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!

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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.