Abiword

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!

Just today, Microsoft has contributed 20,000 lines of code to Linux, licensed under the GPLv2. This is the first time Microsoft has chosen to use the GPL to license it’s own code.  The software they’ve released today helps to make Linux work better when running in a virtual machine on top of Microsoft’s Hyper-V hypervisor.

Microsoft’s announcement was a big surprise coming from the same company who argued that the “[GPL] debases the currency of the ideas and labor that transform great ideas into great products” and have compared it to a virus.

While this is the first time Microsoft has released code under the GPL, it isn’t the first contribution Microsoft has made to Free Software.  For example, in January of this year, Microsoft made it’s first contribution to the Apache project.  Microsoft’s Bing search engine includes some open source code.  Microsoft also has it’s own Free Software license called the Microsoft Public License (Ms-PL) which is recognized as such by the Free Software Foundation.

Microsoft has also been showing support for Mono with promises not to sue Mono users for patent violations.  I was also surprised to notice that Microsoft’s video website, which requires the Silverlight plugin, redirects Linux users to Mono’s Moonlight plugin page.

So, what’s next?  Perhaps Windows 8 will run on the Linux kernel.

Abiword is Awesome

April 21, 2009

Abiword has just become my new favorite word processor.  It’s always been nice for being so quick and low on resources (installing Abiword requires 26.3 MB in Ubuntu 9.04 compared to 186 MB for OpenOffice.org Writer), but the 2.6 release of Abiword has added two new features which have pushed it over the top for me.

First, Abiword now has .odt (OpenDocument Text) support, so making the switch from OpenOffice.org is a lot less painful.  This is a feature I’ve also been waiting for in KOffice 2 which has finally released it’s first Release Candidate.

My favorite new feature is the Abiword Collaboration Plugin, which adds Google Docs like collaboration functionality to Abiword.  So now I can collaborate on a document without the requirement of using an online service like Google to host our work.  Abiword supports direct connections over TCP, or you can connect over Jabber.  It’s very easy to set up.  After establishing the connection, one person checks the “Share” checkbox in their Abiword, publishing the document to the “Shared Documents” of the other collaborators, enabling them to open and edit the same document.  Everyone gets their own color coded cursor, just like in Google Docs.  The Abiword developers are also working on an online service called AbiCollab.net, which is currently in beta.  This will be an additional ttransport layer for Abiword collaboration, which adds the ability to view the changes a colleague has made to a document before it has been saved to disk.

While it’s true that Abiword doesn’t have all the features of MS Word or OpenOffice.org Writer, it does have all the features I have ever wanted in a word processor, and the small footprint works out really well for my new Dell Mini 9.  For an interesting interview with the developers of Abiword, including more on the Collaboration Plugin and ODT support, and more on AbiCollab.net, check out this article from Red Hat Magazine.  And if you didn’t know, Abiword is Free Software and it can be downloaded at no cost here.

Don’t get me wrong. I’ve always been of the opinion that Dvorak didn’t give Linux enough of a chance. Even so, I was shocked by his glowing review of Ubuntu 8.10.

Ubuntu made such a good impression on him that Dvorak went from this:

Though the Linux community does not want to admit this, Linux has become a pale imitation of the evil OS it intends to replace. On some levels, Linux is better, but from most perspectives it is summarized as “not quite as good but a lot cheaper.”

To this:

…I seriously like the Ubuntu 8.10 implementation and will now install it permanently on my latest machines. It’s a winner…It’s so good that I’m a little annoyed with myself for not getting to it sooner.

I cannot wean myself off Windows altogether because, well, I write about Windows. But for ancillary machines that I put together where I need reliability and low price, I’m always going to see whether Ubuntu works. And if it does, that’s what gets installed.

If I had a small or mid-size company, I’d probably use only Linux and open-source software…

It’s about time.

For the full text of Dvorak’s post about switching to Ubuntu, just click here.  If you are considering trying Ubuntu but still need a little more convincing, here are the reasons I think you should be running Ubuntu:  A few good reasons to switch to Ubuntu.

Here’s a list of a few of the reasons I think you might want to take a look at Ubuntu.  Thanks to the Ubuntu UK Podcast episode 10 for originally inspiring this post.

