Christopher B. Browne's Home Page

Linux Word Processing

Christopher Browne

Table of Contents
1. Linux Development Projects for Free Word Processors
2. DTP - Desktop Publishing
3. Proprietary Word Processors for Linux
4. Running "Foreign" Word Processors on Linux via Emulation
5. An Opinionated Discussion About Word Processors
6. An Alternative Approach: Text Editor/Presentation Language
7. How to Use Inelegant Systems Intelligently
8. Crossreferences

This document discusses the document processing software that is available under Linux. Word processing software has been a matter of great interest for those that wish to see Linux more widely adopted for use in business.

There is a fairly sizable assortment of free software packages for this purpose. Unfortunately, they have long been not generally considered to be terribly "credible" particularly they do not generally read or write the data formats used by Microsoft Word, which is widely considered the "industry standard." Furthermore, many projects to build "free word processors" tend to get started, but, unfortunately, few ever reach any degree of completion.

There are, in contrast, a number of proprietary software packages that do a reasonable job of "understanding" various proprietary word processor formats.

This document also includes an opinionated discussion about word processing. I feel that the actual thing that people wish to do (doing stuff with documents) is not generally well understood and that peoples' expectations and use of word processing software is hence impeded.

1. Linux Development Projects for Free Word Processors

Here is a list of various projects that have been trying to build word processors. The list is ordered based on what I perceive to be the level of "stability and continuing development" of the package. If it is stable and/or under active development, it will be near the top of the list.

Defunct projects are listed at the end. I will continue to include information on defunct projects even though web presences may have disappear to demonstrate how prone this area has been to failure.

Despite being inactive, I consider EZ. worth using as it is stable, well-designed, and fairly easy to use. And it uses (underneath) a text-based markup system.

The experimental packages are certainly not stable, and all too often lock users into using "proprietary" data formats. As a result, I'm rather dubious of their use.

1.1. AbiSource - AbiWord


This is a Gtk-based Word Processor/Publisher system, being "open source" developed, formerly under the "AbiSource License," but now under the GPL...

... [Abisource has] released AbiWord AbiWord is available on both Linux and Windows, so everybody can share files. We have support for WYSWYIG printing on both systems. We also support line spacing, paragraph spacing, widow/orphan control, multi-column documents, find/replace, and infinite undo/redo. Of course, we have everything you would expect such as selections, font control, and cut/copy/paste.

AbiWord looks to become the GNOME Project word processor. It is starting to shape up quite well. By using GTk, it gets any configurability that come from GTK Themes.

Its capabilities are a bit primitive in comparison with Word, but it is quite suitable if you are writing letters and reports that do not require great sophistication.

1.2. KWord

KWord - KDE Office Word Processor

KWord is the "official" word processor of the KDE Project.

1.3. LibreOffice

Once named™ (now a trademark of 1), this was originally based on the source code of StarOffice, the Libreoffice "office suite" includes a word processing module that can read and write documents in some of the "industry non-standard formats" that people are rather interested in.

  • I wrote translation code in Common Lisp that transforms the XML -based data format into DocBook form. Apparently there is to be an integrated "module" for this purpose in version 1.1...

1.4. Flwriter

Flwriter - a word processor based on FLTK

1.6. EZ

CMU Andrew Project - AUIS

The Andrew Project, a joint venture project in user interface design between IBM and Carnegie Mellon University, along with various other participants, includes a "document editor" called EZ that can be used for various purposes including word processing. Its claims to fame include that documents can be safely sent thru email and that documents can combine text,pictures, and in fact spreadsheet data, and the user interface changes dynamically to reflect the operations that are meaningful for whatever kind of document component you're working with.

Unfortunately, it's not particularly compatible with non-Andrew software, and I think it unlikely that this will change.

Status: It's been released in roughly current form for several years; substantial enhancements do not seem likely as this was a piece of joint research work between CMU and IBM on user interfaces, and the designers have moved on to other work. Version 8 is available in source code form, and may soon become readily available for Linux. That appears to be the final edition of the package unless someone decides to fund continuing support.

