Introduction & Definition
Word processing represents one of the most frequent uses of a computer
in a business environment. The preparation of documents, brochures,
memos and articles is a cornerstone of computing; any operating system
must have a wide selection of word processing tools if it is going to
appeal to the corporate market. Only a few years ago Linux was found
lacking in this department, having a very limited choice of tools to
use; with only the historic UNIX tools being available. For example,
although LaTeX is a highly professional document preparation system it
is aimed at the scientific community, and not at the corporate market.
The situation has changed;
there are a number of quality office suites that include word processing
facilities which are a match for the popular Word.
Firstly, we will take a look at the offering from Sun Corporation.
StarOffice is more than just a word processing package. StarOffice 5.2
software is a complete, feature-rich office productivity product that's
available free of charge to end users. It includes a word processor,
spreadsheet, presentation software, calendar, e-mail, graphics program,
database and math formula software. Comparable to Microsoft Office, its
user interface is intuitive and easy to use. This article will primarily
concentrate on the word processing facilities of this package, which Sun
call StarOffice Writer.
For a word processor to appeal to the corporate market it must have a
wide support for industry standards. Star Office currently supports
ODBC3, Active Data Objects (ADO), HTML, and RTF import/export support,
IMAP4, XML ICAL, and CDE import/export support. More importantly, a word
processor in a corporate setting must have quality import/export filters
to read Microsoft's Word documents. The latest version of StarOffice
Writer has vastly improved filters to read Word documents. They are not
perfect but do make a good job of viewing these documents. In addition
StarOffice Writer does support Microsoft Office 2000 features, OLE
objects, Visual Basic for applications script preservation and more.
Complicated Word documents are well handled by StarOffice Writer.
In a corporate environment a word processing package must be easy to
use. Writer features powerful auto functions which simplify the task of
creating professional looking documents. A feature which is especially
useful for businesses is the business card templates. These let you
choose from a variety of designs.
Sun offer offer commercial support for this package with their
Enterprise support. This is designed for user groups of over 100. It
offers a range of desired features plus valued options to match the
support level needed. Sun are also currently developing a support
package tailored for small businesses as well. A fee based service is
offered by Expertcity.com who offer help, advice and training.
StarOffice is especially designed for organisations that run a number of computer operating
systems. It is available for the Windows, Linux and Solaris platforms. An organisation that finds
itself running multiple operating systems will benefit from having StarOffice installed; although
most word processors have import/export filters, they are never 100% reliable.
WordPerfect has been around for many years and represents a mature product. Although
it was displaced by Word as #1 many years ago, its user base is still considerable.
Like StarOffice, WordPerfect is now shipped as a complete office suite available in standard and
deluxe editions. The standard edition includes Corel Linux OS, Adobe Acrobat Reader, WordPerfect 9,
Quattro Pro 9, Corel Presentations, CorelCENTRAL, a manual, 30 days email support, Netscape, fonts, clip art.
The deluxe edition adds Paradox 9 as well as telephone support.
WordPerfect for Linux requires a powerful workstation to run on. Corel recommend at least 64MB of RAM with 450MB
of hard disk space. These hefty requirements are in part due to the reliance made on using Wine (an implementation
of the Windows APIs). Although Wine is still considered alpha software, WordPerfect is reasonably stable. Stability
of a word processor although important is not critical. WordPerfect 8 does not require the use of this Windows
compatibility layer and could represent a solution where only a word processor is needed.
WordPerfect includes all the major word processing facilities a typical office needs such
as templates, graphics, charting, tables and macros. Even more importantly, WordPerfect has decent Microsoft file
conversation capabilities. As previously mentioned the need to export and import Word (and Excel) files is paramount for
many businesses. We've experienced some loss of formatting on complicated documents, but import and export filters
are never perfect, even Microsoft themselves have found it difficult to write them for their own products.
The provision of support is also crucial for a business to effectively use a software package. Corel offer per
incident support charged at $25.00 or advanced/professional developer services support which costs $150.00 per hour.
The latter offers general Linux support (such as configuration of firewalls, servers, web hosting) as well as WordPerfect
macros and network installation.
The third word processor we are going to consider is Applix Words. Like StarOffice Writer and WordPerfect, Applix Words
is bundled with complementary office applications. The suite is named Applixware.
The suite includes
- Applixware Words
- Applixware Spreadsheets
- Applixware Presents - the presentation application
- Applixware Data - a powerful and flexible database client that enables easy access to ODBC database information without having to know SQL commands
- Applixware Mail - fully mail-enables all Applixware products
- Applixware Builder - using the ELF programming language, lets you create custom applications
Applixware requires a less powerful workstation than WordPerfect. The minimum requirements for Applixware are a P166 processor,
32MB RAM with a full install taking a hefty half a gigabyte of storage. It is available in three languages, English, French
and German although at the time of writing the French Edition of Applixware 5.0 is not yet available. Applix are also set
to release Chinese and Japanese versions for version 5.0.
