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Office Suite Evaluation: Word Processor

Assignment: Write a business letter to the Acme Corporation asking for employment. Include a table of your projects with three columns listing the title, date and brief description, which should wrap to more than one line. Include a suitable image or graphic. Extra credit: type up your actual resumé.

The Windows competitor here is Microsoft Word. It has a template feature, whereby much of the formatting for various kinds of documents can be preloaded. The few Linux word processors that had templates are noted. Writer (screenshot)

It has a very nice AutoPilot to adapt the letter template. Unfortunately the resulting template could not be written in the default directory (owned by root?) I was not able to find a setting or dialog to get it to store in the user's own directory, despite major debugging effort. I created the letter by hand rather than using the template.

(It turns out that this is a crock in the setup files in SuSE 8.1, apparently not the fault of OpenOffice itself. You need to do a registry hack: First, start Follow menus: Tools, Options,, Paths. Edit Templates. Delete the members for internal and wizard. Close everything and exit. Now remove the file $HOME/OpenOffice.org1.0.1/user/config/registry/instance/org/openoffice/ucb/Hierarchy.xml. That should take care of the problem. Thanks to the OpenOffice and SuSE support staffs for tracking this down.

In "by hand" mode, I found it quite easy to create the letter. Many controls are mouseable, such as paragraph margins, indentation and table column widths. If you are used to Microsoft Word you will have no problem with OOo Writer. The file printed with no problems. There were only two annoying aspects: when I inserted the date it did not ask me what format I wanted, and I couldn't figure out how to change it afterward; and it doesn't know em or ex as a unit for spacing. The default unit is cm, but you can type, e.g. 11pt and it is understood. And when I exited from the program, it put up a dialog saying an unrecoverable error has occurred (didn't say what it was).

Its file management is not UNIX-like. It deposits or loads files either in the home directory or the last directory used, rather than the directory from which it was started. It has a registry just like Windows, and it remembers directories between sessions; you may or may not like that behavior. includes a separate math formula editor. I did not try to use it.

Resource usage: installed size not stated separately, file size 8 Kb, virtual 119 Mb, rss 47 Mb, CPU 14 sec.

KDE: KWord (screenshot)

In the Koffice suite, the word processor is called KWord. As far as I can tell, it does not have a letter template preconfigured, though if you made your own, it could be used. When creating the table, I had trouble to do the wrapped minipages of the activity descriptions; there is a program bug that manifested as a failed assertion (quite a lot of times), and the vertical size of the table row did not auto-expand, nor was manual expansion particularly successful. I was not able to add another row to the table. Spell checking was simple and effective (though there were some odd flashing screens when finishing). Printing was fully successful. I was able to accomplish the assignment, but I must say that this word processor is not quite ready for prime time.

Resource usage: installed size 9 Mb, file size 7 Kb, virtual 68 Mb, RSS 32 Mb, 22 secs CPU.


Gnome does not have its own word processor. The SuSE-provided menu directs you to KWord or OpenOffice Writer or LyX.

LyX (screenshot)

LyX is a kind of front end to the TeX document formatting system; it shows on screen approximately the formatting that will be in the final document. It includes full support for TeX mathematical typesetting. TeX can be converted to HTML (including most but not all of the math) by the Hevea system. I personally use LyX whenever I need to do word processing. LyX was easy to use. It includes a nice letter style. I needed to do some work to figure out how to get wrapped cells in the table (assign a fixed width to the column). I could include the graphical logo but was not able to get it to print on the same page as the text. Apart from this, printing was fine.

Resource usage: installed size 15 Mb, file size 3.2 Kb, virtual 12 Mb, RSS 9 Mb, 17 secs CPU.

Abiword (screenshot)

Abiword is described as a full-featured but fast word processor. It is particularly good at reading Microsoft Word documents. It potentially has templates, but only normal is provided; if the user created a letter or other template, it could be used.

As with OpenOffice Writer, Abiword does not understand em or ex units for spacing. It uses KDE services (if available?) and displays its help using Konqueror. Preparing the document was mostly straightforward, except that Abiword does not have real table support, and tables are handled through geometric paragraphing and tabs. (Table automation is scheduled for version 1.2.) It comes out pretty good, though it's more work than in the other word processors and there is no possibility to wrap text in cells. I got the spacing wrong in the last line of the table (see the screen shot), and didn't take the time to make it right. Printing was accurate with no problems.

Resource usage: installed size 8.6 Mb, file 6.5 Kb, virtual 13 Mb, RSS 8 Mb, CPU 4 secs.

Conclusion: LyX, and Writer from, were able to do the full assignment. LyX is what the author uses (and will continue to use).

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