In /etc/profile and/or other profile files that set up environment for users, add the following:


1.7. Lyx

LyX's home page

Lyx is a GUI'ed nearly-WYSIWYG system for creating LaTeX documents. It isn't fully capable of reading and providing visual presentation of arbitrary LaTeX documents; since there's a really powerful macro system inside, that's a pretty intractable problem.

Status: Released; works fairly well. There have been ports working with GTK, Qt, and XForms ; only the Qt version has survived.

1.8. SIAG Office - Pathetic Writer

Pathetic Writer is a system written using C and Scheme that is part of the SIAG (Scheme in a Grid) Office system.

Status: Somewhat sporadic development; see NEWS .

1.9. Many Moribund Projects

  • Maxwell

    There once was a company that developed a Linux word processor called Maxwell. They apparently concluded that they were unlikely to make much money selling Maxwell, and so wound up the company, thus leaving the software "all dressed up with nowhere to go."

    One of the people that worked on Maxwell is now making it freely available under the GPL at the Maxwell WP Home Page.

    Status: Latest news update: July 1998.

  • SciTeXt

    A "scientific" word processor. It uses TeX as the rendering engine, Python as its macro language, Motif as the GUI library, and imports/exports (in somewhat limited fashion) RTF, HTML, ASCII, and even (probably in very ugly fashion) Word6 files.

    Status: Work to rearchitect SciTeXt in Java started in mid 1997. No "proof of concept" code is available thus far. The project appears "dead," as does the URL.

    The T1lib font management library for X has been taken out of the former C version of SciTeXt, and remains useful.

  • The GNOME Word Processor (GWP) Project recently began, based on the "Hungry Programmers" software (formerly the XWord project).

    Status: Apparently work is ongoing; I have not yet seen a release of it...

  • Link/Pub

    This is a Qt-based Word Processor/Publisher system.

  • Wazo

    A shareware character mode package that runs on a number of Intel-based Unix variants; it claims fame in that it requires only 1 function key (along with the various prompts/menus).


    YAMP (Yet Another Master's Project); a word processor written in C++ with X11R6 and Motif. It uses TCL as a "command interpreter." As the documentation is all in French, I'm sure it handles French accents.

  • Cicero

    Written using C++ and Tk/TCL; this program "supports LaTeX and linuxdocSGML."

    Status: Various revisions have been released; it looks like it's a "one man show"

    LinuxDoc has been made platform independent as SGMLTools and it is not clear that further updates are going into Cicero.

  • XWord

    Part of the Hungry project that sought to build a Motif "clone" called Lesstif.

    Status: Buggy versions are apparently available; further development doesn't seem to have be taking place since mid-1997. An announcement in 1998 has indicated that the "Hungry" group plan to adopt the Gtk Toolkit and have this join The GNOME Desktop Project.

  • Thot

    A structured document editor system; this has been enhanced into the Amaya web browser/editor. It can output LaTeX and HTML.

    Thot is not itself an editor, but rather a set of libraries that can be used for building applications based on the concept of structured active documents.

    Assuming that the licensing restrictions are reasonably conformant with other free software, one or another of the other projects probably ought to make use of this code as a rendering or editing engine.

    Status: Released; works fairly well, and has some commercial spinoffs; effort is probably mostly going into the (free) Amaya spinoff now.

  • Qist

    A Tk/TCL-based application that uses GNU Emacs to edit source, sgmls to parse/validate SGML, LaTeX or groff for rendering, and then ghostview or an HTML browser to display the results.

    The web site appears to be gone; perhaps the software too...

  • Mocs for X

    Modular Object-oriented Customizable word processing System.

    To be written in C++, using Lesstif/Motif, Pthreads,

    Status: Has been "in planning stages" since 1996. The last IRC meeting recorded was in 1996. Probably "dead." The web site appears to be gone.

  • Didot

    A German program to be written in C++, intended to be highly modular, providing a combination of word processing and desktop publishing capabilities.

    Status: Unable to locate any current information. The URL is not valid... I believe that this project is "dead."

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