a clean X-Windows Word Processor that apparently can be used standalone or part of the larger Andrew system. This program was covered in Linux Journal, issues 4 (August, 1994) and 5 (September, 1994). ez certainly lives up to its name with mouse and cursor key control and a good word processor with multimedia options. Despite its ease it didn't have any obvious way to change fonts or type sizes, unusual for a program of this quality. I discovered a window that had the information about fonts and whatnot listed but again no obvious way to make changes.

[ez can edit documents of many different types transparantly. In order to access the word processing features, you have to open the right kind of document by giving the file the correct extension. Files ending in .d or .doc will turn on ez's word processing capability, which will show up in obvious menus; for instance, font changes are accessed through the “Font” menu—Ed]

crisp (v2.2e from the Sunsite CD) is an editor that is like emacs in that it has great expandability, obscure commands, and can be used for programming. Untarring the binaries produced a barrage of files including the two main executables cr and xcr (for the X-Windows version). Upon startup of either you get a window with an information bar at the bottom. For novices there is no obvious help command. ^-h didn't work. crisp was the last package I looked at and I was determined to at least figure some of it out. I used mc and finally discovered user and programmer help files under /usr/local/lib/crisp/help/org. The user.hlp file said Alt-h would give help but back in crisp it didn't; it gave gibberish that told me I probably had an emulation problem. Enough, enough, I resign. For Crisp this is apparently the last freebie version and they now have a snazzy graphical offering. I hope it has an obvious help command.


I probably missed a few spreadsheets and text editors while scrounging through the CD's. My general impression is that for the spreadsheets the level of the freeware is comparable to an early Lotus-123 or Excel. But the programs work and will get you through your basic spreadsheet needs.

There are quite a few choices of text editors available with the majority of them clones of either vi or emacs. My personal favorites are jed, joe, either X-Windows version of emacs, and Andrew's ez. They get the job done fairly easily and Emacs can apparently handle most anything. To conserve hard drive space, I would probably choose GNU Emacs over Lucid or maybe have both runnable off the CD. But to summarize my feelings: I guess I expected programs that were more for word processing and for that I gained disappointment. Maybe the WordPerfect demo would have met my expectation could I have installed the beast. For word processing I would stay with what I have in DOS or perhaps purchase a good commerical UNIX word processor. As a writer, I need advanced features and none of the above programs really satisfied that criterion, instead being better for producing ASCII files and for programming environments.

[Projects are now underway to provide more word processing programs. We will cover them in Linux Journal when they are ready for public consumption—ED]

Dean Oisboid, owner of Garlic Software, is a database consultant, Unix beginner, and avowed Diplomacy addict. He can reached at