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Goodbye Cruel Word 565

theodp writes "The problem with Microsoft Word, writes the NYT's Virginia Heffernan, is that 'I always feel as if I'm taking an essay test.' Seeking to break free of the tyranny of Microsoft Word, Heffernan takes a look at Scrivener and the oh-so-retro WriteRoom, which she and others feel jibe better with the way writers think. 'The new writing programs encourage a writerly restart. You may even relearn the green-lighted alphabet, adjust your preference for long or short sentences, opt afresh for action over description. Renewal becomes heady: in WriteRoom's gloom is man's power to create something from nothing, to wrest form from formlessness. Let's just say it: It's biblical. And come on, ye writers, do you want to be a little Word drip writing 603 words in Palatino with regulation margins? Or do you want to be a Creator?'"
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Goodbye Cruel Word

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  • One Word: Lyx (Score:5, Informative)

    by gambolt ( 1146363 ) on Sunday January 06, 2008 @04:16PM (#21934594)
    It's the "killer ap" that got me to convert to linux full time. []

  • by Breakfast Pants ( 323698 ) on Sunday January 06, 2008 @04:27PM (#21934702) Journal
    You really should have learned TeX/LaTeX.
  • Re:One Word: Lyx (Score:4, Informative)

    by rxmd ( 205533 ) on Sunday January 06, 2008 @04:28PM (#21934712) Homepage

    Too bad it's not available for the most common desktop operating systems.
    Maybe haven't really been paying attention to them for like three years or so, but there are versions both for Windows and MacOS X, if those are the operating systems you had in mind. Those have been available for quite some time, since they switched the user interface to Qt.
  • VI Improved (Score:2, Informative)

    by Per Abrahamsen ( 1397 ) on Sunday January 06, 2008 @04:46PM (#21934878) Homepage
    > What is it with this "it's been done before, thus it can't be improved"-philosophy?

    Writeroom is not actually trying to sell itself on being an improvement on anything, it sells itslef on notalgia to a time where there were zillions of text editors. Problem is, these text editors are still around. If vim is too strange, try Emacs as the poster suggested. Both have all the features listed, and are rather easy to learn if you only do simple stuff. And if you want it even simpler, pico, or nano, or jed, or joe are also available.
  • Re:One Word: Lyx (Score:5, Informative)

    by Ian Alexander ( 997430 ) on Sunday January 06, 2008 @04:47PM (#21934886)

    Lyx looks nice. Too bad it's not available for the most common desktop operating systems.
    Yeah, what a shame you can't download binaries of the latest version for Windows, OS X, and OpenSUSE for free. []

    I mean, what's the deal with them not using freely-available cross-platform tools [] to make it easy to build on your platform of choice if you don't use it on one of those?

    What's more, just about none [] of the more popular [] Linux distributions [] have packages available for free download and install using your system's package manager.
  • I bought Scriviner (Score:5, Informative)

    by Fear the Clam ( 230933 ) on Sunday January 06, 2008 @04:54PM (#21934940)
    I've used various versions of Word (and before that, the original AppleWorks on an Apple ][e) to write books and book-length dissertations. Just so you know where I'm coming from, I still think the best version of Word for the Mac is 5.1a.

    For the last decade or so my strategy was to use Word's outliner then fill in the text. Pretty straightforward when you know exactly how things are supposed to go, like for a paper or a report. Unfortunately, I found them wanting for my creative writing, where I tend to write from the inside out, starting with a scene or a character or a funny sentence but not knowing where that bit would fit in a story. Sure, I could just dump everything in the ol' slop file, or link a bunch of individual files using Word's master document, but it was always forced and clunky.

    Last October I was looking for a new tool for Nanowrimo [] and I experimented with WriteRoom, Jer's Novel Write, Lyx, CopyWrite, Storyist, and Scriviner. In the end it came down to Storyist and Scriviner. I liked how Storyist had novel templates, but they seemed overly restrictive--and the software cost twice as much. I ended up buying Scriviner.

    What I like about Scriviner is that it gracefully handles working with both long chapters and little scraps, easily allowing you to change the views to an outline or index cards on a cork board with synopses, or as individual documents, or all run in together in a single window.

  • by yankpop ( 931224 ) on Sunday January 06, 2008 @04:55PM (#21934946)

    Fundamentally the issue with interfaces is not providing features piled on features, but figuring out how to craft a tool that people can use to get work done rather than having to learn how to use the tool.

