The other day I was bumming around on IRC, decidedly not doing any sort of writing at all, when I happened across a conversation between several Internet folk about nothing other than writing software! One of these fine IRC-persons mentioned that they found a program called WikidPad most useful in keeping their thoughts straight. WikidPad, in a similar fashion as my note-keeping program of choice, Zim Wiki, acts as a personal wiki for your thoughts. It has an advantage over actual server-side wiki software, such as MediaWiki, in that it is easy to set up and everything is kept locally on your computer. However, the main advantage of using a wiki – being able to create separate pages and link them together at will – is preserved.
Doubtful I would find a program to replace my beloved Zim, I decided to give it a whirl anyway. Unfortunately WikidPad isn’t the most straightforward of installs, which is why I’ve chosen to spend this post talking about the actual steps I took to get the program up and running.
For Windows users, WikidPad comes with a single binary installer that takes care of anything for you. But if you’ve so much as read the title of this fine blog, you know we’re not dealing with something so simple as that. No, we Linux users get treated to a lovely little zip file of python code!
The first thing to do, of course, is to grab the zip file from WikidPad’s home page and extract it somewhere. Be careful, though, as this is one of those zip files you’ll want to unzip into a separate folder, lest the source files scatter everywhere in your Downloads folder. (Alas, I speak from experience.)
Next you’ll need to download one of WikidPad’s dependencies – wxPython. Open up a terminal and type in the following:
sudo apt-get install python-wxversion
After that, you can start up WikidPad by using cd to navigate to the folder you extracted its files to and running the command
But let’s be honest, that’s pretty lame. We’re in Unity here with a fancy launcher and dashboard – we can do better than running a command every time we want to it up! So instead, open your favorite text editor and let’s make a really simple script called WikidPad.sh:
cd ~/Downloads/WikidPad python WikidPad.py
With the first line modified to reflect wherever you dumped the WikidPad files, of course. Once you save it, don’t forget to make the script executable:
chmod +x WikidPad.sh
Now let’s add this to the Unity dashboard. Search for a program called “Main Menu.”
If, for whatever reason, you don’t have it, you can also find it in the Ubuntu Software Center. Open it up, click “New Item,” and write the full path to your bash script under “Command”.
Press “OK,” and WikidPad will be available in the dashboard.
And now, having gotten this far, I might just see what the program’s actually like. Who knows!
There isn’t a lot I can say about Zim; it’s something you have to experience for yourself.
I will say that I’ve been searching for this program for years. You see, I like wikis. A lot. I’m even an administrator on one that’s fairly well-known. There’s just something to it, something about information on a wiki that automatically makes it feel important and organized.
And it is organized – wikis give you a crazy amount of flexibility. A page could be anything from a plot outline to a character’s biography to the first draft of a chapter. Start adding pages to categories, and you’ve got a super neat hierarchy of your own personal design.
As I’ve said, I’ve been searching for Zim for a long time. I’ve tried everything from Wiki on a Stick (a single HTML file that acts as a wiki) to actually installing MediaWiki (the stuff Wikipedia runs off of). Most of these have proven to be slow and clunky, with complicated ways of storing data. Accessing your writing outside of whatever program you wrote it in was pretty much impossible. And if you had just one bad save of your wiki-on-a-stick… woo boy.
Zim, however, is nothing like that. Not only is Zim a speedy and reliable program, but it doesn’t tie you down. Every page you write is saved in an easily editable plain text format, with a little bit of wiki syntax for links and what have you. You can create as many wikis as you want with as many categories as you want in each, and even insert images. And if you don’t know wiki syntax, don’t worry – Zim is WYSIWYG with extremely simple shortcuts for useful things like checkboxes and bullet points.
Whether you’re looking for a wiki analogue or just a new way of keeping your thoughts organized, check Zim out. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.
Update: So you know, this weekend I’m going to be trying something a little bit different for this blog… but we’ll be back to our regularly scheduled Linux blogging by Monday 🙂
When I start using a program that’s supposed to be a replacement for a different program, as OpenOffice Writer is for Word, there are always little differences that bug me. Fortunately, OpenOffice is very customizable, and I’ve found a quick trip into Tools -> Options easily solves most of my problems. Here are a few things I changed straight off to make OpenOffice (and Linux itself) a bit more comfortable for writing.
Feeling locked in
To start off with: that gray boundary around the text. I mean, what?
I get that it’s supposed to help me see where the margins are, but c’mon, I think I can see that easily enough from the text itself. And there’s something off about text that directly touches a border, like I’m looking at a poorly-formatted webpage.
To get rid of this claustrophobic box, untick “Text Boundaries” in the View menu. Much to my surprise, after turning the boundaries off once, they never came back to haunt me again like so many options in Word did. Nice!
A little too familiar
I couldn’t go one quotation mark without that little box in the lower-right corner popping up. Back in my days of writing on OS X, I remembered that box being a minimalistic image of a lightbulb against a purpleish background. Nowadays it is the cheesiest damn thing I’ve ever seen. Before it was just an annoyance, and I never bothered to turn it off; now it’s a borderline embarrassment. Who thought a cartoon lightbulb with a face was a good idea? And if this is supposed to be OpenOffice’s version of an “Office Assistant” – which I’ve no doubt it is – isn’t OO aware of the near-universal hatred for such a thing? If we’re starting afresh with an open-source office suite, why take the pains to replicate that which is undesired in the first place?