  1. Cost – Ubuntu and all the software Ubuntu makes available costs $0.  If you are comparing this to the cost of Windows, don’t forget the costs of your Office Suite, any other software you need to purchase, plus the annual subscription to your Antivirus and Firewall vendor of choice.  If you want to upgrade to Vista, you’ll also need to buy a new computer.  In contrast, Canonical (the for profit company that funds much of the development of Ubuntu) will even pay the postage to mail you an Ubuntu installation CD if you ask for one.  If you are a business considering deploying Ubuntu on the Desktop or on the Server, you don’t need to work out a licensing deal before trying the system, or deploying it fully.  Paid support is available, but not required.
  2. Wide Range of Support Options – You get your pick.  The easiest way to get a question answered is by doing a quick Google search (I use Uboontu).  Alternatively, you can read up on the Official Ubuntu Documentation, post to the Ubuntu Forums, ask a question on Launchpad, chat in #ubuntu on irc.freenode.net, send an email to an Ubuntu Support Mailing List, contact someone in your local Ubuntu LoCo Group, or get paid support directly from Canonical.
  3. Live CDs – You can use a Live CD to test drive Ubuntu on your computer before actually going through the installation process.  I’d recommend running the Live CD to make sure all your hardware works, including things like printers and other peripheral devices.  NB:  The performance of your system while you use a Live CD is dependent on the amount of RAM your computer has – I’d recommend 512 MB RAM for a good experience.  A fully installed system will certainly have better performance.
  4. Ease of Installation – Ubuntu is quite easy to install, particularly compared to Windows.  There are no tricky questions, and all the user interaction occurs at the beginning of the installation, so once it gets going you can walk away.  If you are currently using Windows, I’d highly recommend using Wubi to install the system.  Wubi makes installing Ubuntu ridiculously easy.  Ubuntu is installed just like any other Windows application, and can be removed from Add/Remove Programs in the Control Panel.  The entire system is installed inside a single file, with no impact on the rest of your Windows installation.  An entry is added to the Windows boot loader, giving you the option of starting either Windows, or Ubuntu each time you start your PC.  Wubi also comes on the Ubuntu Live CD, so if you insert the CD while running Windows, it will give you the option of installing Ubuntu with Wubi without requiring the additional download of the Ubuntu installation files.
  5. Less Post-Installation Work – Ubuntu comes with software for everything you need to do on a typical desktop system, pre-loaded.  After a Windows installation is finished, you need to find and install drivers for every piece of hardware in your computer.  Afterward, you get to install all the different software applications you need, one at a time, meticulously typing in all the CD Keys, or hunting for the installation file on the internet.  If you’ve done this before, you can probably appreciate the Out of the Box completeness of an Ubuntu installation.
  6. A New Version Every 6 Months, or 2 Years – Ubuntu has a 6 month release cycle, bringing you a new version of Ubuntu, along with new features and new versions of each piece of software you have installed.  If you’d prefer not to upgrade every 6 months, there is also a Long Term Support release, every two years.  The LTS release has a longer support lifetime (3 years, compared to 18 months for Desktop support), if you are purchasing support from Canonical.
  7. Easy to Install Additional Software – Need something that didn’t come with a default installation of Ubuntu?  Just go to Applications > Add/Remove, and after the list populates itself, you can browse through thousands of available applications, grouped by category.  These include games, desktop publishing applications, alternate office suites, audio/video remastering software, and just about every other type of software you can think of.  Installation is as easy as checking the boxes next to your chosen applications, clicking Apply Changes, and clicking Apply again on the confirmation box.  That’s it.  All the software is automatically downloaded and installed, with icons placed in the appropriate places in your menu.  No more clicking next, next, next, next, finish, ad nauseum, and no need to keep those precious software installation CD’s you bought from getting damaged while you aren’t needing them.
  8. Better Language Support – Gnome, and therefore Ubuntu, has 45 languages having at least 80 percent of the system translated with some support for over 100 languages, including Albanian, Arabic, Basque, Bengali (India), Brazilian Portuguese, Bulgarian, Catalan, Chinese (China), Chinese (Hong Kong), Chinese (Taiwan), Czech, Danish, Dutch, Dzongkha, English (US, British, Canadian), Estonian, Finnish, French, Galician, German, Greek, Gujarati, Hebrew, Hungarian, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Lithuanian, Macedonian, Malayalam, Marathi, Norwegian Bokmål, Polish, Portuguese, Punjabi, Russian, Serbian (Cyrillic and Latin), Slovenian, Spanish, Swedish, Tamil, Thai, Turkish, Ukrainian, and Vietnamese.
  9. No More Worrying About Viruses – Ubuntu users don’t need to worry about viruses, as viruses are programs which exploit holes in Windows security.  This means that you also don’t need any Anti-Virus software, which saves you money and system resources.  This extends to spyware and adware, and other malicious programs lurking about on the Internet.
