One of my dreams is to start doing my academic writing in LaTeX. I haven’t gotten around to it. But also, most publishers I work with just want a Word file. I suspect (or hope?) that will change as more publishers start to use git for manuscript preparation.
This is a very interesting idea. I’m in favor of anything that lets people move off of Word. And that’s easier to use than LaTeX.
Mary does a great job going through her workflow. Her feelings on not having the time and/or energy for upgrades really resonated with me, though. Linux is at an interesting point in time. Individual releases work fantastically, but moving between releases can still sometimes be tricky. There seems to be a real market for a rolling release that’s tightly managed, so breakage is minimized yet software is always relatively up-to-date. Rick Spencer is thinking about what something like this might look like for Ubuntu. A lot of Linux users, across distros, would probably be very excited about a rolling release with training wheels.
- Who are you, and what do you do?
Other things I do include caring for my young child; blogging; the odd bit of swimming, cycling and yoga; and very occasional scuba diving. I am in the very last stages of a PhD in computational linguistics: in the next month or so I need to do the final revisions of my thesis in line with my examiners’ comments and then I will graduate some time this year.
- What distribution do you run on your main desktop/laptop?
I run Ubuntu on my laptop. To date I’ve always run the latest stable release, and occasionally the upcoming release when it’s in beta, but my time for upgrading software is diminishing and I’m considering switching to using only LTS releases, even on my laptop.
I am curious about how Fedora is doing these days, but realistically switching distributions is more work than upgrading Ubuntu so I am likely to stick with the path of least resistance.
- What software do you depend upon with this distribution?
I run GNOME Shell rather than Unity after having tried them both quite briefly. It works for me, although I’ve also enjoyed using tiled window managers a lot, so I am hoping the shellshape GNOME Shell extension matures further and allows me to use a simple tiled manager.
I use Firefox for web browsing and increasingly for webapps also (I use Google Apps for work). I use Pidgin for IRC and IM, mostly for the feature that lets me set different statuses in different accounts, so that I am not equally available to everyone I know all at the same time. I’ve used irssi for IRC in the past and may again at some point. I use mutt for mail, together with Postfix (in satellite mode) and offlineimap.
When I code, it’s almost always in Python, so Python and many Python libraries are installed on my machines.
For my PhD thesis I also had LaTeX installed, 2E originally and later TeXLive, so that I could use xelatex. I wrote a whole series of blog entries on useful LaTeX packages for academic writing. For shorter pieces of writing I use LibreOffice, when I need control over look and feel, and Google Docs otherwise. I edit plain text and code in Vim.
zsh, ssh, rsync and rdiff-backup play important supporting roles generally.
On my servers my key software is Postfix for mail, BIND9 for DNS, nginx for HTTP(S) and Dovecot for IMAP, together with WordPress for most of my websites.
- What kind of hardware do you run it on?
My laptop is a Dell Vostro 3300 that I purchased in 2010. When I was finishing my PhD thesis in 2012 I bought a 24″ Philips monitor to use with it. Before that I was reliant on the laptop’s screen. Now when at my desk I use the external monitor, a Microsoft Natural keyboard and a USB optical mouse of whatever brand happened to be selling the last time my mouse broke.
My servers are a Linode VM and a Shuttle box that AusPCMarket built for me. Building my own boxen comes from the same non-existent energy budget that trying new Linux distributions comes from.
- What is your ideal Linux setup?
More or less what I have, I guess; I am not very ambitious. There’s probably no such thing as too many screen inches or too much RAM though.
- Will you share a screenshot of your desktop?
It’s probably time to search Flickr for a more cheerful background.
Interview conducted January 21, 2013
A few years ago, I went to a Linux conference, featuring all kinds of corporate Linux advocates, mostly speaking to education issues.
In one of the breakouts, someone from a major Linux company, and a person very much invested in Linux, made an interesting statement. He said Linux would never be a major desktop OS because too many people are too invested in Microsoft Office. He said Office was what kept people in Windows.
His theory was that there were plenty of other non-desktop opportunities for Linux, not that it wasn’t a viable OS.
I heard this five or six years ago. Before the rise of Ubuntu. Before Google Docs. Even before widespread cloud computing.
But word processing is still an issue. Not even word processing, so much as moving documents between operating systems.
(And at this time, I’d like to note that years ago, when I worked in medical publishing, a good one hour out of every day was spent translating Mac files into usable PC files, so I’m not necessarily citing any of this as a fault of Linux, but more as a inter-OS challenge).
On Xubuntu, I use AbiWord, the default word processor. Within the Linux world, I imagine most people use OpenOffice or the upcoming LibreOffice fork.
Even in my GNOME days, I gravitated toward AbiWord (when I needed a formally formatted document and couldn’t get away with a text file) because OpenOffice just didn’t make sense to me. It felt slow and bloated, trying unsuccessfully to mimic Microsoft Office, but seemingly only able to port over the worst aspects.
AbiWord is simple. It can’t do much, but it can make a typed page look OK.
The challenge I run into is maintaining formatting across operating systems — specifically citations. Even something as simple as a hanging indent doesn’t seem to consistently remain when shipped (via RTF) from one OS to another.
I’ve spent some time with Google Docs, and while it’s very convenient, allowing me to work on articles across operating systems and physical computers, there’s definitely a lag when you work in it, and it’s just enough of a lag to be a dealbreaker for me. Plus, printing is a two-step process (download the PDF and print the PDF), although word on the street is that might be changing soon.
I could write locally, upload to Google Docs, format, and then download the converted file, but that too seems a step or two labor intensive.
For right now, I usually try and send out final drafts of articles from work, where I have access to Microsoft Word and can clean them up before shipping them off.
When I can’t get to my work PC, I just kind of ignore the formatting and trust editors to fix things for me. I like to imagine everything needs to be reformatted between my document and their pagination systems. But I also worry they think I don’t know how to do simple citation formatting.
To sort of remove this barrier once and for all, I’m getting ready to explore LaTeX, a document markup language. It’s very popular with math/science/technical people who need to use formulas in their documents, but I believe it also has a small following among control freaks, like myself, who want to control every aspect of their document themselves (not unlike AppleWorks used to allow me to do, back on my family’s IIe clone).
There’s a LaTeX plugin for gedit, so I’ll get to stick to my favorite editor. To move from LaTeX to RTF, I’ll probably use something like pandoc, which converts a variety of markup languages into other markup languages. I like the idea of LaTeX, because there are also ways to convert LaTeX outlines into presentations. Beamer is one such project.
(The lack of decent presentation software for Linux is another thorn in my side. I’m usually too rushed to use S5, so I wind up using PowerPoint at work.)
Moving files between Linux and Windows is much, much easier, but it still isn’t perfect. I’m hoping LaTeX will be the method to make sure more complex word processed documents look relatively close to the same on Linux machines and on Windows boxes.
Otherwise, I may develop a standard formatting disclaimer to send off with my Xubuntu-created word processed documents.