    That's fine, if you just want to write letters to your friends and family, or update a personal blog, or whatever. But if writing is something you do professionally, what is wrong with investing an afternoon or a weekend in learning how to use a truly powerful editor? My work involves a combination of technical writing, popular writing, and coding. I could do all of these using Microsoft Word, or Word in combination with Notepad for coding, with very minimal time required to get going.

    But investing a week (over a period of several months) in learning to use Emacs to serve my needs has paid off dividends. When you consider that most of us spend 40+ hours a week, 48+ weeks a year, editing text of one kind or another, I think the expectation that a good tool is one that take no effort to *start* using is misguided. If you are going to be spending a large chunk of your life doing a particular task, a little short term pain to gain access to a tool that will grow with your needs over the rest of your career is really not such a burden.

    Emacs is not the answer to everyone's needs, of course. But I think anyone who is at all technically savvy should at least consider learning to use a proper editor.


  • I'm writing my dissertation (60 pages done so far) in Word 2007. The new equation editor makes it far better at this than Word 2003 and it accepts most LaTeX syntax as well. I'm actually finding it easier than LaTeX because of this - I type my type, I type my equations, and Word takes care of most of the other drudgery for me. I don't have to deal with issues of markup, as in LaTeX. Now if only they'd add it to PowerPoint too.

    (In light of this, I find it odd that I still prefer to hand-code HTML, but that's probably because each page has different elements. It's not just a mountain of text with a few images and tables thrown in).

  • by cnettel ( 836611 ) on Sunday January 06, 2008 @05:09PM (#21935070)
    Then press Alt in Office 2007 and you are shown what the shortcuts are. For commands that you do often enough that keyboard menomnics are worthwhile, the interface still works fine.
  • by frisket ( 149522 ) <> on Sunday January 06, 2008 @05:27PM (#21935226) Homepage

    It also depends on the balance between the textual content of what you write (the words) and the form they take. In past ages, writers simply wrote -- the formatting was the job of the publisher, and the author had no control over it (unless they were a Big Name). Now that it is possible for every writer to be their own typesetter, many of them feel that it is therefore their job to spend as much if not more time formatting what they write, than actually writing it.

    The first thing your publisher does when they receive your final draft is probably to rip out every scrap of your formatting and put in their own, to conform to their house style. They would actually much rather have your book in plain text, with virtually zero formatting, than have to go through the expensive and time-consuming task of removing all the unnecessary hard spaces, hard linebreaks, hard pagebreaks, etc that authors insert in the fond belief that they are "helping". Smart publishers and skilled authors in technical fields use LaTeX or XML because the writer or editor can indicate what is what without prejudicing the formatting; but there are no interfaces to either system yet that are usable by the average non-specialist writer (see my paper [] on this topic to the Extreme Markup conference in 2006) although a couple are beginning to get close.

    Unless you are writing for self-publication (just about viable now; in which case get professional typographic advice), your best bet is a wordprocessor with a stylesheet that uses some kind of Named Styles and that saves in XML so that the publisher can pick out your text with minimal formatting, and trash all the rest of the junk that wordprocessors typically insert. For a novel, however, which typically has only minimal formatting requirements anyway, it's probably not important what you use.

    In fact there are a dozen or so simple interface changes that editor makers could implement that would radically ease the burden on the writer of formal or complex documents, but this would involve a paradigm shift in the interface away from concentrating on the appearance to concentrating on actually writing. Editor makers are reluctant to do this because it would reveal just how much of their interface is actually eye-candy and how little of it is really there to help the writer; and authors are naturally reluctant to forsake the comfort of their favourite wordprocessor, especially if they perceive a new interface as restricting their ability to decorate their text (not actually the case, but a perception nevertheless).


    Claimer: the usability of interfaces to editing structured documents is my thesis topic.
  • by chebucto ( 992517 ) on Sunday January 06, 2008 @05:34PM (#21935296) Homepage
    Emacs and Vim are both great programs, but you have to admit they have a steep learning curve.

    Also, they can't be made to run full-screen on a mac without booting into a command line (afaik).

    The advantage of WriteRoom (which I've just tried out for a couple of minutes) is that it has no learning curve. Also, it's a true full-screen app - all you see is a black background and green text. No menus or windows to bother you.
  • by peragrin ( 659227 ) on Sunday January 06, 2008 @05:42PM (#21935366)
    Don't export to PDF in Neo Office . Print to PDF.

    click on print, in the bottom corner is a button for saving as PDF in various locations with the options to add in new ones. That way you use OSX's PDF engine instead of Open Office's.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday January 06, 2008 @05:57PM (#21935496)
    I'm Jesse Grosjean, the guy who wrote WriteRoom [].

