Abiword Use Case: Writing papers for college
September 27, 2009
A while back, I wrote about how Abiword was my favorite word processor, due to it’s simplicity and low system requirements and some killer features other word processors lack. Not to mention it costs $0 and works on Windows, Mac and Linux. As I am now back in school, I naturally decided to put Abiword to the test by using it as my primary word processor for completing assignments.
For some background on my environment, I am currently attending Howard Community College which uses Microsoft Windows XP exclusively in all of it’s classrooms and computer labs, and provides MS Word 2007 on all of it’s computers for word processing. I complete almost all of my schoolwork on my Dell Mini 9, currently running a pre-release version of Ubuntu Linux 9.10. I do frequently need to use the college’s Windows XP systems for purposes of printing documents and completing online classwork in rooms without Wifi.
For the most part, I have found Abiword to meet my needs satisfactorily. Abiword starts extremely fast on my computer, and provides sufficient tools for doing almost everything I need to do. While Abiword does support MS Word document format (.doc) and OpenDocument Format (.odt), I have chosen to stick with the default .abw format so I don’t need to worry about any formating incompatibilities when I go to print my completed work. I initially intended to save all of my finished documents to PDF for final printing (saved to a USB flash drive), but I discovered that while my PDFs are perfect in Ubuntu, they were all blank documents in Windows. (I attempted this with 3 documents using Abiword’s built in save as PDF feature. Exporting to PDF in Ubuntu using OpenOffice.org works fine). Luckily, I had the installer for Abiword on my USB flash drive, and installation of the word processor only takes about 15 seconds. Once Abiword was installed in Windows, printing my .abw documents were simple. Another option I could try is installing and running Abiword directly from my USB flash drive. This is reported to work very well, and very simple instructions are available here.
My greatest challenge in using Abiword came when I was required to use MLA formating for the first of many essays I’ll be writing. First, Abiword doesn’t have a typical outline generation option, but this honestly made it easier for me to crank out the outline according to the required format (I., A., 1., a). To be clear, Abiword can be used to generate outline numbering, but it doesn’t automatically handle the hierarchy part. To add an indented section you just tab in (after adjusting the tab stops), and start a new numbered list. Abiword also supports the feature of continuing a numbered list from a previous part of the outline, which makes the task easier. The one thing Abiword could not handle, was the seemingly simple task of changing the format of the page numbering. I was required to use lowercase Roman Numerals for the outline, and Abiword doesn’t support changing the formating of the page numbers at all.
OpenOffice.org (which also costs $0 and runs on Windows, Mac, and Linux) came to the rescue. I tried saving my Abiword document in OpenOffice.org Writer’s format (.odt), but I lost all of the outline formatting I had worked so hard on (Abiword does support saving to .odt document format, but it’s not 100%). In contrast to Abiword, re-formatting the outline in OOo Writer was a major pain. OOo Writer does have a traditional style word processor outline tool (where it tries to guess what you want to do with the outline, Clippy style) but it only managed to make the job more complicated and more difficult. OOo Writer also generates the numbering/lettering of the outline hierarchy for you, but none of the options available matched the specific formatting I was required to use, so I had to do some tricky tabbing in the end anyway. Writer gave me no problems changing the page numbering to lowercase Roman numerals which was fantastic.
In the end, I still think Abiword is Awesome, but I don’t think I’ll be using it for any formal papers anytime soon. For that task, I’ll stick with OpenOffice.org Writer. Another advantage of using OpenOffice.org for my schoolwork is that OOo Writer’s default document format .odt is supported by MS Word 2007, and I’ve noticed no formatting issues opening .odt files in Word ’07 for printing (thanks Microsoft).
In conclusion, Abiword is a fast, easy to use word processor, but it doesn’t provide me with all of the tools I need for writing essays in college. If anyone knows how to get Abiword to change the formatting of page numbers, or if you’d like to share your experiences using Abiword, OpenOffice.org Writer, or another alternative word processor in an educational environment, please leave a comment!