Dec 14, 2011 - tools for writers    9 Comments

The Best Software for Writers on Ubuntu Linux

The Ubuntu Writer


Writing on Ubuntu Linux


Ubuntu Linux is a great operating system.  It is free (as in price), light, viruses are almost unknown, is not bloated with junk (talking about you, Windows), and it is fairly easy to use.  Ubuntu is even faster than Windows 7 or OS X Lion.
Best of all, the OS and all of the software is free.  (Perhaps I said that once already.)
Anyway, I started using Ubuntu three years ago out of curiosity.  I set it up on a Toshiba notebook, but I needed writing software, so I went looking.  I had been using a Macintosh since 2003, actually the same Macintosh since they last forever, so I was coming from a mac point-of-view.  In other words, I was used to having limited choices, but I expected those choices to be excellent.
 So . . . What writing software is there for Ubuntu Linux?
This is what I found:
(The programs are listed in alphabetical order.)
Celtx is an good program.  It is meant for screenwriters, so I am not going to go into lots of depth about it here.  It is cool, so if you write drama, take a look.  It has three main windows, something like a three column web page.  The left side is divided into two areas–a library and a list of scenes.  The middle area, and the largest, is the writing area to write out your awesome movie script.  The right side has a notes.  The right and left windows can be changed to show different things, such as pictures, clippings, etc.  It was not for me, with its focus on screenwriting, but it is worth a look.



Despite that, I wanted more than a word processor only for basic needs.  I needed something more advanced.  After some searching, I tried a funky program with a very cool name, Kabikaboo.  It is available from the Ubuntu Software Center on your computer.
Kabikaboo is made for organizing bits of information.  If you have ever used Z-write on the mac, it is kind of similar.  The site documentation says it is for organizing notes in a tree formation.  It is good for this.
As a word processor, it is very basic, and when you are typing, it is like typing in notepad or simple text.  That is okay, I guess, but it seemed a bit simple for my taste.  However, it died on me after a running three or four times, and I could not get my notes back out of it, so I do not recommend this program.  Hopefully, it will be released in a more stable version next time because it would be useful.


Open Office and Libre Office
A free office is a package of software that has about the same functions and programs as MS Office, ideally with fewer freezes.  These free office suites are  exactly what you would expect them to be.  They function well on the whole.
Open Office was available for the older versions of Ubuntu, and it was good.  Now Libre Office is packaged with the Ubuntu 11.04. It is even better in my opinion.  Sure, both of these have a few very small quirks.  I use Libre Office now, and I find it easier to use and usually faster, and without the freezes, compared to MS Office (which I have to use at work).
The word processor, Libre Write, is good.  It is easy to use, and it is easy to customize.  It reads and can export any file format that I have needed to use, and in a nutshell, is a good solid word processor for your basic needs.  It is also quite fast.  It even seems to be set up for those who use Word regularly, so using it is easy.
My only complaint about Libre Office Writer is the fonts.  (Part of this might be Ubuntu also.)  Sometimes the fonts look a little faint or as if they are underwater.  This does not happen all the time, but it does happen.
All in all, this is a good word-processor.  Good for most writing.  Same goes for Open Office Writer.

Libre Writer

Libre Writer

Click on the picture for a closer look.


Scrivener for Ubuntu is still in beta phase, but make no mistake, it is usable.  Honestly, for novel writing, and other long works, it is the best thing available for Ubuntu or Linux.
Scrivener for Ubuntu has two forms, and they are quite different.  You can run it in Wine (software that lets you run Windows software on Ubuntu), or you can run it normally in Ubuntu.  Running it normally seems to work fine, so that’s what I would recommend.
 However, before I continue . . ..
Let me explain about Scrivener.  I had used Scrivener on my mac.  As most people who use Scrivener on the mac know, Scrivener is superb.  On the mac OS X, Scrivener is the best program for writers on one of the best platforms.  However, until only recently, Scrivener was only for macs, and the problem for me was that I could not leave Scrivener because it was so great, which meant that I really could not leave mac for writing, although I really liked Ubuntu.
Things have changed.  They came out with Scrivener for Windows.  Sorry, but it is still not as good as it was on the mac, but I doubt it is possible.  (The reason is  simply because Windows is so ugly and clumsy).  As they made the Windows version, some very wonderful people also ported it over to Linux.  This was fantastic.
Remember, Scrivener is still in Beta.  It is usable, and it works pretty well now.  (The first few versions were a bit rough.)  Sure, there are some quirks, and a few conflicts that come up here and there.  However, if you are using Ubuntu and write a lot, this is the tool you need.
Scrivener has a number of very clever features for a regular writer.  I will explain two of my favorites here.  First, this is the main window:
scrivener for linux ubuntu screenshot
Click on the picture for a closer look.


