26 Apr

FocusWriter for Linux, My New BFF

Windows makes it very easy to get and install software without having to work or think very hard (or much) about the task. That’s good and, if you ever need or want to switch (or really know what’s going onto your computer), not so great. The PR says that autoamazations like this make it easier for you to focus on the real work. Until the real work becomes trying to fix something relatively simple yourself without paying a tech (or auto mechanic or carpenter or plumber or other specialist to do the work).

Even the slickest of Linux distros require you to be more aware of how the file system and OS work and how software plugs into that system. For example, my new install of Linux Mint 10 makes it very easy to add from a select set of software that’s been vetted by a Mint team.  But Mint will also run a lot of software built for the comparable Ubuntu core–in my current case, Maverick Meerkat, and that requires a little extra research and work. (I wrote and then deleted a brief and obvious discussion about freewheeling nifty naming conventions for Linux vs. Windows.)

My #1 priority after installing Mint last weekend was to find writing software that was more of a small tacklebox than rolling toolchest. Last night Debby and I and my netbook snuggled down to Dancing with the Stars and, during the breaks and handful of  train wreck dances, I narrowed choices down to FocusWriter. The reviewer and user accolades matched my requirements and the negative criticisms weren’t deal busters. But it wasn’t available via the Mint Software Packages tool (where currently the only writing toolset other than text editors is OpenOffice). I found install packages for Ubuntu but nothing specifically for Mint. I remembered reading that–due to a complex familial relationship–Mint will run some Ubuntu software, Ubuntu being the father of Mint (and its cousin, godfather, and possibly its guild leader and future nemesis). So I googled for the version of Ubuntu that matched the current version of Mint and selected that matching FocusWriter PPA, which Mint said (yes, it spoke to me in articulate dialog box) that it would be happy to download and install.

Five minutes later I was in the mysterious fogbound fullscreen landscape of FocusWriter where mousing to the northern border opened a simple but very functional toolbar, while the southern border laid down minimal tabs for the open file(s), word count, timer, and some simple file-based functionality. (Word count and timer are optional settings–allowing you also to set daily goals for both or either.) FocusWriter also includes options for modifying the background, fonts, and basic styles via simple themes.

I miss the simple visual organizational tools that came with my Windows-based writing tool, PageFour, but I think this is a fair trade with, ultimately, fewer distractions (and PageFour has some annoying bugs around non-sticky styles). The author of FocusWriter has also written a portable version that runs on a USB key, which means I can haul the files and key with me to other systems and work as needed. I’m using Dropbox for redundancy across computers and backing up to an external hard drive, and I’m copying complete chapters to a private section of this blog (which is also backed up). There’s more I could add or tweak, but then I wouldn’t be writing. Next steps are to get back to said writing and, in-between, regain an understanding of Linux basics. Right after I make a donation on gottcode.org, the FocusWriter author’s home page.