Best Linux Word Processor in 2019

Now that The Minimum You Need to Know About the Phallus of AGILE is out for another round of editing, I have a bit of time to experiment with word processor software on my KDE Neon 64-bit desktop. Some of you will remember that I kicked some tires back in January. Regrettably I started a free trial for the commercial version of Textmaker then didn’t do anything with it and it has something stored somewhere so I cannot confirm my suspicions.

I don’t demand that my software be free but that certainly helps. The biggest thing is “how restrictive is the license?” Honestly I paid for a Sublime Text 3 license because I can install it as many times as I want. As a geek with a lot of machines and one who installs different Linux distros at a moment’s notice for some project or other, I cannot abide by an onerous registration process.

LS-120

When I’m writing a new book I will drop back to my trusty ole 3rd generation i5 because that one already has one of my LS-120 drives installed.

i5 with super floppy

If a book is going to be a long project, even if the target market is only 50 readers, I like to have off-site backups. I can copy the directory to an LS-120 and take it with me when I leave at night. No, I don’t trust cloud backup services. Technical recruiters who can barely speak English tell me my OpenVMS application development book is one of the best pirated books in India. They should know. Most of them are calling from there using voice over IP.

FreeOffice

This is a stripped down version of SoftMaker Office. I didn’t play with SoftMaker Office when I started the free trial back in January so I cannot tell if my misgivings about FreeOffice are fixed in the commercial version.

The first thing you will note is that the toolbar appears a bit rough. It’s not unreasonable, just appears to not be as polished as many other word processors on the market. It almost has a Java type look to it. Perhaps that is the language used to write the package, I do not know. I do know that it took a really long time to install the .deb package on this 7th generation i7.

Ugly Font Rendering

Another thing you will notice is the font rendering appears a bit ugly. It’s definitely not the same engine as LibreOffice uses. Notice the frames around the images as well. There is some weird kind of alignment issue when opening an OpenDocument file created by LibreOffice.

The combination of the font and image issues pushed the LA12 image down into the footer. When I tried to move the image I couldn’t just click and drag the image with caption as I wished. I had to try and convert the image to an object and I could move the image but the caption did not follow. After looking at the features list of the commercial version I believe this is something unique to the product.

Could Not Add Caption

In the 5 minutes I spent looking I couldn’t figure out how to add a caption to the image once moved. Again, I believe this is a difference in philosophy. One would have to spend a bit of time learning how TextMaker wants you to create documents. My real apprehension is how well this philosophy would save to an OpenDocument file then opened by one of these other word processors.


The things which bothered me the most is how footnotes look and the fact the free version could not correctly support page styles. I had odd and even page styles so the header would have the page number in the outside upper corner of both facing and non-facing pages.

You can see what I mean in this screenshot from LibreOffice.

Notice the cleaner font rendering as well. Keep in mind this is the same OpenDocument file in both editors. Granted, I used LibreOffice to create it but given it is the same file using the same font on the same machine I would expect the rendering to be very close to the same.

Note the image placement as well. It doesn’t mush down into the footer.

Footnotes look cleaner in LibreOffice as well. They don’t have boxes around them and they are displayed as the links they are.

It’s Fast

I will give TextMaker this kudo. It’s fast. LibreOffice suffers from memory strangulation. Even installing Oracle Java can’t get rid of this problem. I’ve written about some of the various hacks to get around this problem but you really cannot eliminate it.

When editing a large document like a 600+ page book which has lots of images, just resizing a couple of images to make things fit better sends LibreOffice into a crawl. I’ve got 24Gig of RAM on this box so memory should never be a problem, but it is. If you start to apply page styles after you have written your document LibreOffice can hang for minutes while it updates the rendering of the entire document.

AbiWord

AbiWord crashed trying to load the document. It hung on 98% loading and just vaporized. I had heard AbiWord suffered from a lack of developers and was just kind of rotting in repos. I guess the rumors are true.

ZoHo

I tried to open this file with ZoHo. No, I didn’t create an account and load the document to the Web. I tried to open it as a local file because Zoho installed itself as a right click option which it shouldn’t do if it cannot handle local files. It died just like AbiWord. Perhaps the same team of developers are not working on this project while they are not working on AbiWord?

Caligra Words

My hatred for Caligra Words is legendary. The developers took the not horrible KWord word processor and created this abomination. After taking an unbelievably long time to load the document, each strike of the Page Up/Down key took 4 seconds to respond. I’m running this on a 7th generation i7 with a native install of KDE Neon and it took 4 seconds. Thank God I didn’t try this on that 4th gen i5. Might have to wait until tomorrow to see the screen move.

While the font rendering is substantially better than FreeOffice/TextMaker, you can see just how well it handles images with captions.

LibreOffice

This is the one which is most likely installed on your Linux distro. There’s even a Windows version, or at least there was. It appears to have the largest pool of active developers. It also suffers from some initial horrible choices made by the OpenOffice team, notably, using Java anywhere in the product.

There is a growing push to get LibreOffice to become more like Lotus SmartSuite was back in the day. It came back to life again today which is probably what brought about this post. Lotus SmartSuite was phenom. Way better than WordPerfect and I used WordPerfect for many years during the days of DOS and Windows.

FocusWriter word processor

FocusWriter is a minimalist word processor. It doesn’t have page styles, headers or footers. It doesn’t handle images. It does handle OpenDocument files but the target market for FocusWriter is people who want a full screen distraction free word processor just to get the words down.

