I should look forward to a look at a new word processor for Linux. I think we all agree that we need more good ones, preferably not just free but GPL’d.
Pathetic Writer is all of these things, but, before I even started it up, I was lacking enthusiasm. Why? Well how do you rate something like a word processor? I tend to write long, structured documents most of the time. My dad, on the other hand, tends to write mostly two- to four-thousand word articles. I know what I need, but what does my dad like to use?
Look and feel
PW is commendably GUI in nature. The authors have gone a long way to make it look familiar and friendly to users of Microsoft Office. The tool bar has clear, colourful icons that turn into buttons as the mouse passes over them, and below that are font family, font size and style pull-down pick-lists. Unlike Word the buttons cannot be changed for more suitable ones, however the ones that are there are likely to be useful for most people.
Above the tool-bar is the menu. Again they’ve tried to go for the Office look. However, while the look is pretty much there — except for the icons at the side that indicate their short-cut — the feel is all wrong. Although UI purists may prefer the Windows ‘anything that might work’ approach rather than the Mac ‘the one true way’ mantra, I’m sure the former works for more people more of the time. PW takes pull-down menus to their Mac-like extreme — you have to keep the mouse button pressed down until the option you want is selected. It’s also necessary to be a bit too precise for my liking too, especially where sub-menus are concerned. The hit-and-miss approach to menu selection reminds me of the Acorn Archimedes.
Of course the main focus of the screen is a large, white expanse that displays a good attempt at what your document will look like. Of course it’s stuck with X’s lousy font handling and the fact that it doesn’t use the same fonts in the printer and display, but we can hardly blame the development team for that.
Something that we probably can blame them for is some of the idiosyncrasies. Example: I’m on the first line of a document and decide to right-align it. I enter my name and press return. Where is the cursor? Answer: PW has decided that I no longer need right-aligned text and has placed the cursor to the left of the screen.
Okay, keep typing. When finished I can can just highlight the whole she-bang and right-align it in one go, right? Er, no. Once highlighted, only the first line ends up being right-aligned. This wouldn’t be so bad if it was applied consistently, but it isn’t. With the same text high-lighted if I change the font style or size I find the complete selection changed. What’s going on?!
There are no huge humdingers as far as problems are concerned. As I’ve already touched upon, there are just a number of niggles here and there.
I experienced a few small stability problems — try loading the Microsoft Halloween I document with Eric Raymonds excellent annotations — however it’s nowhere near as bad as Word 97. Having said that, PW certainly feels much smaller than Word even if most of the often used functionality is there — there are bound to be less bugs in a considerably smaller program.
Another issue I’ve already mentioned: configurability. The tool-bar appears not to be changed at all, while the menus can only be changed by editing a complex configuration file. And all without documentation! These things should really be altered using dialog boxes. It’s not possible to move around the bars either. I don’t care about being able to move the menu bar (are you listening Microsoft), but shifting around the others can be very useful.
The main issue is with the display, and I guess this comes down to the configuration options again. By default, PW comes with four fonts installed, the usual Times, Courier, Helvetica and Century Schoolbook, however I couldn’t see a way to add all the other fonts on my system. Okay, these fonts are perfectly good and are usable in almost all circumstances, but…
Well, I can’t honestly say that I’ll use it once I’ve finished this review. If I’ve not made it clear already, I shall spell it out: there is nothing seriously wrong with Pathetic Writer. It is, by no means, pathetic.
It has almost all the basic features and some of the advanced ones that are needed. It can import and export in a number of popular formats, it supports styles, different fonts and what you see is what you get. What it doesn’t support is the ability to simply deal with long documents, and the ability to configure the user interface. And worst of all, while the user-interface looks good, it’s riddled with inconsistencies and small but annoying flaws.
Pathetic Writer shows much promise. This could be the great, free Linux word-processor, just not yet. It just doesn’t look like a stable third release yet.