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.

Microsoft used it’s highly effective business strategies to gain an effective monopoly in the computer software industry in the early 1990’s.  Since then, businesses have had very little choice when making decisions about what software to use, as the Windows/Office combination has become an effective standard, as everyone is now locked into Microsoft’s proprietary formats.  This lack of choice has caused Microsoft’s high priced products to continue to sell, irregardless of the product’s actual quality.  Corporate competition has been made near impossible as Microsoft’s highly profitable products sell, not based on value, but out of inertia.  Unfortunately for Microsoft, this lack of competition has enabled Microsoft to produce products of reduced quality, without a disruption in sales figures to mandate internal changes.  With the high cost/low value release of Windows Vista, corporations are becoming more apt to consider alternatives.  IBM is stepping into that vacuum and offering a low cost/high value alternative solution to the business desktop model which has the potential to shatter Microsoft’s stranglehold on the market.

Yesterday, IBM issued a Press Release announcing their new desktop solution which utilizes a combination of Ubuntu, IBM’s Lotus Symphony, and server hosted virtual desktops using a solution called VERDE from Virtual Bridges.

Here are a few highlights:

Compared to Microsoft-based desktops, this virtual desktop solution, including industry-leading components from IBM, Virtual Bridges and Canonical, is estimated on average to deliver cost savings from:

  • Licensing: cost avoidance of $500 to $800 per user on software license for Microsoft Office, Windows and all related products
  • Hardware: cost avoidance of around $258 per user since there is no need to upgrade hardware to support Windows Vista and Office 2007
  • Power consumption: cost avoidance of $40 to $145 per user from reduced power to run the configuration and $20 to $73 per user from reduced air conditioning requirements from lower powered desktop devices annually
  • IT services: 90 percent savings of deskside PC support; 75 percent of security/user administration; 50 percent of help desk services such as password resets, and 50 percent for software installations, which are replaced by software publishing

Standard pricing for a 1,000-user VERDE deployment is $49 per user.

With the benefits of open standards over a proprietary platform come the freedom to select software in a heterogeneous environment,” said Malcolm Yates, vice president, Canonical. “Combining Ubuntu with IBM’s Open Client software applications we can break out of Microsoft dependencies completely and significantly reduce total cost of ownership.

Here is the full Press Release: IBM and Business Partners Introduce a Linux-Based, Virtual Desktop

When I consider the combination of the efforts of the Ubuntu community, the vision of Canonical guiding development, and the backing of companies like IBM, I have no doubt that widespread adoption of Ubuntu will soon reach a tipping point.  The infrastructure is in place, and the gears are turning; we just have to reach critical mass.  Having the word Ubuntu on a resume is feeling more and more valuable by the hour.

So, Google has surprised everybody and made their own browser:  Chrome.  If you haven’t tried Chrome, you can get it here if you are running Windows.  Google hasn’t released the Linux version yet, but you can sign up for an email notification when it’s ready, if you like.  For now, Codeweavers has hacked together a .deb, available here.

When Chrome first became available, the media was in a frenzy about how Google was going to use Chrome to crush Microsoft or something, and people were downloading it like crazy.  Now, the word is that Chrome is a failure.  The LA Times and ComputerWorld think that Chrome is failing because although it gained a lot of market share the first few days, people are now going back to their old browsers.

Is Chrome a failure?  I don’t think it’s failed, yet.  The reason the media is saying Chrome is a flop, is because they don’t understand why Google made a browser, which is partly because they don’t READ and partly because they don’t understand FOSS.

If you look at what Google has to say about why they made Chrome, and read between the lines a little, their purpose becomes clear.  It isn’t about gaining Chrome market share, it’s about building a faster Java engine for Internet Explorer and the rest of the proprietary browsers.

Google’s Web 2.0 apps like Google Docs, Google Maps, and Google Calendar run on Java, and Google reports that they are being limited in what they can do with these applications only because the Java engines of all the other browsers out there are too slow.

Google’s brilliant solution was to start a project called Chromium, and to build an open source Java engine called V8, which apparently blows the competition (excluding Firefox – see below) out of the water.  The best way to spread the word about this V8 Java engine, so as to hopefully get Microsoft to implement it in IE, was to make Chrome.  Sure, it’s a nice browser, and there is a lot Google might do with it, but it isn’t the point.  It’s just the means to an end.

What about Mozilla Firefox?  Well, Mozilla is working on their own super fast Free Open Source Java engine called TraceMonkey which will be included in the quickly approaching Firefox 3.1 update.  And according to Arstechnia, TraceMonkey is already significantly faster than V8.

Why did Google go to all the effort, if TraceMonkey is faster?  The difference, is that Mozilla’s software is under the GPL and Google’s V8 has been released under a BSD license.  If Microsoft wanted to include the GPL’d TraceMonkey code in Internet Explorer, they’d be bound to the terms of the GPL, which requires putting any additional code changes back into the Free Software community under the same license.  The BSD license has no such requirement.  Microsoft could take the code, and give nothing back.

So, has Google failed?  That depends on Microsoft.  Microsoft will have the choice of delivering a sub-standard Java experience in Internet Explorer, or taking the free gift and making Google’s web 2.0 apps faster.  Time will tell.