More Than Word(s)

Ways to deal with MS Word documents using Linux and tocreate platform-independent documents.
Corel WordPerfect Office 2000

Corel, best known by most for its Linux distribution (Corel Linux) and CorelDRAW, also developed a very powerful office suite. Corel WordPerfect Office 2000 includes the well-known WordPerfect word processor. WP offers anything one might wish for in a tool like this; it has been regarded as superior to MS Word by many people and is available for Windows and Linux. Curiously, it is not available for the Mac, even though Corel offers other software for this platform.

If you want to license WP Office 2000 for your entire office, you will find a hefty price tag attached; however, for personal use, you can download WordPerfect by itself for free. I found it a breeze to install and use; it easily opened all of the Word documents I found on my hard drive and was even able to display mathematical formulae properly.

Figure 1. A Screenshot of WordPerfect 8


KOffice, brought to you by the friendly people of KDE, was released together with KDE 2.0 in October 2000, as beta software. Nonetheless, the word processor KWord looks impressive. It integrates nicely with all the other KDE applications and neatly imported most of the MS Word documents I fed it.

Problems arose when I tried to open a document containing mathematical formulae, but since I have been assured that these formulae bring down every version of Word itself but the latest (no surprise there), I would still recommend it. By the time KOffice 1.1 will be released, I'm sure KWord will easily suffice for most needs.

This office suite is, of course, licensed under the GPL and available for free download from your favorite mirror. Debian's apt-get install, kword, took care of all dependencies for me, but since KOffice relies on KDE 2.0 and Qt 2.2, you might find yourself upgrading a lot of packages before you can use this program.

Figure 2. A Screenshot of KWord


Some time ago, Sun Microsystems acquired StarOffice, an office suite available for many operating systems. StarOffice was one of the first office suites able to compete with Microsoft's Office. While Sun always offered StarOffice for free download, only fairly recently did they announce the release of the source code to the Open Source community, which ultimately led to the OpenOffice Project. So, this is another GPLed Project.

StarOffice/OpenOffice includes a very powerful word processor, which can read most Word Documents and can even write to .doc format. However, it has a drawback: it's a memory hog. Not only does it require a significant amount of disk space for the complete installation, it also takes awhile until all the components are started. If you have a slow machine, this might not be your first choice. On the other hand, if you have enough space and memory, I'm sure you'll find that StarOffice/OpenOffice is able to meet all of your word processing needs.

Small Words

All of the aforementioned applications are full office suites, rather hefty packages more suited to people who actually do perform a lot of word processing and who, at the same time, need to have applications for spreadsheets and presentations, etc.

For those of you who just want a word processor for the occasional letter of complaint to your landlord, there are some lighter approaches. The most common lightweight word processor is AbiWord. AbiWord, designed to be “full-featured and remain lean”, seems to live up to its goal. It's fast, available for a large variety of platforms, free (as in beer and as in speech) and under heavy development. However, I do have to admit that it chokes on some documents or opens them without preserving the original format. In particular, MS Word's way of dealing with tables seems to confuse AbiWord.

Another very small and light word processor is Pathetic Writer (pw), which is part of the Siag Office Suite. The reason I mention pw here and did not include it with the full-fledged office suites is that it seems rather thin. pw will not open Microsoft's .docs, but it will happily perform your everyday word processing and can import and export most common formats. Siag Office, just as AbiWord, is published under the GPL and is available for free download.