Flat Earth Catalogue


And if you need to get schnazzy ...
If what you're doing is not so much the creation of prose as it is the presentation of laid-out documents, maybe a desktop publishing system is called for. That would be Scribus (free beer, free speech).

I neglected to mention, perhaps because of the late hour, what can be done about file format interchange. Between OpenOffice (or NeoOffice) being able to open Word and probably save to it OK, Word being able to save in standardish RTF, and AbiWord speaking a dozen formats, it is probably not a problem to get from Word into whatever I'm using. There are adequate converters to TeX from OpenOffice, for example. If you're desperate, HTML makes an OK go-between. Now, that said, getting anything from my Mac to paper is, in the future, going to be done solely through PDF, because I am sick of taking a perfectly good document onto a Win machine on campus for the sole purpose of printing it and then having to take an hour fixing the formatting because Word thought it was clever. Yaar.

Word Processors May Be Stupid and Inefficient

... but here's what I think of some, anyway. I currently have AppleWorks (formerly Claris), which I never use, and NeoOffice/J, which I use often and am quite pleased with. AppleWorks will make hash of any kind of sophisticated formatting, or for that matter of simple formatting such as font choice, when going back and forth betwixt it and Word for Win. It's an absolute mess, as I learned the hard way with weekly drafts of my Honors Thesis last fall.

I've considered buying Pages, but I'm cheap, and it sounds very pretty but not especially feature-rich. Advantages: Apple UI engineers. Written just after Apple hired the bunch of programmers who wrote the well-reputed BeOS word processor after they left Claris. (By well-reputed I pretty much mean that the only thing to compare it to was WordPerfect. Speaking of which, WordPerfect for Mac stopped back in the OS 8 or OS 9 days, but the last version is available for free, for those who want to try and use it in the moribund Classic environment.) Currently fluent in Word format. Disadvantages: Apple assumes users are dumb and undemanding, and the prime thing is not to grate on them. This is true in most cases, but I am, if not smart, at least demanding. And will it stay fluent in Word format? Does anything? Heck, AppleWorks was fluent in Word format ...

The path of TeX is ever inviting, primarily because of my growing conviction that typesetting ought to be done by typesetters and never ever ever by bonehead civilian laypeople. In particular, I believe I know a thing or two about type—more than most people—and I have no business setting it. Also, TeX is great for academic documents. The thing about TeX is that even Knuth never intended raw layout codes to be handled by the end user. So I'm looking at LyX for a front-end, or maybe TeXShop (though the former is cross-platform and seems to be better documented). As one might expect, all of this is free (beer, speech).

By way of a more conventional word processor, AbiWord is most impressive. It is impressively cross-platform. It is impressively good-looking. It is impressively file-format-literate. Also free (beer, speech). I seriously ought to give this a try.

Word for Mac is right out. The rude boys from Redmond get as little of my dough as I can manage. Also, I don't like its interface. And furthermore, it has as much trouble exchanging files with Word for Win as any of the off-brand programs do. If I were interested in paying for a word processor, I might consider Pages, but not this.

NeoOffice/J, unlike the X11-based port of OpenOffice to OS X, is getting actively developed. I don't need the bleeding edge. And from what I understand, once you learn how to use it, OpenOffice Writer compares favorably to the legendary FrameMaker as an application for composing long documents (with structure, managed cross-referencing, indexing, etc.). The program is not very pretty, and it has some feature cruft that I'd rather were turned off, but what can you do? This is also something I ought to try.

A digression on smart quotes: If you ever move your document from machine to machine, and if those machines have different options set regarding the use of smart quotes, you're going to have to fix things by hand. And don't get me started on the disaster that occurs when text that was smart-quoted by Word gets slung onto Web pages by casual users. Bleagh with a side of ugly. Smart quotes are, once again, a typesetting issue, and they should be dealt with (properly! in Unicode!) at the point where you export your document into a presentation form (be that some variety of HTML, or ink on paper, or DVI, or PDF, or whatever). The source text, that is to say the stored form, ought only to contain characters that can be created from normal keyboards (or, at a maximum, only characters from 7-bit ASCII). Why? Because people don't just view from everywhere; they edit from everywhere. And it is terribly aggravating to find that two parts of your document are styled differently solely because you tweaked one on a strange machine. Yes, straight quotes are about as ugly as long texts set in slab serif faces. But they are what we're equipped to input. Leave our input simple and do the prettifying once, consistently, at output.

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(K) 2002-present. All rights reversed, except as noted.

Hard-won technical knowledge, old rants, and broken links from 10 years ago. I should not have to explain this in the 21st century, but no, I do not actually believe the world is flat.