    You are not the first to say that WriteRoom == Bad copy of VIM, probably the best example of this idea can be found here []. And frankly I can see where you are coming from, but I also think that you are not really understanding WriteRoom's purpose.

    The key is that WriteRoom isn't meant to be a VIM, emacs, etc replacement. It looks a little bit the same, but if you play around with it you'll soon find that WriteRoom's features have very little overlap with a traditional unix text editor. WriteRoom isn't meant to be a flexible powerful tool for editing text.

    Instead, it's just meant to provide distraction free writing. "For people who enjoy the simplicity of a typewriter, but live in the digital world." That's the one feature. To allow this these are a few of the features that WriteRoom provides that are not easily possible in a tool like VIM. I say easily because "you" may be able to get VIM to do just about anything, but for a normal user who doesn't want to write custom scripts and edit config files it's just not possible to set the same environment up in VIM that I've provided in WriteRoom.

    • No distractions. Full screen. Hidden menu bar. Hidden scroll bar. Nothing but text.
    • In full screen mode text doesn't wrap over the entire screen. Instead your text is formated in a readable column in the center of the screen.
    • Few important writers statistics (word count) pop up at bottom of screen, but hidden by default.
    • Lots of control over the look (colors, cursors, and fonts and paragraph formatting, even in plain text mode)
    • "Normal" app, user doesn't have to know about command line.

    So that's what it does. If you already are a VIM expert these features may just not be worth it. But for many users they are, and for many other users the barrier to learning a command line tool is just to high. So the choice is really between something like WriteRoom and MS Word.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday January 06, 2008 @06:00PM (#21935512)
    I talked to Kayembi (the Scrivener guy) about a linux port using GNUStep. Currently, GNUStep doesn't have all the features Scrivener needs. He gave me a list (not complete, but it's a start) and I've been working on getting them added to GNUStep. So hopefully, we will have a linux version sometime :)
  • by Nom du Keyboard ( 633989 ) on Sunday January 06, 2008 @06:24PM (#21935728)

    Perfect for the exec who chooses his PA on bust size rather than on organisational skills.

    If she can organize her large bust to keep it out of the way when she needs to get other things done, she might be great at other organizational skills as well.

  • by dmbrun ( 907271 ) on Sunday January 06, 2008 @06:25PM (#21935742)
    Printers? For drivers for a range of printers.

    Try here []
  • by Qbertino ( 265505 ) <> on Sunday January 06, 2008 @06:35PM (#21935848)
    Someone here linked to this [] which has so many good points I have no problem with reposting it.

    But anyway: These people are being silly. The text editor problem has exaustivly been solved about 10 to 15 years ago. Since then we've gotten a few more, nearly all for free and one better than the next. And to all those who after 20 years of GUI computing still haven't gotten it:


    If you're thinking "I know what I'm gonna do now - I'm gonna write a text." then DON'T use a word processor. Use an Editor of which there are countless around and available. Word processors are for formating and making documents print-ready. Repeat after me:" Word processors are *not* primary writing tools. " And don't even dare think of using a word processor for programming. There's a special place in hell for people who do that. Really.

    I've been programming and writing for more than two decades now and the last time I abused a word processor as an editor for writing down my initial draft was with AmiPro on Windows for Workgroups 3.11 running on MS-DOS4. And only because I was a n00b at writing on computers, it was a print document from the get-go and AmiPro was good enough not to suck at writing and Win 3.11 lacked a good editor. I've been using jEdit for allmost a decade now and have recently picked up Emacs (not recommended for people who don't know what awaits them) because it runs on the CLI which I often have to use.

    Bottom line: It's called Text Editor, or 'Editor' for short, folks. This type of programm has existed for over 30 years. Pick your favorite. And they've all got a fullscreen mode too.
  • by Thing 1 ( 178996 ) on Sunday January 06, 2008 @06:41PM (#21935890) Journal
    Yes, it does -- although some dialogs still don't, like Outlook's contact details...
  • by SnprBoB86 ( 576143 ) on Sunday January 06, 2008 @06:54PM (#21936004) Homepage
    Your complaint is completely unfounded. The Ribbon has excellent keyboard navigation and it is more discoverable than ever before. You just need tap the one magic key, ALT, and then it is a breeze to learn and use.

    See here: []
  • by mangu ( 126918 ) on Sunday January 06, 2008 @06:58PM (#21936044)

    they probably want to reliably run their games and all their other windows software without jumping through hoops

    Huh? I got the impression they were writers, wishing to maximize their work, like "The happy, broad-minded, process-friendly Scrivener software encourages note-taking and outlining and restructuring and promises all the exhilaration of a productive desk", or "you also get to drop the curtain on lifes prosaic demands with a feature that makes its users swoon: full screen", or " you must enter the WriteRoom, the ultimate spartan writing utopia", or "What I mean is this: Black screen. Green letters. Or another color combination of your discerning choice. But nothing else".

