Friday, December 28, 2012

LibreOffice OS X vs. LibreOffice Linux on PPC

I tried to like Abiword. Really, I gave it the old college try, but in the end I had to admit I...what's the phrase I'm groping for...utterly despise it. It's onscreen font rendering, especially monospace fonts, is terrible. Formatting large documents often caused freezes. And despite being the "lightweight" alternative to LibreOffice, it felt slow and clunky like it was ported from somewhere else, not a native Linux application. Which brings me to one of the tangential subjects of this post--the dearth of word processors on Linux.

On OS X there are the big ones, Microsoft Office, LibreOffice, Pages, etc., and there are also several lighter alternatives like Bean and iText Express, to name two. However, on Linux there's basically LibreOffice, Calligra (KOffice), and Abiword. There used to be TED, which was a lightweight RTF editor, but after being unmaintained for years it was dropped from Debian's repositories. There was just recently an update, though, but Debian hasn't reintroduced it due to the author's lack of clarity on licensing issues. I decided to waste fifteen minutes of my life compiling it only to get errors, and sure enough, it exited with errors. So here I was basically left with LibreOffice as my only fallback. Thankfully LibreOffice is a much different (and better) performer on Linux than on OS X, and I've found I can use it for actual composing and not just formatting after the fact.

Usually in OS X when I write something, I use iText Express for the actual writing and then switch to LibreOffice or a dated Microsoft Word if I need to perform advanced formatting. LibreOffice on Tiger is just too slow to actually write on. Writer uses about 130-140 MB of RAM and also has a few display bugs in monospace fonts. Em-dashes typed as "--" are displayed as "—" in Courier, though when you save and open it in another word processor, it will show the correct "--". Also, Courier and Monaco have a spacing problem with "f" followed by "i" detailed in this bug report (UPDATE: These bugs have been fixed). And it suffers from the same slight font blur I talked about in this post on OpenOffice Aqua. Not to totally slag LibreOffice. It still supports Tiger PowerPC and still works despite the quirks.

On Linux, though, LibreOffice is much snappier. Despite being on the same PowerPC hardware, Writer uses about 90-100 MB of RAM and has fast scrolling and selecting of text, none of the clunkiness seen on OS X. Also none of the font problems I mentioned above. This is something I can actually compose on. Just make sure to install it alongside the libreoffice-gtk package for GTK integration. It's a bit similar to Mozilla products, where Mozilla applications have always been more lightweight and snappier on Linux than on OS X on the same PowerPC hardware. Cool!

I still don't get the Abiword thing. It's pretty much universally praised elsewhere, so maybe it's a PowerPC thing. Also, if you're looking for one of those WriteRoom clones for Linux, FocusWriter is good. It's not strictly a word processor as it lacks page margins and a ruler, but it has basic rich text formatting like bold and italics. Overall it's a great tool for getting writing done.


  1. Well observed and thought out post. I agree on both how horrible Abiword is and how great LibreOffice is.

    IMO Libre is the be all and end all of office suites on PowerPC Linux.

    I have experienced essentially everything you have in Abiword. It's quite sloppy to say the least.

    I ran Libre on Leopard a couple years ago when I still used Java. Pretty much the same findings as you. I can assure everyone that it will drop OS X support in the next year or two. PowerPC Linux will be the only way to get many useful apps running on the architecture in the near future.

    LibreCAD, QCAD, Transmission, Canonical Firefox are just a few examples of apps that are no longer developed for OS X PowerPC but are for Linux PowerPC.

  2. I forgot to mention that after I do a fresh Lubuntu install the first thing I do is remove every trace of Abiword. I recommend others do the same.

    1. At least it's better on Linux than it was on OS X;-)

  3. I agree with you: Abiword never works right.
    I've tried to use Abiword on and off for the last 8 years on a variety of linux PCs and macs. It's always been rubbish on just about any platform/OS.

  4. Can only agree about Abiword.

    It was bad in every version I tried, under Windows and Debian, so I finally gave up on it.

    This was on x86, so it isn't limited to PPC.