Tools -> Options -> OpenOffice.org -> General -> uncheck Help Agent. It never bothered me again.
A single problem
Sometime after I switched off the lightbulb I realized that, for all its fanfare about correcting double quotes, OpenOffice does not, by default, correct single quotes.
To set right that which is wrong, go to Tools -> AutoCorrect Options (it’s just above regular ol’ Options) and select the “Localized Options” tab. There you’ll find the option to correct single quotes as well as double quotes. Sanity has been restored.
That which is left behind
After changing these three simple settings I found myself warming up to OpenOffice a lot more. There is one last thing I’d like to have back from my Microsoft experience, though, and that’s the fonts.
Before I go any further, I’m going to put up a huge Disclaimer here: There are thousands upon thousands of free fonts. There are even a lot of good ones, including those that come with a fresh install of Linux Mint. I will be exploring free fonts and free font alternatives later on, because getting tied to Cambria and the like while I’m trying to get away from Microsoft Office is at best silly and at worst awfully hypocritical.
Still, I have documents that I’ve already started writing before I switched to Linux, and I’d like to see them in the proper font. Sure, I could change them, but then I have even older documents I might want to reference, and so on and so forth. Long story short, it’s easier to have these fonts available than not. I’m just not going to limit myself to them, that’s all.
As for why I had to go through the following process to get my fonts back instead of simply copying the fonts over from my Windows 7 fonts folder (after all, I am in a virtual machine): the Fonts folder in 7 won’t open up without crashing the whole system, and there’s only so many reboots one can take before one starts thinking “there must be an easier way!” As it turns out, there is.
If you want to legally(ish?) download the new fonts available in Vista and 7 (Cambria, Candara, and the like) you’re in luck – you can download and extract the fonts from the Microsoft Office 2007 Compatibility Pack. And if you don’t want to go through all that trouble, there’s a script that can do it for you instead.
(Note: As of this writing, there’s what I can only assume to be a bug in the script that forces you to run apt-get install curl before running the script itself. So do that before following these steps if you have trouble.)
wget http://plasmasturm.org/code/vistafonts-installer/vistafonts-installer chmod +x vistafonts-installer ./vistafonts-installer
If the script executes correctly, you’ll now have a wider selection of fonts available in ~/.fonts. Unfortunately there’s one more bug I haven’t mentioned when it comes to these fonts – font smoothing doesn’t work on some of them. Again, this wouldn’t be a problem if we installed truly free fonts instead, but it’s better to have some backwards compatibility than none at all.
Oh and, if you’d like to start exploring free fonts instead of grabbing back Microsoft’s, check out dafont.com. It’s my favorite site for that sort of thing.
I’ve only just started using AbiWord, but I’m already leaning away from it as my word processor of choice. I know I can’t expect total compatibility with Word documents, but I expected a little better than this:
I tried opening up a .doc file that I’d been editing (without incident) in Word 2010 and OpenOffice, and the strangest error occurred. A few pages in, several of my paragraphs were missing their first few words. I couldn’t find a way to recover them, so I closed it.
But before then I must’ve saved it somehow, because the next time I opened up that file in OO Writer I had random spaces everywhere.
So yeah, AbiWord. Not the greatest when it comes to Word compatibility. (And if Google is anything to go by, .odt isn’t looking so hot either.)
I’m still going to give it a go. I’ll just avoid opening up stories I’ve already started elsewhere, I guess. Maybe it performs better when you save and load documents in its own AbiWord format?
Sometimes you just gotta have several documents open at once. Whether you’re referring to an earlier draft, a page of notes, or even somewhere else in the same document, you’ll run into this situation eventually. Luckily I’ve got a fairly large (1920×1080) external monitor at my disposal, so side-by-side comparisons aren’t a problem. But for those of you who aren’t packin’ extra monitor space, I’ve got another solution for you.
Compiz Fusion, the window management software that comes with Mint 10, has a plugin that allows you to group and tab windows together. To get the plugin, you need only install the package compiz-fusion-plugins-extra.
I should warn you that by installing this package you will be installing a crazy number of compiz plugins. So if you’ve been known to play with the compiz options you have already, you should set aside an hour or so to meddle with these and get it out of your system.
sudo apt-get install compiz-fusion-plugins-extra
Once you’ve installed the package, head on over to your Compiz Settings Manager and activate the plugin (titled, quite accurately, “Group and Tab Windows Together”).
Here’s how it works:
Let’s say I’m writing a series of short stories (I am). I like to reference previous stories while I’m writing the next one. As a result, I have three windows open, one for each story, and it’s obviously taking up quite a bit of screen space:
But with the grouping plugin installed, I can select all three at once (by selecting each one and pressing Super+S) and tab them together with Shift+T.
Now I can switch between all three windows. (Note: The glowing effect is optional; you can turn it on or off in Settings Manager. I find it kinda distracting, myself.)
Tabbing windows together isn’t limited to windows of the same size or even the same program. Let’s say you were writing something in OpenOffice Writer, but you keep your notes in a different program (mousepad in this example). These can be tabbed together too:
There you have it – a nice way to conserve screen space without doing all that desktop-switching stuff.