    Now, tell me, where did running fucking micro$oft games enter into all that? Perhaps you didn't read the fucking article at all, did you? You just ran at the chance of becoming just another fucking, obnoxious, micro$oft shill, right?

  • by shadanan ( 806810 ) on Sunday January 06, 2008 @07:06PM (#21936102) Homepage
    You're missing the point of using LaTeX. While it is true that LaTeX makes it very easy to add equations to a dissertation, the biggest problem with using Word is that you're constantly dealing with the formatting of your document rather than actually writing the content of your document. When you use LaTeX, you are pretty much giving the software complete control over layout and typesetting. You just tell LaTeX that you want an image / figure at a given location and the software decides the best location. The greatest thing about the LaTeX is how well cross-referencing works. You never have to worry about what index you assigned to a figure or an equation. You just reference it with a label and the LaTeX compiler automatically rebuilds your table of contents, list of figures and what not. Finally, most universities provide a LaTeX class file which you simply include in your LaTeX file. This will (usually) setup your dissertation with the necessary margins and formatting that is required by your faculty. If you use Word, then you will have endless headaches if you need to change your margins, because all of a sudden, your images are no longer attached to the paragraphs they belong to. If you insert an equation earlier on in your document, your reference numbers will get out of order. And if you're writing your dissertation in a sane way, then you will likely have separate files for each chapter (something totally unnecessary with LaTeX - just have separate .tex files for each chapter and include them in your main .tex file). So if you want to make formatting changes, you will have to apply those changes separately to each chapter, every single time a formatting change is required. Anyway, before I wrote my MASc thesis, I had started doing it in Word because I had never used LaTeX and I was apprehensive about learning it. In retrospect, I am extremely happy that I ended up writing my thesis in LaTeX. Because .tex files are plain text, I committed the files to an SVN repository which allowed me access to my dissertation from any computer with an SVN client. And, once everything was setup in LaTeX, making changes to the document was easy. I never had to worry about formatting; I just focused on the content and didn't worry about how it looked. At the end of the day, it looked great and formatting required zero effort on my part because including the faculty class file was a simple process.
  • by Coryoth ( 254751 ) on Sunday January 06, 2008 @07:19PM (#21936186) Homepage Journal

    I'm writing my dissertation (60 pages done so far) in Word 2007. The new equation editor makes it far better at this than Word 2003 and it accepts most LaTeX syntax as well. I'm actually finding it easier than LaTeX because of this - I type my type, I type my equations, and Word takes care of most of the other drudgery for me. I don't have to deal with issues of markup, as in LaTeX.
    It's nice that Microsoft has finally started to fix the input mechanisms for equations, and even the display is much improved -- though still rather ugly compared to TeX. Ultimately thought TeX and LaTeX are about more than just entering equations easily (though it is certainly excellent for that); it's about exactly what things like WriteRoom are about: getting out of your way and just letting you write. No worrying about formatting and such while you're writing; you can do all of that either beforehand, or when you're done by mucking with the preamble to your heart's content. No worrying about equation and theorem numbering and references thereto; just write, with tags and references, and everything is taken care of. I wrote my thesis in LaTeX; the beauty was that I could then extract relevant segments (via cut and paste) and compile them into papers to submit to journals. There was no need to worry about renumbering theorems, rechecking citations, or reformatting everything for the journal's house style (a simple change to the documentclass immediately took care fo that).

    If for some reason the markup (which, ultimately, is a case of letting you just type) is a pain, then consider using something like Kile [] or TeXlipse [] which take all the pain out of writing and managing large LaTeX documents with autocomplete and a whole host of other powerful features.
  • by morcego ( 260031 ) on Sunday January 06, 2008 @07:34PM (#21936316)
    I still use TeX often, even today. Actually, I started learning TeX about 5 years ago, after most people migrated to some other GUI editors.