Let me stress that again. FocusWriter is just a word processor. It doesn’t claim to be an “office” product.

As you can see, it has fantastic font rendering. It supports a bit of bolding and such but, as you can see near the top of the image, footnotes just get stuffed in where ever they happen to be referenced. I do use FocusWriter to bang out the occasional blog post or text only chapter. It’s quick and clean. Very easy on the eyes. Just not something you can use for book creation unless you are working with that ancient “manuscript” format. I always lay my books out completely and send the PDF to the printer.

OnlyOffice

OnlyOffice has a very clean look modeled after Microsoft Word’s current look. I only use the desktop version. The company appears to be targeting on-line collaboration and trying to get completely docx compatible. They do “support” OpenDocument format, but . . .

As you can see, they don’t support page styles, have a real problem with OpenDocument headings and more than a bit of trouble with images.

The font rendering is rather excellent though.

They just have a bit of trouble with the basics.

Summary

First Place:   LibreOffice

LibreOffice tends to be my goto word processor even with all its warts. Every Ubuntu based Linux distro (a YABU in technical terms) seems to have it pre-installed and one can do much of what they need. The memory strangulation really sucks! You don’t know you are going to run into it until it is too late. They need to purge 100% of the Java code and write this in pure C++. JVMs (Java Virtual Machines) tend to be absolutely wretched at memory management. If you don’t believe me just visit this link and scroll down to the conversation of about heap sizes.

Second Place:   FocusWriter

FocusWriter isn’t a full featured word processor, nor is it intended to be. It’s target user wants a distraction free full screen mode with incredible font rendering so they can just bang out the words down the center of the screen. I have put a lot of miles on that word processor writing blog posts over the years. Whenever I’m writing something I’m certain will not need footnotes or links, it’s my first choice. I can always open the document in LibreOffice later if I need to get fancy.

Third Place:   OnlyOffice

Despite all of its shortcomings, OnlyOffice is a pleasant experience, as long as you do not need to have page styles, or position images on the left margin. (It can be done it just doesn’t like to do it.

The not being able to keep track of footnotes is rather annoying as well.
I give it passes on this. Being a software developer myself I’m rather impressed that something starting in 2009 for internal use made it this far out into the wild. I also realize their focus isn’t the standalone desktop product. They are trying to sell collaboration services. According to the timeline found here it wasn’t open sourced until 2014. That’s rather astounding.

Follow-up

For what it is worth, I uninstalled all of the other word processors after writing this. I simply could not get around the TextMaker font rendering and the free version not having page styles. Maybe the commercial version had all of the features I wanted, but the font rendering really bothered me. It was like they were forcing in extra bold or something. This caused all kinds of spacing and formatting problems. I also didn’t want to spend $99, install it on one machine and then uninstall it because I couldn’t stand the font rendering.

Note: Before any of you think I’m making too much about font rendering and page styles because only book authors need those, think again. When you are writing research papers for school it is exactly the same as writing a book. You need running page headers so the page numbers appear in the outside corners. No, you cannot get away with that cheap-ass thing of putting the page number dead center at the bottom. Not when you have footnotes and you really shouldn’t ever do that to any document, let along a document 5 ore more pages in length.

Note 2: I did not try the OpenOffice word processor on this machine. The reason I didn’t is that I have tried to install them both in the past. There were too many shared libraries between LibreOffice and OpenOffice. They seemed to be very far apart in compatibility as well. When installing both on the same machine you tend to end up with both being really busted.

Prediction

If OnlyOffice manages to add page styles and clean up their OpenDocument support it will become what gets installed on most Linux distros by default.

  1. It’s fast.
  2. The font rendering is great.
  3. It has a very clean look.

The memory strangulation is a real problem with LibreOffice. If you are just writing a 10 page term paper, you won’t notice it. When you start writing a research paper which becomes hundreds of pages long having lots of footnotes and images, you are going to feel the pain. When you check the system monitor and see that only 8Gig of your 24Gig machine is being used, you will be infuriated. Been there. Done that. Have both the hat and the T-shirt.

By seasoned_geek

Roland Hughes started his IT career in the early 1980s. He quickly became a consultant and president of Logikal Solutions, a software consulting firm specializing in OpenVMS application and C++/Qt touchscreen/embedded Linux development. Early in his career he became involved in what is now called cross platform development. Given the dearth of useful books on the subject he ventured into the world of professional author in 1995 writing the first of the "Zinc It!" book series for John Gordon Burke Publisher, Inc. A decade later he released a massive (nearly 800 pages) tome "The Minimum You Need to Know to Be an OpenVMS Application Developer" which tried to encapsulate the essential skills gained over what was nearly a 20 year career at that point. From there "The Minimum You Need to Know" book series was born. Three years later he wrote his first novel "Infinite Exposure" which got much notice from people involved in the banking and financial security worlds. Some of the attacks predicted in that book have since come to pass. While it was not originally intended to be a trilogy, it became the first book of "The Earth That Was" trilogy: Infinite Exposure Lesedi - The Greatest Lie Ever Told John Smith - Last Known Survivor of the Microsoft Wars When he is not consulting Roland Hughes posts about technology and sometimes politics on his blog. He also has regularly scheduled Sunday posts appearing on the Interesting Authors blog.