OpenOffice Alternative: KWord 1.6

Monday Dec 10th 2007 by Carla Schroder

An overview of the open source KWord 1.6, which touts itself as a "complete word-processing and simple desktop publishing program."

OpenOffice is the darling of the FOSS office suites, and it is a nice suite. It's cross-platform, and OpenOffice Writer is a first-rate word processor with a lot of advanced features. But it's not the only good option for Linux users: Abiword and KWord are excellent lightweight word processors with good feature sets, and both are licensed under the GPL. All three are wonderful. In this two-part series we're going to dig into KWord 1.6, and mine some of its hidden jewels.

But before we get to the good stuff, allow me to indulge in a small rant. Virtually all Linux word processor reviews and articles operate from the premise that Microsoft Word is the benchmark to measure Linux word processors by, and that the most important feature is compatibility with MS Word documents. I couldn't disagree more. Why hold ourselves to such a low standard? MS Word is buggy, lardy, malware-friendly and incompatible on purpose. It's not even compatible with previous versions of itself. To me it's a cruel, expensive joke, not a professional tool.

KWord calls itself a complete word-processing and simple desktop publishing program. It operates in two different modes: text-oriented and page-oriented. Text-oriented is similar to document-oriented word processors (like MS Word) which treat a multi-page document as one long page. Text automatically flows across page breaks without needing user intervention. This is nice for long text documents, but it can be vexing when you want precise control of page layout. Page-oriented mode sees each page as a complete unit, and uses fixed-size and fixed-position frames to control layout. With KWord you get the best of both worlds.

The KWord manual, which is a bit outdated as it is for version 1.5, draws a clear distinction between page mode and text mode. In Text mode there is a main text frame that synchronizes with your page size, so when you change the page size this frame changes proportionally. In Page mode frames do not change automatically with the page size. But KWord 1.6 seems to blur the lines; there is no longer a separate Page template category. Some of the templates handle page-size changes gracefully, such as Blank Page and Two Columns, while others go wonky, such as Colorful Document.

An easy way to test this is open a new document, change to View -> Display Mode -> Preview Mode, and paste in gobs of text until you generate a five- or six-page document. Then go to Format -> Page Layout -> Page Size & Margins and change the page size. Preview Mode shows all of your pages at once, so you can try out all kinds of changes and see at a glance how they affect your entire document.

Frame properties are the key to KWord happiness. Frame properties control flow and positioning. Open a Blank template and select the frame. Do this by positioning the cursor over any part of the frame border until it changes into a little hand, then right-click. This selects the frame and opens a little context menu. Another way to do this is position the cursor inside the frame, then go to Edit -> Select Frame, then click the Frames -> Frame/Frameset Properties menu. All you can do to this frame is add formatting- borders and backgrounds, and change margins. But that's all, because this behaves like a classic main text frame for Text mode.

But you want a more complex layout, so go to the left-hand side of your KWord window and click the little "Create a new text frame" button. You can also do this from the Insert menu. Your cursor changes to a cross; hold down your left mouse button and draw any size box. It's easy to change, so don't worry about getting it right the first time. This opens a multi-tab menu. Just click OK. You can select this new text box with your cursor, drag it all over the page, and resize it with the mouse.

Now comes the cool power tool part--select the new text box, then either right-click or use the Frames menu to make changes. For example, suppose you want your text box to be a specific size in a specific location on your page. On the Options tab check "If text is too long for frame--Don't show the extra text." On the Geometry tab, set the size and position.

What if you want three columns of a fixed size, and you want text to automatically flow across the columns, but not create new pages? For example, you're creating a single-page brochure, so everything has to stay put and not go wandering around. First create a new text frame and give it a nice name, like in Figure 1. Then create a second frame, and on the "Connect Text Frames" tab, check "Select existing frameset to connect frame to" and select the frameset name you just created. Figure 2 shows what this looks like. Repeat for the third frame.

Now select any single frame and open the Frame/Frameset Properties menu, Options tab. Check "Don't show the extra text" and "Do not create a copy of this frame." Now you have a nice three-column frameset all nailed down. Note that it's the order of the frames on the page that controls the text flow, so if you paste in text, and then move the frames around, the text will re-order itself.

In the next part of this artcle, we'll take an even deeper dive into excellent KWord power tools.

This article was first published on Linux Planet.

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