Open Source and Free Writing Software

I’ve noticed a lot of interest recently in writing software that is free and/or open source.  There are some excellent, free tools that writers can use to both create and improve their work.  This article will discuss some of these and provide links to sites where the software can be downloaded.

Note that the appearance of an open source product on the list below is neither an endorsement or recommendation.  The purpose of this list is to make it easier for writers to locate and try various free and open source writing tools to see if any of them are suitable for that writer’s creative processes.  I have not intentionally left any open source or free tools off the list below, and do not claim that this is an all-inclusive list.

If you are interested in commercial (i.e., paid for) software for fiction writers, I have a list of fiction writing software available, too.

Open Source Word Processing Software

Many of the following, and some commercial products, are compared on Wikipedia.

  • AbiWord: A free word processing program similar to Microsoft Word.
  • Document.Editor: A multi-tab .NET/Ribbon based word processor for Windows XP, Vista, and 7.
  • EZ Word: A free word processor that is part of the “Andrew User Interface System”.
  • Feng Office: An open source online office suite package similar to Microsoft Office Live.
  • Fiction: A free word processor for Windows.
  • iWriter: A free Visual Basic 6 based open source word processor for Windows.
  • LyX: A “document processor” which encourages an approach to writing based on the structure of your documents and not simply their appearance. Runs on UNIX, Linux, Mac, and Windows.
  • OpenOffice.org: This open source application is comparable to Microsoft Office.  It includes Writer (which is similar to Word), Calc (similar to Excel), Impress (like PowerPoint), Draw (similar to the drawing tools in Office), and Base (like Access).
  • Pathetic Writer: An open-source GUI word processor.
  • Ted:  A free word processor running under X Windows on Linux.
  • WordGrinder:  A “unicode aware character cell word processor that runs in a terminal or Windows console window.

Open Source Fiction/Screenwriting Tools:

While there are plenty of “novel writing” software projects listed on SourceForge (an open source software repository), few have any actual code available to download.  Those listed below have actual software available that you can download.

  • Celtx:  Described as “the world’s first all-in-one media pre-production system”, Celtx includes a wide variety of features including autocomplete, scene management, embedded notes, spellchecker, and more.
  • StorYBook: Open source novel writing software which helps the author manage characters, locations, chapters, parts, ideas, background information, task lists, and storyboards.  It can also display charts showing the appearance of characters by scene/date, occurrence of locations, etc.  (This tool has a number of similarities to my personal tool of choice, Scrivener.)
  • Kabikaboo:  A tree-based note pad designed to help you plan a book or complex project.
  • NaNoWriTool:  A text editor specifically geared toward NaNoWriMo, the National Novel Writing Month.  It features the ability to edit text files, a real-time word counter that uses the same algorithm as the NaNoWriMo site, and other features.
  • The Writer’s Forge: A suite of free software tools for writers of fiction.
  • Dramatis Personae 2: A Macintosh app designed to track the personalities and information used by authors in writing fiction.
  • WordIt:  A word processor designed to be more reliable than Microsoft Word and smaller than Word or OpenOffice.
  • Amaya:  A web-based word processor and authoring tool.
  • Scribus:  An open source page layout and desktop publishing tool.
  • NeoOffice:  A free office suite for Mac OS X that includes a word processor.

Free Word Processing Tools:

The following word processing tools are free of charge but are not (to my knowledge) open source:

  • Bean: A small, easy-to-use word prcessor for Mac OS X.
  • Dark Room: A full-screen, distraction-free writing environment for Windows. The Mac version, Write Room, is a licensed product that must be purchased.
  • IBM Lotus Symphony: Free-of-charge office suite from IBM.
  • Jarte: A word processor for Windows that is based on the WordPad engine.
  • LedIt!: A free, cross-platform, multi-lingual unicode word processor with features such as subscript, superscript, full undo, word wrapping, and the ability to be embedded into other apps.
  • PolyEdit Lite: A free word processor designed to be lightweight, reliable, easy to use, and fast.
  • Q10: A full-screen, minimal distraction writing tool.
  • QJot: A small USB portable alternative rich text (RTF) editor that is meant to serve as a WordPad replacement.
  • RoughDraft: A donationware word processor designed for writers.
  • SoftMaker Office 2006: Windows suite that describes itself as “so easy to use that you will wonder why you bothered with Microsoft Word or OpenOffice.org for so long”.
  • TED Notepad: A freeware Notepad replacement for Windows.

Other Open Source Tools Useful for Writers:

  • Awesome Name Generator:  A simple generator for names for fictional characters.
  • FreeMind: An open source mind-mapping tool written in Java and usable on most platforms.
  • Graviax: A grammar checker for the English language.
  • Jarnal: An open source Java note taker and PDF annotator
  • PDF Creator: Open Source PDF creation tools.
  • Research Assistant: A multi-platform tool for researchers to organize their work.
  • Style and Diction: Two standard UNIX commands. Diction identifies wordy and commonly misused phrases while Style analyzes the surface characteristics of a document such as word length and readability measures.
  • WikidPad:  A wiki-style notepad to keep ideas and notes in a single place and allow cross-referencing.
  • Writer’s Tools for OpenOffice/LibreOffice:  This set of utilities is designed to help OpenOffice perform a number of useful functions for writers, including looking up words, translating to other languages, and more.

Other Free Tools for Novelists and Writers

  • Bibus: A bibliographic database that is helpful for citing sources correctly.
  • EverNote: A cloud-based tool that allows you to capture ideas and information and store it for later use. Items stored in the cloud are accessible via computer, tablet, cell phone, etc.
  • LitLift: An online novel writing application.
  • SAMM: Submission tracking for Windows, Mac, and DOS.
  • Sonar: Tool to help writers track their manuscript submissions.
  • TiddlyWiki: A “reusable non-linear personal web notebook”
  • TreePad: An award-winning personal information manager for Windows and Linux/Wine. It can be used to store, edit, search, organize, and browse any type of textual information.
  • WordNet: A “large lexical database of English…nouns, verbs, adjectives, and adverbs are grouped into sets of cognitive synonyms, each expressing a distinct concept.” Available online and as an application you can run on your computer.
  • WordWeb: A dictionary and thesaurus.
  • yWriter:  From SpaceJock software, this tool is designed specifically for novelists, by a novelist.  It helps break the novel down into chapters and scenes, and provides other useful features like word counts, automatic backups, a storyboard view, drag-and-drop scene/chapter reordering, etc.
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