As you can see above in the picture, the left side is a list a list of scenes (or chapters if you wish to do it that way).  You can organize these into folders.  For example, you could have an Act One folder with seven scenes inside of it, then an Act Two scene with several more scenes inside, and so on.  This makes organizing and writing a novel much more manageable.
In the center window is where you write your text, of course.  Note that it is much wider than it looks here since I narrowed it for this picture.  This center window and left column I use a lot.
The right column is a place to put notes about each scene, put a category for the scene, and so on.  I use the right side only a little, so I usually keep it minimized.
Now, take a look at the second window for another one of my favorite features of Scrivener.
Scrivener for Linux, notecards

Scrivener for Linux in note card mode

Click on the picture for a closer look.


This shows the bulletin board feature in Scrivener.  Each note card on the board here is a scene from the list on the left.  You can move these around to organize your scenes.  This is very nice when you want to see how the whole story looks.  I love it.
If you are interested in running Scrivener, you need to download the beta from the site listed on the Scrivener for Linux BBS here.  The people are really nice, and there is usually someone understanding who is happy to help you if you run into any problems.


Distraction Free Writing Programs:
I grouped these two together because, although the differ some, they have the same function and act largely the same.  These are both very good tools, called “distraction free” writing programs.  I use Pyroom a lot, but I also like Focus Writer. Both are available from the Ubuntu Software Center.
What these programs do is that they provide a simple environment for writing by blocking out all the other distractions on your computer screen.  For example, in Pyroom, the screen goes black and you only see the green text.  In Focus Writer, its starts with gray.  In Focus Writer, it is easy to change the colors.  I usually change mine to a dark blue background with white text because it is easy on the eyes and relaxing for me.
I prefer Focus Writer for longer writing because it gives me access to the menus when I drag my mouse up to the top of the screen, but in Pyroom, I cannot get out of the text writing window without quitting the program.
Both of these are good.  I highly recommend them for when you have shorter documents to write and need to focus.

pyroom screenshot


Click on the picture for a closer look.


Other Software:

These are other kinds of software that I would recommend for a writer using Ubuntu.


Every writer needs a good thesaurus, and Artha does the job well here.  It is available from the Ubuntu Software Center.  When it is running, if you highlight a word and then hit a key combination, it will look the word up for you.  It gives synonyms, antonyms, derivatives, attributes of, and similar words.

Very useful.


Artha in action

Click on the picture for a closer look.


In the end, I was satisfied with the selection of writing software that I found.  With the addition of superb programs like Scrivener, Celtx, and Libre Office, Ubuntu has proved that it is an operating system that should be considered by serious writers.  For more information on the operating system itself, look at this Ubuntu page.




  • This is old, ain’t it?
    Nonetheless it’s excellent and precisely what I was looking for.
    Thanks. (God I adore this sites webdesign)

    • Yeah, it is a little old, but it is still relavant as in all the programs still exist, though some versions have changed slightly.

  • The CeltX do not seem to be free anymore.

    • Thanks for the comment. I believe that celtx is free, but celtx pro is not. Is there a trial period on celtx now?

  • Celtx only has a free trial and the Scrivener for Linux download link is 404’d ( Did they scrap it?!?!

    Disappointing (not the article, that was good). I’ve been searching for more than just LibreOffice for writing…something that helps the writing process rather than just a word processor. I’m coming up empty. 🙁

    • The link may have changed. Check their forum on the link below.
      Scrivener for Linux is made as a fork from the windows version, and the main place for support and so on is the Literature and Latte forum for Scrivner for Linux.
      You can find the newest versions there and get help with any problems you have.

      I think that you can also use the Windows version and Wine. Anyone have any experience with that?

  • I’ve just stumbled on this article as I’m a writer and have just switched to Ubuntu. As I write plays as well as prose fiction Celtx was an absolute must-have for me, however, I spent four days trying to get it to run on Ubuntu 12.04. I tried all the options and workarounds in the Ubuntu forums and failed – then I had the rather obvious idea of downloading the setup file for Windows (the .exe file) and installing it using Wine. It setup perfectly and seems to be running fine. I hope this helps save other writers the days of heartache I tried trying to directly install the Celtx Linus version. And yes, it is still a free programme (I downloaded it from Cnet) although I think you have top pay for on-line collaberation functionality(?)

  • Storybook is free and there is a reasonably priced Storybook Pro

  • I am a software and web developer that uses both Microsoft Office and Libre Office. If you take the time, both of the products are capable of producing templates that operate as software like Scrivener or any other software mentioned in this article. I would like to say, if you don’t have the time to create templates. I find myself that category at times as well, I would suggest Apache OpenOffice. Its free. Outstanding article by the way. Love the layout of this blog too!

    ~Chris “It is far better to learn from the mistakes of others than to experience them same mistakes yourself…first hand.”

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