Tuesday, March 26, 2019


     I admit it, I'm not a huge fan of doodad-heavy Windows software. At least we're to the point where most of it actually does something instead of merely looking fancy and cluttered -- but it's still glitzy-looking flabware.

     WYSIWYG word processors, Word in particular, use a whole lot of icons and menus to accomplish what PerfectWriter did in 64k with embedded "dot commands" and a small assortment of keyboard shortcuts on a CP/M luggable.  I'm not a fan of the flashy stuff, and prefer to compose in Q10 (which can be made to look like an old, simple word processor)  or Notepad, which at least has slightly less junk on the screen.

     Apple's "Pages" has a cleaner user interface, but it's very much a creature of its world and doesn't share files comfortably with the more widely-used Windows software.

     I went looking for something else and found LibreOffice.  Its word-processor UI is slightly less cluttered than Word, it reads and write .doc and .docx files -- and there are versions of it for Mac, Windows and Linux!  They all look and work the same, too.  So I've got it on my MacBook, my Windows desktop and the little Raspberry Pi I've been playing with.  The cost?  Well, I kicked in a few dollars but it's all honor system -- and none of this hitting you up for a monthly fee, which is how the latest versions of Word want to run.

     The downside is, you get what you get; there's no version for IOS (Word has a subscription-based IOS version but it's not completely compatible) and the very latest version usually comes with some caveats and glitches.  Still, I'm liking it so far and if I change my mind, the files are are compatible with the Word 2010 I already own.
* The Pi doesn't seamlessly integrate with Dropbox -- I can download .doc and .txt files but uploading involves convoluted workarounds, so I'm better off e-mailing the finished work to myself.  It's not a big obstacle and the well-behaved little computer is worth the additional effort.


Ed Skinner said...

For those (striving to) write big, intricate works, Scrivener has no equal. Yes, it's big. And so is a full blown novel. And Scrivener is convoluted. So is an 85,000 word book.
It's true that you can start simple. Scrivrner's defaults are good and the usual stuff is close at hand. But as your writing depth improves, as your organization becomds increasingly manipulative, Scrivener has the deep-reaching doodads to keep everything intentionally planted in the verbage where you can still see it -- but only if you invest the time and effort to learn Scrivener, as you invest the time in making yourself a better writer.
Word, Notepad, LibreOffice are swizzlesticks by comparison. If you write serious (read: BIG) works, Scrivener can do stuff none of the others can imagine.

Roberta X said...

I like Scrivener a lot, but it is tricky to learn and use -- and the Windows version I started with was lacking in full functionality. Scrivener is why I bought a (used) MacBook and I will probably be importing a work in progress into it.

It's a bit much for composing; even the "low-distraction" text editor is a bit of a bludgeon compared to Q10.

fillyjonk said...

"Apples "Pages" has a cleaner user interface, but it's very much a creature of its world and doesn't share files comfortably with the more widely-used Windows software."

Truth. I was on a committee evaluating scholarships and applicants were asked to submit either their documents as a Word file or a .pdf. One guy submitted his in Pages and NOTHING I tried on my Windows box allowed me to open it in a readable format (and I got help from a couple other people). I finally ranked him at "0/10" on the grounds that (a) I couldn't read it and (b) he didn't follow the explicit instructions any way.

I had a colleague who used to e-mail me stuff written in WordPerfect (I think it was) and my several-versions-ago version of Word would not open that, either. I wound up having to ask him to convert files before sending them to me.

(Honestly, these days? .pdf or similar should probably be the default, something portable across different platforms)

RandyGC said...

Been using LibreOffice for years. The spreadsheets (Calc)are also compatible with Excel, which was handy when editing work documents at home. I have not found the presentation software (Impress) as compatible with PowerPoint, but close enough to not have to go into the office to make minor corrections.

I personally miss WordPerfect.Had the commands memorized and the Reveal Codes feature was priceless in fixing formatting errors, something M$ has never equaled in any version of Word up through 2010 (the last version I have experience with). The Macro feature was priceless when building a 3,000 page weaponeering document full of tables and graphs.

Eck! said...

I use libreOffice and its former form OpenOffice on
Linux on intel/amd, Linux on Rpi 3b+ and Asus Tinkerboard,
My MAcBook and when I was forced (work) to use winders,
on that too.

I found some of its assumptions less annoying than Word
but just as capable. It also ahdels more input and output
formats some pretty obscure.

I still miss OpenVMS LSE or TPU, but hey likely few here
have ever used that and none under the age of 21.


Minion Beta said...

LibreOffice 6 has an export directly to EPUB format option.
No idea how well it works, but it's there.

Roberta X said...

Thank you all for your comments! Interesting and useful.

I continue to think of plain-text files (.txt) as the universally-readable default, though it does strip page numbers and headers. At least one of the SF magazines strongly preferred that format.

PDF is handy at work, where corporate-level uncertainly and/or penny-pinching has left my department with a situation where only a couple of us have Visio. And that does keep the originals safe, so it's not entirely bad.

Apple's Pages is kind of heartbreaking, because it's a lot more what I'd like in a GUI-driven text editor and the no-button "save" and platform-independence is wonderful; but it is far too much a creature of their walled garden. Coming to it late and from the outside, the "Walled Garden" is sort of fairytale-scary: you can have all these wonderful things -- as long as you never try to climb over the wall with any of it! (Strictly speaking, that's not true -- "copy all" in Pages, paste into an e-mail, and Bob's your uncle! But that's more work than the Pi, which will let me e-mail a text file as an attachment.)

Ed Skinner said...

Scrivener goes far beyond POWP (Plain Old Word Processing) but, to get the full meal deal, ya' gotta RTFM. And more than twice. It's big.
The recommendation to "start small" (with familiar stuff) is good but users who do no more than that never get beyond the tail if the elephant. There's a huge body, long trunk, tusks, great big eyes, and toenails with slow native goo.
I've been using Scrivener for a couple of years. Simple at first. Then two weeks to methodically work the reference book. Add things to WIPs. More writing. Again, through the reference manual from page one. Lots of Scrivener videos - some are stupid, some beyond my ken, a few are extremely useful but depend on your personal development.
I'm Mac-only with Scrivener with projects stored in Dropbox. Snapshots on automatic. (Full backups by Mac's Time Machine tk a USB drive.)
And it's about time for me to RTFM from page 1 again.
Traditional Word Processing is, for me, like the pen and paper I still occasionally use for musings. But if it produces something with potential, it gets moved into the Scrivener factory where all the machinists, engineers, management, and nightlh clean up crew can all get at it.

Ed Skinner said...

I should add I also compose plain text with good old "vi" with my eyes closed to keep me from editing when the flow is going. Copy/paste to Scrivener later.

Roberta X said...

Ed, I have been using Scrivener for something like five years.

I don't compose on it, for reasons I have already explained. I have outlined on it, and discovered some of the Windows vs. Apple limitations of the versions I was then using. The worst was that changes at Corkboard were not reflected in the chapter lineup, which was bloody infuriating.

Scrivener is the Shopsmith or Unimat of writing tools. It will do a great many things very well -- if you can learn or figure out how. But if you are interested in the *result,* having to fiddle with the *process* can be massively distracting. I wrote an entire short story collection (and more besides) without it; with it, I have finished nothing.

Scrivener is also far, far more than a word processor -- and it was word processors I was posting about. I'm sure you do not mean to thread-highjack. Anyone can find out about Scrivener for themselves at literatureandlatte.com; there are versions for Mac, IOS and Windows. I have it on all platforms.