  10. More Secure – Linux, and therefore Ubuntu, is more secure than Windows, particularly on the desktop.  Windows comes with all kinds of ports open waiting for connections, and Ubuntu does not.  This is why you are foolish not to run a firewall on a Windows desktop computer, as the firewall is intended to fix the open ports problem.  On Ubuntu, installing a software package which requires a port, opens that port.  If your Ubuntu system is directly connected to the Internet, I’d recommend you set up some kind of firewall anyway.  In Ubuntu 8.10, check out the new graphical front end to ufw (Uncomplicated Firewall), gufw.  Also, the filesystem used by Linux is more secure, and more tunable to exactly what kind of security you need for a given file or folder, in contrast to the ON or OFF file access provided by Windows XP.
  11. No Vendor Lock In – Proprietary software vendors often take advantage of their customers, by locking them into the system they purchase, by making it hard or impossible to migrate to a different system.  Apparently, they think that doing this will keep their customers coming back, year after year.  They’re usually correct, no matter how unethical it is.  I, for one, will not buy anything that traps me into using a particular product, given the choice.  Ubuntu, and FOSS (Free Open Source Software) in general, support open standards, and are providing your software at no cost.
  12. Designed to Last Forever – Free Software is often developed by people who wanted something for themselves, and after creating it, chose to give it away to everyone else.  So, the software is designed to serve the user.  It isn’t designed with Marketing in mind, nor is it designed to become obsolete so you need to buy the new version.  Not to mention, the software is open source, so even if the guy that originally wrote it gets hit by a bus or something, anyone else can continue to improve the product, if they want to.
  13. Learn How it Works – If you like to tinker, and want to learn, the sky is the limit.  There is excellent documentation available in the Help menus of most of the software that comes with the system.  If you want to learn how to use free software for the production of art, video, or sound, there is free educational material available, and the tools are free.  If you want to get more technical, you can go as far as viewing the source code for even the most arcane parts of the Linux Kernel.  And again, all the tools are free.
  14. Change the Appearance – It’s really easy to dramatically change the look and feel of Ubuntu.  Don’t like brown?  Go to System > Preferences > Appearance for a number of different themes.  Check out www.gnome-look.org or art.gnome.org for a wealth of additional themes and icon sets. If you are using Ubuntu for your business, you can even rebrand the Operating System with your own logos and themes, if you want to.  Of course, anyone can do this on their Desktop at home, too.
  15. Change the Software – You can take any Free Software and modify the code to make it suit your needs perfectly.  If you redistribute it, or if you are just feeling charitable, make the code changes available to everyone else.
  16. Help Make Ubuntu Better – It isn’t hard to join the community and work to make Ubuntu better for yourself, and for everyone else that uses the system.  You can help by submitting bugs, suggesting ideas, translating documentation into another language, testing the system, supporting others with problems, contributing artwork, writing documentation, or contributing code.
  17. Real Ownership – With Ubuntu, you actually have ownership of your entire computer.  If you are using Windows, you don’t own the software – you only paid for a license to use the software in a specific way.  Ownership means you can change it, and do whatever you want with it including having redistribution rights and including the ability to making money off of it.  Your ownership is unrestricted, and you don’t need to worry about someone trying to sue you for what you do with it (the only exception would be relating to the use of trademarks, such as the Ubuntu and Firefox logos, if you change the software).  Of course, real ownership also means that if it breaks, it’s up to you to fix it.  But you aren’t alone.  The entire community owns it jointly, and many people are helping to provide you with support, fix the problems on your system, and make improvements to your software.
  18. Pwn your Friends – Ubuntu has a number of great, free First Person Shooters available in the repositories including Tremulous, Nexuiz, OpenArena, and Sauerbraten.  Other cool games are available, like Kobo Deluxe or Battle for Wesnoth.  Running Windows games in Wine is also an option.  See the Wine App db for how well your favorite Windows game runs in Wine.  For example World of Warcraft, Guild Wars, Homeworld, Warcraft III, Starcraft, EVE Online, Command and Conquer 3, Call of Duty 4, Everquest 1 and 2, and Counter-Strike all run very well in Ubuntu with Wine.
  19. The Power of UNIX, thanks to Gnu’s tools – If you really want to make your system work for you, you’ll be learning how to make good use of the command line.  The Terminal is scary at first, but that’s only because it’s unfamiliar and you don’t know how to use it.  Once you have some command line experience under your belt, you’ll find that you can do what you want to do much faster than you could using your mouse in the graphical environment.  (If you find yourself using the Terminal a lot, I’d recommend checking out tilda.  You can install tilda from the command line with ‘sudo aptitude install tilda’.)  A few tips for beginners:
  • ~ represents your home directory, where all your files live.
  • cd changes directories, cd .. takes you up a level, and cd – takes you back to the previous directory.
  • ls displays the contents of a directory.
  • Autocomplete commands by pressing tab, or pressing it twice for suggestions.
  • After finding the name of a command, type “man COMMAND” for the manual.
  • Use the nano command to edit a text file.