    One of the things I like better about TeX is how easy it is to automatically generate professional looking reports. Collecting data from systems, consolidating them, and then generating a professional looking report I can send to my clients is all automated these days, thanks to using TeX.
  • by Squid ( 3420 ) on Sunday January 06, 2008 @07:35PM (#21936326) Homepage
    You want Megazoomer. [] I also pair it up with Blacklight [] for light-on-dark text.
  • by TheRaven64 ( 641858 ) on Sunday January 06, 2008 @07:44PM (#21936392) Journal

    Also, they can't be made to run full-screen on a mac without booting into a command line (afaik).
    Install iTerm and use command-enter to switch to full-screen mode. You can't do it with OS X's default terminal emulator, however. I stopped using iTerm when I switched to Leopard, since for most things the new terminal was better. Running a full-screen terminal on a modern screen isn't very useful since (unless you pick a very large font size) your lines will be too long to be comfortable to read.
  • by Heembo ( 916647 ) on Sunday January 06, 2008 @08:36PM (#21936878) Journal
    What, is save-as-office-2003 to difficult for you?
  • by nitro-57 ( 656185 ) on Sunday January 06, 2008 @08:40PM (#21936914)
    If you intend to submit your dissertation to any science journals you may want to re-evaluate the editor you use.
    I think this was in a previous Slashdot posting a while ago... Per the article, Saving the doc in an older format will not help, the new equation editor format is incompatable with many submission systems.

    Word 2007 documents rejected by leading science journals: []
  • by GaryPatterson ( 852699 ) on Sunday January 06, 2008 @09:04PM (#21937090)
    The author may not develop for Windows, but he does provide some links to Windows-based writing software in a similar vein to Scrivener" []

    He also provides links to other OS X writing software. He must feel pretty comfortable with his competition!

    I'm toying with the idea of purchasing Scrivener myself. I tried the demo and like the way you can jot down notes and images in a pretty free-form way. It's close to the way I write.
  • Re:Shades of Word 97 (Score:2, Informative)

    by rrshadow ( 71036 ) on Sunday January 06, 2008 @10:19PM (#21937578)
    Office 2007 (now) prompts on file save if you want to keep the original format or if you want to update the document to the later version. The prompt dialog at that time also lets you know what you'll actually gain or lose from by upgrading or remaining with the previous version.
  • by dhaines ( 323241 ) on Sunday January 06, 2008 @10:41PM (#21937726)
    How "economical" it is for the developer is a moot point. From Scrivener's site []:

    Literature & Latte is not a software company... Wait - if Literature & Latte isn't a software company, why would you want to buy software from me? Two reasons: Firstly, many shareware companies are really only one person - I just happen to be particularly upfront about it; secondly, I am first and foremost a user of Scrivener. I developed Scrivener because I felt I needed a tool to help me really get a grip on my writing, notes and research, to organise it and start putting it all together like a jigsaw.
    The page goes on to describe the developer's approach to feature requests and updates, which is quite unlike that of commercial developers. underlying philosophy is that Scrivener should never try to be all things to all writers. Instead, Scrivener has a well-defined general feature set, and the aim is for this feature-set (based around outlining, storyboarding and composing) to be as solid as possible, and as refined, user-friendly and intuitive as it can be. Feature requests will always be seriously considered, but just because another application has it, it doesn't mean that it will fit into Scrivener...
    He also addresses Mac-onlyness:

    The reason for this is not that I am a Mac snob, but simply that Literature & Latte ... is really just me, and I happen to prefer and use (and program for) a Mac.
    The developer is a writer who can code, he created Scrivener as a writing tool. I've offered him more than the software's $40 cost because it's been such a boon to my productivity. He politely declined.
  • by rmcd ( 53236 ) * on Monday January 07, 2008 @12:11AM (#21938298)
    Why is it necessary to have a single user interface? Why can't keystrokes continue to work as they did before *and* there could be a ribbon? It's not like there's been a conceptual leap in the design of Word. (And before someone jumps in to say that the old keystrokes are there, they aren't. If I type Alt-T-U in Excel I should see a list of the auditing commands --- that was the function of that keystroke in 2003. In 2007, that keystroke does nothing unless I know the final keystroke, which I didn't need to remember in 2003.)

    If your anecdote is correct, it just shows how little regard the Microsoft powers that be have for their *existing* users.

  • by QuietObserver ( 1029226 ) on Monday January 07, 2008 @01:03AM (#21938574)
    Except for several later versions of WordPerfect (I use WordPerfect 9, and it does everything WordPerfect 5.1 did, in many cases better, and several additional useful things I haven't seen on anything else; I helped publish a book written in WP (possibly 5.1, but I'm not sure) using WP9) I completely agree with you. WordPerfect 9, in my opinion, was the apex, and I still use it on Windows XP (which I run on a VM on my Ubuntu box).
  • by linuxghoul ( 16059 ) on Monday January 07, 2008 @01:40AM (#21938810) Journal
    you want LyX (

I was playing poker the other night... with Tarot cards. I got a full house and 4 people died. -- Steven Wright