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.

25 Apr

Freshly Minted Netbook

Linux Mint LogoMy netbook is now dual booting with Windows 7 or 64bit Linux Mint 10 (“Julia,” the mainline release). I’m really pleased with the overall nimble performance and UI for Mint, and found the install (from a USB key) to be fairly simple. I’m not so thrilled with the performance of the Broadcom wifi driver, but I’ve read there’s a better option (to investigate later). My most important next task is to find the right set of writing tools. I have the “DVD” version of Mint, which includes a variety of built-in software packages, including OpenOffice, but I’d like something lighter and more focused. I was initially more enthused about the number of writing tool choices for Linux but, like for Windows, software PR is better than the tools themselves. I tried installing the Scrivener beta for Linux (which I still have hopes for), but the instructions left out some key aspects I need to research. Still, I think I’ll find something that’s nimble and provides an explicit and focused feature set aimed at writers. The biggest rumple in the covers is the UNIX model for app and file management–an environment I “grew up in” and am emotionally very comfortable with but, as I suspected, have forgotten how to use. Thankfully, there are a bunch of Mint tutorials and a reasonable user’s guide out there.

Once I’m sure this machine really plays well with Mint, I’ll zap the Windows install and stick with a VM for any Windows needs (WINE, Virtualbox, or some other).

09 Feb

Adventures in Netbooking

Thanks to the IRS savings plan, we’ll get enough money back this year to pretty up the main bath, make some necessary car repairs, fix the front porch roof, and, more importantly, buy a netbook for me. My precious, not for sharing.


The Asus Tripoli* PC 1018P w/ Intel Atom N550 Dual Core CPU, 2 gb RAM, 250 gb hard drive (enhanced hamster, not SSD, which unfortunately is out of budget), two USB 3.0 and one USB 2.0 ports, and a card reader. And a neoprene sleeve for transport.

It comes with Windows 7 “starter.” I plan to wipe the drive and install CrunchBang Linux. My son’s SO has been using C! on her netbook for about a year and has been very happy with it. C! doesn’t have the pretty UI provided with (K)Ubuntu, but it supposedly runs faster and has fewer issues. And fewer distractions. I like Win7, but also like the idea of using an OS that’s currently less subject to attack, has less system overhead, and keeps me focused. I also “grew up” on UNIX and Windows systems, so shifting back and forth is fairly easy.

Writing tools for Linux

I’m buying the Tripoli to use as a very portable, moderately priced writing tool, that can also handle e-mail, browsing, and playing multimedia files. I’m willing to trade screen and keyboard size for portability/weight (which is minus one pound–the anchor comes with it). For home use, I’ll eventually get a larger screen and keyboard.

I will miss my two favorite, distraction-free writing tools for Windows: PageFour and Scrivener. I’ll install OpenOffice to handle compability with MS Office files, but I stopped using Word for personal writing projects waaaay back in ’09. So I’ll be evaluating tools like FocusWriterPyRoom, q10, KWord, Writer’s Cafe, Celtx, and, for desktop publishing, Scribus. There are also full featured text editors, but I want writing tools that provide a little more lift without much adjustment. If you know what I mean.

I hope to have the netbook in my grubby little hands in three weeks or less. I’m getting the white clamshell, though, so I best wash up first.

Note: I was writing this list of tools as I was looking them up. It turns out that Windows is the starved platform. Kind of like eating the same thing for years out of a well stocked pantry and suddenly noticing a plain but well built little door along the baseboard that, on opening, leads into a gourmet deli.

Update: Several people have asked why I didn’t consider an iPad or wait for an Android tablet. They said that the netbook market is shrinking and will soon vanish, squeezed between cheap repackaged last-gen notebooks and the sexy new, ready to go out of the box, tablets. Err, no. At least, not anytime soon. Those cheap notebooks are still heavy and large, and the tablets are still appliances, not tools, and are more expensive than netbooks. The iPad has lousy wifi connectivity and, without buying an external keyboard, doesn’t cut it as a writing tool. I’ve spent a fair amount of time with tablets and appreciate them for what they are and will be, enough to know they won’t serve my needs anytime soon. I also don’t care if the netbook market dries up. It’ll continue to be a very useful tool until it stops working. I don’t know if Kurt’s world is the real world. But it’s real enough for me.

*Tripoli reads nicer and carries the weight of history while Eee sounds too much like a shriek, and I don’t want no computer that makes me shriek. Anymore.