Stripped Down AbiWord Becomes XO Text Editor?

In August, we reported Erik Puckinskis's work integrating AbiWord into OLPC's graphical environment - the sweetly named "Sugar". AbiWord is an open source word processor that can read and write a wide variety of document formats.

More importantly, it is very lightweight - especially in comparison to other open source efforts, such as's "Writer". AbiWord seemed the ideal fit for the XO, given its memory constraints, so it was surprising that after Erik completed his initial integration work, discussion of AbiWord for OLPC vanished into the ether.

However, the AbiWord was very much back on the agenda last week when Michael Burns, a Computer Science student at Oregon State University, asked the OLPC developers if they intended to bundle a text editor with the laptops - name checking Erik's work on AbiWord in the process. The question produced a prompt response from Jim Gettys (VP, Software Engineering, OLPC):

Our primary focus in the long term is to use a wiki-based collaborative editing system, currently in design.

That being said, Abiword's capabilities as a light-weight Microsoft Word display program (and, for the moment, editor) is very attractive.

A few days later, Michael and another student involved in Oregon State University's Open Source Lab, Justin Gallardo, coaxed the Sugar-ised AbiWord into reading and writing various document types including Microsoft Word's .doc format. Efforts are now under way to slim down AbiWord further.

This week's OLPC Community news suggests that the fruits of this labour will either be a version of AbiWord that differs radically from those available on other platforms or, perhaps, a new product entirely:

14. We are working hard to create a rich-text editor based on the code from a popular free-software program called Abiword.
It looks as if the bare bones of AbiWord may be used to create OLPC's "new wiki-based" collaborative editor - name unknown - whilst other AbiWord parts will facilitate reading/writing common text document formats.

Whether or not an AbiWord branded word processor is is shipped on the XO, I recommend taking the application for a spin some time. It's a great bit of kit that could possibly help you out in a tight spot - such as un-garbling an afternoon's work after Microsoft Word crashes, then fails to open the backup file it created.

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I'm fairly certain that they're not using Abiword for the Wiki Editor, otherwise, I'm going to be out of a job! I'm the developer implementing the UI for the Wiki/Wiki Editor/E-Book Reader (code-named "Yellow") for the OLPC project.

The implementation is running in an instance of XULrunner and is built using a JavaScript/HTML interface with a Python/SQLite backend (I'm doing the JavaScript stuff). This application is fully wiki-based - it's the same application that's used to browse wiki (e.g. Wikipedia) entries too.

I suspect that there'll be some overlap between the Abiword work and what we're doing - but not too much. It seems as if the focus of that project is more on writing full-length papers, with the ability to richly lay out graphics, build tables, etc. (Which is not the primary goal of "Yellow"). Hope this helps to clarify some things.

Thanks for clarifying, John. I guess the distinction between a rich text editor (that _may_ be able to parse wiki markup) and an editor designed to read/write wiki formats exclusively is something I should have noted.

So now I know what the mysterious "yellow" is...

Hi, Michael Burns here.

As mentioned, the Abiword port (whose recent heavy-lifting was done primarily by Justin) was meant to be a temporary solution. It was a great way to scratch and itch and get the two of us more comfortable with Sugar.

Justin, myself, and many others at the Open Source Lab here on campus at OSU are already looking at what other projects we can help out on.

Oh, and being mentioned on a website that I track on RSS just made my month :)

It’s too bad that Open Office is too bulky to be useful here, as I really feel like it is beginning to take off. We’ve already adopted it at the university where I teach, and so many people I talk to individually seem to feel that it is a truly viable alternative to MS Office. That said, the very fact that OLPC is utilizing so much open source software, whatever the specific program might be, is excellent. Obviously the primary advantage is the ability to provide solid software to kids at no cost to them and low cost to OLPC. But I don’t think you can underestimate the secondary effect this will cause -- exposing all these children to open source as their day-to-day working tools. Surely down the road this will, at a minimum, make these particular programs hugely popular over the long term, but hopefully also make open source in general much more popular.

I once tried sending an officemate who uses Word an Abiword in .doc format. But when I tried to re-open the file I ended up having a blank file. I’m thinking that the Abiword file crashed because I used a lot of color and font changes. Am I right?

Is Abiword purely for text only? How about for colored or formatted text or word files? Does it matter if you use Windows or Linux?

For :painting: - take a look a the Software page on the wiki - -it describes the options and limitations of Write (based on abiword). Also look at Discussion page for this wiki page for more info--- Thanks to the guys at OSU for making something happen for text editing on the XO. (go beavs!)