Here are some challenges associated with switching to Ubuntu:

  1. Unfamiliarity – It might sound like I’m stating the obvious, but the system will be new to you.  Using Ubuntu may appear to be more difficult than it really is, just because of this fact.  After you get over the initial shock, I think you’ll find that Ubuntu is actually easier to use than Windows.
  2. Terminology – When you are new to the FOSS world, it’s really hard to know what everyone is talking about, since you don’t understand the terminology.  How are you supposed to know the difference between a desktop environment and a window manager?  Not to mention, the names of different projects that are interchangeable, like Gnome, KDE, and XFCE or Metacity and Compiz.  Every software project has come up with it’s own name, and the name never seems to have anything to do with what the software actually does.  The good news, is that the Ubuntu Community has provided a Glossary.
  3. Vendor Support – Many hardware and software vendors don’t provide much support for Linux.  The good news is that the Linux Kernel hackers have managed to backwards engineer hardware drivers for just about everything.  3d Graphics card drivers, and some Wifi cards require the use of an Ubuntu tool called Jockey which will install proprietary drivers for you.  Software that isn’t designed to work on Linux might run if you try using Wine, and there are Free Software alternatives for just about every type of computer program.  Some of the most popular Windows applications actually run great, and possibly faster in Ubuntu using Wine, such as MS Office and World of Warcraft.  If you really need Windows XP, you can easily install it inside Ubuntu with Virtualbox.  Also, if you call your ISP and tell them you are running Ubuntu, they will probably freak out for no good reason.  At least, they’ve heard of Firefox, by now.
  4. Some Hardware Might Not Work Out of the Box – Hardware that doesn’t work is uncommon, but it’s possible.  Less popular hardware is less likely to work.  Try the LiveCD, and test your hardware.  Some people have problems getting Suspend and Hibernate to work.  If it doesn’t work, check the forums or do a Uboontu search for help in getting it working.  In the future, it’s a good idea to check the forums to see if a piece of hardware is supported, before you buy it.  I haven’t found this to be a big problem when I’ve helped people switch to Ubuntu.
  5. Migrating your stuff from Windows to Ubuntu – The Ubuntu Community has compiled a good list of stuff to consider when you are going to make the switch, available here.  I’d again recommend using Wubi, as you can take your time migrating everything as Wubi installs Ubuntu on your computer with no more impact on Windows than installing any other application.
  6. Restricted Media Formats – Many media formats, such as mp3 and aac music formats don’t come pre-installed in Ubuntu, due to legal restrictions on distributing the software required because of patent issues.  I’d recommend you start ripping your CD’s into Ogg Vorbis format.  It’s better, and it’s free.  DVD support doesn’t come pre-installed, also for legal restrictions on decrypting DVD’s without paying for it.  Flash video, required for YouTube and other websites, doesn’t come pre-loaded either, because of restrictions imposed by Adobe.  Also, Microsoft’s fonts don’t come installed, also due to legal restrictions, irregardless of whether or not you own a copy of Windows.  Ubuntu costs nothing, after all, and the people that hold patents require compensation for using their technology.  If you want to make all of this work in one shot, no questions asked, you can install the ubuntu-restricted-extras package.  For more on the topic, see the Ubuntu Community documentation available here.  If you want to buy software that allows Ubuntu to play these formats, Canonical has started making this available in the Canonical Store.

Let me know if I missed anything important.  NB:  Many of the advantages of using Ubuntu listed above are shared by other Linux Distributions, and are the result of the hard work of Gnu and a lot of other Free Software projects.

In response to our global economic woes, Sequoia Capital gave it’s portfolio company CEOs a scary slideshow presentation, which I thought I’d share.  If you don’t know who Sequoia Capital is, here is a description of the company from the TechCrunch CrunchBase:

Sequoia Capital is a venture capital firm founded by Don Valentine in 1972. The firm has offices in the US, China, India and Israel. Sequoia has funded an unprecedented number of enormously successful companies including Google, Yahoo, Paypal, Electronic Arts, YouTube, NVIDIA, Cisco Systems, Oracle and Apple. Sequoia estimates that 10% of the NASDAQ’s value is made up of firms they have funded.

To see their presentation, check out the TechCrunch article here.  It’s morbidly fascinating.

I’ve heard many report that proftable Open Source companies like Red Hat have been weathering the bad times better than most, since many businesses are looking for ways to cut costs, and Free Software solutions can be a much less expensive option for many.  Page 46 of the presentation does point out, however, that companies that don’t already have an established revenue model, paying customers, and existing profitability will have trouble getting any new funding from Venture Capitalists.

So, what does this mean for popular Web 2.0 apps and other projects which depend on paid employees but don’t have clear cut business models?  Unless they have wealthy benefactors, as does Canonical, they could have some trouble convincing investors to provide the funding they need to keep going.