• Tools of the Trade

    17 December, 2012 • 3 Comments

    I’ve just finished up what I think is the most intensive exam period of my academic career, and good riddance to it. The exam period, that is, not my academic career – although the results are not in yet, so we’ll see. Prior to the exams, I had a quite full semester, with teacher training eating lots of time, so all in all it’s been a busy six months.

    Because I am, as previously established, crazy, I decided to add to my work this year by forging ahead with NaNoWriMo for the first time since my very first year at university. Back then, in the innocent days of 2006, I concluded that there was just no way to complete the challenge with university work on top! I clung to this established truth until now, the busiest semester yet, before throwing caution to the wind, and I actually ended up with a workable first draft of a story I have been brooding on for far too long.

    A graph charting my progress thorugh NaNoWriMo

    But spot the bit where I gave up in despair for a while.

    Anyway, this is all preamble, what I actually want to talk about are word processors.

    I know, right! Sexiest blog in the ‘verse, right here.

    The purpose of a word processors, as I currently see it, is to get out of the way and allow the user to just write, and then be ready with whatever features are needed to polish the product afterwards. Pretty easy and straightforward, no? Hard to see how it could be screwed up, really.

    But it can. Oh, but it can.

    I’ve been using OpenOffice for, oh, several years now. I can’t quite recall when I made the switch, but it was sometime after 2005, when I no longer had a school computer with Microsoft Office on. During my aforementioned teacher training, I had to use one of the school computers they had lying around there, and it came with Microsoft Office 2010. I think my feeling can be pretty much summed up with a tweet I made at the time:

    I do not understand how that thing can even be sold. When last I used Microsoft Office it had looked pretty much like OpenOffice still does, but now the UI was clunky and unnavigable. It was made so user-friendly as to be unusable. And every time I tried to scroll to a different part of a document, the would automatically jump back to wherever the cursor was. Maddening. I wanted to throw that machine out the window at the end of every day. Ugh, never again. I hope.

    As I’ve pretty thoroughly established by now, I’ve been using OpenOffice. During the writing sprint in November, however, I suddenly discovered that OpenOffice isn’t what it used to be, and that LibreOffice is its spiritual successor. I’d heard the name LibreOffice before, so I’m not a complete shut-in, but I’d never bothered to look up why all the people who used to push OpenOffice had suddenly switched allegiance. What I had worked for me, and I never even noticed that there was a change in update frequency or support systems. Now that I do know, though, I think I might switch over. Just because it seems better to use a piece of software that’s actually in development and with a support structure around it. I realise that OO still has that to some extent, but hey – support the open source guys, yeah? Also, it looks prettier.

    But there’s another piece of software I’m quite excited about – something new and shiny that’s caught my eye. It’s called Scrivener. OK, it’s not all that new, only to me, but it sure is shiny! Scrivener is one of the sponsors of NaNoWriMo. I didn’t actually notice it until after the month was over, but I downloaded the demo to see what everyone was raving about then. And since I did manage to squeeze out the 50 000 required words, I then almost immediately used the discount given to winners to buy a full copy. That’s how much it impressed me. It looks good, it makes organising notes easier, and its non-linear approach to text handling – because writing often is about shuffling bits around until they work – just appeal to me tremendously.

    Now, there’s a part of me that is eager to jump into the old trap of thinking “If I just had the right pen, the work would do itself!”. Scrivener, or LibreOffice, or anything, obviously doesn’t do the work for you. And you don’t need any of it, you can write with a piece of coal on a slate if that’s what you have handy. But these tools can make the process easier. They can sit back and just let you write and be there when you need them to help you polish stuff once you’re done. And I’m eager to find the optimal setup here.

    Because as long as I’m looking, I have an excuse not to do real work. Zing!

    3 Responses to Tools of the Trade

    1. 17 December, 2012 at 07:26

      I had to use LibreOffice for work last year. Don’t recall why, but I disliked it, and when the opportunity came to use OpenOffice instead, i switched..

      Anyway, I still use OpenOffice, but I need Microsoft Office for work at times, and while the wide-sprung changes you refer to were indeed disorienting and annoying at first, now that I know where most things are I don’t much mind it anymore. I still object to changing it for no reason in the first place, but hey. Then again, I’m easy-going and not very demanding on software in general, so that’s probably widely unrepresentative of its actual virtues.

      MS Office loads a hell of a lot faster than OpenOffice does though. So there’s that.

      Oh, and good luck on those exam results!

      • 17 December, 2012 at 18:51

        I wish you could say what it was about LibreOffice you disliked. For what I understand, it is built on the exact same code as OpenOffice – they just had to change the name when OpenOffice was bought by some other interest.

        • 23 December, 2012 at 18:51

          Sorry, I forgot about answering here. And my memory is shit on LibreOffice too, but from what I recall, my issues had to do with some files being corrupted between saving and re-opening when I used it, which has never happened after I switched to OpenOffice instead.

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