Even after all these years, no one has yet dethroned Microsoft Word from its kingly position. Sure, a few alternatives have been playing a great game of catch-up and innovation, but there’s no doubt about it — Word is still the best.
But unless you use some kind of emulation or virtualization software, there’s no way to run Word on a regular Linux setup. Which leaves us with a tough question: what’s the best word processor to use on Linux?
There are a handful of worthy options out there. Let’s take a brief but thorough look at them to see all of their pros and cons. By the end, it’ll be up to you to pick the one that works best for your needs.
Note: We’ll only be exploring native desktop programs, which means no cloud-based word processors like Google Docs. Those are still valid options though, so you should look into them too if you can.
LibreOffice has truly come a long way since it debuted in 2011. A lot of people wonder what the difference is between LibreOffice and OpenOffice — LibreOffice was forked from OpenOffice, in case you didn’t know — and the simple answer is… not much.
Feel free to use either LibreOffice Writer or OpenOffice Writer. We just prefer LibreOffice because it has a more enthusiastic team of developers and it seems like the LibreOffice community is more active.
LibreOffice is the most notable software on this list for one reason: it’s the only desktop office suite that can really contend with Microsoft Office these days. In fact, even though Microsoft is still the clear king, LibreOffice is starting to come out on top in some aspects.
New document wizards and templates make the learning curve easy. The interface is straightforward and intuitive yet customizable for advanced users. LibreOffice can open and save to Microsoft file formats, including DOC and DOCX.
There are advanced features too, like “master documents” that group multiple documents together, built-in drawing tools, tracking changes and revisions made to documents, the ability to import and edit PDFs, and more.
2. WPS Writer
WPS Office is the set of office applications formerly known as Kingsoft Office, which you may recognize as one of the best mobile office suites for Android users. The desktop version is notable because it emulates the look and feel of Microsoft Office.
WPS Office is named as such because it contains three applications: Writer, Presentation, and Spreadsheets. All of their developmental efforts are focused on these three only, so rest assured that they aren’t wasting time on other, less important applications.
Note that WPS Office for Linux is a separate community-maintained build that’s free to use on a personal basis.
The last time we looked at WPS Writer, we were quite impressed by what it could do — and it has only gotten sharper and better since then.
If you prefer the Microsoft’s Ribbon interface, then you’ll like WPS Writer. Once you learn how to use it properly, everything is just significantly easier. And when you combine it with WPS’s ability to open multiple documents with tabs, you’ll fall in love.
WPS can do what most word processors do, including format paragraphs, autosave and back up files, create templates, and more. It also supports the main Microsoft file formats, including DOC and DOCX, but does not support the ODT file format.
AbiWord is a simple but effective word processor that’s part of the GNOME Office. It doesn’t come installed by default on Ubuntu, but you can easily install it by using the built-in Software Manager.
Do you remember Microsoft Works? It was a smaller, less expensive alternative to Microsoft Word with fewer features. In much the same way, AbiWord can be considered as the lighter, faster alternative to LibreOffice with fewer features.
This isn’t to say that AbiWord is worse than LibreOffice. Not at all! In many cases, you don’t actually need the full power of a gargantuan application and can settle for something less resource-intensive. In other words, for most home users, AbiWord is more than good enough.
AbiWord supports all industry standard file formats (including Microsoft and WordPerfect), comes with advanced document layout options, and is extensible through separate plugins.
Most people know of Scrivener as a “novel-writing tool”, and while it’s true that Scrivener is mainly used by novelists, it’s also used by researchers, bloggers, and even office workers for non-fiction writing.
In short, Scrivener is basically a run-of-the-mill word processor that’s wrapped up in a whole bunch of organizational features. It’s overkill if you’re only working on a single document, but for bigger projects it can be a lifesaver.
What a lot of people don’t know is that there is an unofficial build of Scrivener for Linux, and it’s completely free to use. However, packages are only available for Debian-based distros.
Scrivener can’t directly open document files, but you can import document files into a Scrivener project. Supported formats include DOC, DOCX, ODT, PDF, RTF, and several others (even Final Draft FDX). Scrivener projects can be exported to these formats as well.
In terms of actual word processing, Scrivener can do a lot: format text and paragraphs, insert tables and lists, highlight selections, track revision histories, add annotations and footnotes, and more.
Note: If the build of Scrivener for Linux does not work for you and you really want to use Scrivener, you can always buy the Windows version and run it through WINE.
Back in 2010, a bit of disagreement led to a split in the KOffice community, resulting in the inception of Calligra Suite. While most KOffice applications were brought on board, KWord was completely replaced by a new program called Words, which launched in 2012.
As is always the case with from-scratch applications, Calligra Words is still playing catch-up after all these years. It’s much better now than it was back then, but it still feels primitive and incomplete. The interface is also a bit unusual.
My main gripe about the interface is that Calligra insists on a sidebar toolbox and doesn’t provide a way to use the more traditional method of having toolbars — even though Calligra does support toolbars for other stuff. If this doesn’t bother you, great! It bothers me though.
In terms of features, Calligra is very basic. It’s not lacking anything per se, but it doesn’t offer anything interesting beyond what you’d expect from a word processor. And while it does support DOC, DOCX, and ODT, it doesn’t support many others.
All in all, I’m happy that Calligra exists — competition is always good — but it doesn’t inspire me with confidence or excitement. I’d only use it if I couldn’t use any of the above options.
Which Word Processor Do You Use?
If you’re looking for a powerful word processor that comes as part of an office suite, there’s really nothing better than LibreOffice Writer at this time. It sits in the number one spot by a huge margin. WPS Writer is close, but not that close.
However, if you’re dealing with dozens or hundreds of related documents and you need a lot of help staying organized, then I think Scrivener is a valid option to explore. It’s overkill for simple stuff, but absolutely fantastic for heavier-duty stuff.
Now it’s your turn: Which one do you like the best? What features are missing from these? Are there any other free Linux word processors that we missed? Let us know in the comments below!