Although Applixware 4.41 is available for the Windows platforms, the latest version (5.0) is only available for the Intel
Linux platform. Hopefully Applix will provide ports to Alpha, PPC, Solaris and the Windows platforms for future versions.
Applix Words has a wide variety of import and export filters available for conversion from the popular Windows word processors,
which are much improved over the previous release. Although the GTK interface helps to improve the appearance of the application,
Applix Words does lack a little polish compared with the two previous heavyweights. The latest edition has added one essential
feature found in all good word processors, on-the-fly spell checking.
VistaSource Customer Support is there to help you with your day-to-day questions.
A toll-free hotline, fax and mail support, and, if needed, on-site support are all available. For
small businesses there is also 30 day telephone support included in the license fee.
Applixware 5.0 Standard Office Suite for Linux retails for $99.00 for a single license.
The most obvious distinction between LaTeX and the aforementioned word processors is that LaTeX is Open Source
and available without charge. Even if a company uses a commercial heavyweight word processor there is likely to be a use
for LaTeX in specific situations which we will explore. Having the source code available also means that the software
can be tailored to the specific needs of the company.
LaTeX is a version of Donald Knuth's TeX program which is intended for typesetting especially for technical documents
including books, manuals, and theses. It is not a word processor in the traditional sense but rather a document preparation system.
LaTeX encourages authors not to worry too much about the appearance of their documents, but to concentrate on getting the right
content. If your company writes technical reports, books or prepares slide presentations LaTeX could be the ideal
solution, especially if the material produced is of a scientific nature. Although StarOffice Writer, WordPerfect and Applix Words have support for equations, the output produced is vastly inferior to LaTeX's. Equations produced by the heavyweight word processors
do not have the professional typeset quality.
LaTeX was first developed back in 1985 and through successive editions has matured into a very stable product. There is support for
typesetting in many languages, graphics and a wide variety of fonts. LaTeX requires that the input is typed into a file with
any editor with special formatting codes applied. The output is then obtained by running LaTeX on the file. Alternatively you can use
a program such as Lyx to prepare your documents. LyX presents the user with the familiar face of a WYSIWYG word processor using LaTeX in the background. There is even a port of Lyx to the popular KDE. LaTeX and Lyx are available for a wide variety of platforms including the popular UNIX variants (including Linux), OS/2 and Windows.
LaTeX does not come with any technical support. However, there is some assistance available from LaTeX (and
TeX) enthusiasts via USENET (comp.text.tex) and the TeX Frequently Asked Questions document. A wide variety of books on LaTeX are
also available, including the famous "LaTeX: A Document Preparation System" by Leslie Lamport.
Pathetic Writer (PW)
This is an X-based word processor which uses Scheme as an extension language. It is available under the GNU GPL license. Pathetic
Writer is part of the Siag Office, an integrated office package that includes a spreadsheet (Siag), an animation program
(Egon), a text editor (XedPlus), a file manager (Xfiler) and a Postscript previewer (Gvu).
PW has support for the following formats: PW (native), plain text, HTML, RTF, Word, Postscript and PDF. PW uses the catdoc
utility to import text from Microsoft Word documents, although all formatting is lost. Alternatively, formatting can be
partially maintained by using the mswordview utility. PW uses ispell to provide spell checking.
PW features an attractive interface which is easy to learn. It has all the basic features a word processor needs. There
is no commercial support available and the documentation that is provided is fairly brief.
The final word processor we will examine is Maxwell. Although initially intended to be released on a commercial basis, Maxwell
is available under the GNU GPL license. Full source code is available.
Maxwell is recommended as a good WYSIWYG word processor available at no cost. Although Maxwell requires the Motif library to
run, this has recently been made available at no charge. A small business may find it worthwhile to evaluate Maxwell, before
spending thousands of dollars on a commercial word processor, which are bloated with features which most users never need.
There is a reasonable number of features included with the program including spell checking (using ispell),
a basic diagram editor, image support and tables. A limited number of filters are available including RTF
although no Word filter, which is an important omission. Unfortunately, Maxwell does not come with any documentation,
although the program is fairly simple to use. Maxwell is still under active development and the authors intend
to remedy the lack of documentation and provide Word support in the future.
There is no support provided by the authors of this program, which is not surprising under the circumstances. Apart
from any assistance that can be found on USENET, the only other form of support comes from the Maxwell mailing list.
Other word processors
Other word processors that merit a mention include Andrew (a graphical user interface system), Cliq and SciTeXt.
(part of the KOffice suite) has great potential. It is billed as a FrameMaker-like word processor application for KOffice.
It can be used for desktop publishing and also for "normal" word processing (like writing letters, reports, etc.).
A complete list of word processors running under the Linux platform can be
found at linuxlinks.com and
the Office section.