This is what the cloud was made for! I love Zotero. It’s always there yet never in the way. And it’s very good at grabbing metadata, which is nice when I have PDFs from interlibrary loan.
It’s always nice to get a shout-out.
Zotero is a great tool. If you’re doing any kind of academic research, you should give it a try. And, of course, it runs perfectly on Linux.
One of the more common things I hear about this project is that it skews toward technical users. I appreciate Jesús’ interview because he makes a point of mentioning how Linux works for all sorts of technical skill sets, from the advanced, to the more basic. I also appreciate the chance to interview another academic Linux user, as Linux has some fantastic tools, many of which Jesús mentions, that make academic work much easier. And if you’re a non-technical user who wants to share your setup, please drop me a line or email me at steven via this domain.
- Who are you, and what do you do?
My name is Jesús García-García. I’m a lecturer in Accountancy at University of Oviedo (Spain). My main research interests are focused on open data and transparency, open government and free/libre open source software; their value and the role they play on business, governments and society. With free software, I have put the focus on its value in financial reporting and how it’s related to social responsibility disclosure, which I believe would be helpful for raising funds in socially responsible investment markets.
Why do you use Linux?
There are several reasons. First, the sense of freedom: computing should not be dominated by any big contender in a market who is powerful enough to impose standards or technologies (do you remember ‘Wintel’ dominance or the browser wars in the late 1990s and 2000s?). There is also the sense that by using free software you are part of a great community that makes the world a better place; you are taking part in a global commitment to help eliminate the digital divide, create economic opportunity, and foster equal access to technology even though you are just a non-technical user without programming skills leading by example among your inner circle (family, friends, workmates…). Last, but not least, it just works! So, why shouldn’t I use it?
What distribution do you run on your main desktop/laptop?
Ubuntu, 12.04 LTS and 13.10. I proudly survive in a Windows-centric computing universe at University 🙂 But I began using Linux a long time ago.
It was 1997 and I tried Slackware on a 486 running MS-DOS and Windows 95. I wasn’t able to start a graphic environment (the old fvwm), but the experience actually opened my mind to alternative operating systems. I carried on and a few months later I get a copy of RedHat 5.0. “A complete computing environment in one box,” was the slogan on the box, which I still have. It was really true; all of your software could be installed at the same time without hassle (no looking for extra software, CDs, FTPs, etc). It was also not that complicated to install and manage, at least not as complicated as Slackware was! In the following years I used SuSE and Mandrake/Mandriva. I have always chosen user-friendly distros because I firmly believe free software should be for everybody and not just for technically oriented users.
What desktop environment do you use and why do you use it?
Unity when running Ubuntu, GNOME 2 previously. I don’t really care about my desktop environment, but I do prefer simple environments. GNOME 2 was my choice for many years, but nowadays I find Unity quite interesting. It’s easy and it just works. Computing should be a simple matter. I find KDE 4 and GNOME 3 quite complex, maybe even overbloated. Xfce and other lightweight desktops lack some basic management features.
What one piece of software do you depend upon with this distribution? Why is it so important?
I have no special dependency with Ubuntu or any other distribution (maybe the desktop environment, Unity). My workflow is quite simple and can be replicated on any other distribution, even on Windows or Mac, at least while there is Firefox. Firefox is my preferred browser. I love the work Mozilla Foundation has done for the last decade in the defense of the open web and I consider it my most important piece of software.
I rely on LibreOffice and Zotero for writing academic papers, creating slides and managing bibliographies, but also LaTeX and Beamer if required by mathematical content. I use Calc and SQLite to deal with databases. R and Rcommander to create statistical graphs and calculations. I use Pinboard to read content later or archive bookmarks and notes, NewsBlur to follow RSS sources (if a website doesn’t offer a RSS source, it isn’t worth my time), Dropbox to save, share and sync my files (does anyone remember those old-fashioned USB drives?), and Google Docs for collaborative writing. I’d prefer to use Etherpad but it’s not widely known. I use CrossOver in order to be able to open .docx or .pptx MS Office files if layout is important.
As you can see, all of my computing could be done on any platform (Linux, Mac, Windows). I am truly committed to using free software, even with web apps, but if I cannot and have to use privative software or web apps I demand an open data feature: I should be able to get my data out in an open, interoperable and portable format.
What kind of hardware do you run this setup on?
I don’t need cutting-edge hardware. I use a Macbook i5 with 4GB RAM and 16:10 screen (13"), which also runs Snow Leopard and a Pentium IV 3Ghz with 1GB RAM desktop and 4:3 screen (17"). I’m dreaming of Ubuntu Touch or even Firefox OS tablets to run my workflow in the future 🙂
Will you share a screenshot of your desktop?
For sure, but it’s nothing exciting: a boring stock Ubuntu desktop.
Interview conducted December 8, 2013
I recently looked into citation management tools for an article I’m working on.
About citation management tools.
So the whole thing was very meta.
I’ll post a link to the article once it’s available in a few months, but for now, I wanted to talk about these tools from a technical standpoint.
All three tools pretty much do the same thing. They allow users to capture book and article metadata and export the data in a bibliographic format, like MLA, APA, Chicago, ASA, etc.
They also allow users to organize their research, so all of their articles on a given topic are in one place. All three support tagging and have some social sharing aspects.
Technically, all three tools are different, though. Mendeley is a standalone client. Zotero is a Firefox extension. And citeulike is entirely web-based.
Mendeley is pretty robust, allowing you to organize web-based files as well as local ones. And the client has a web sync. But the sync didn’t work horribly well for me. Metadata would get corrected at work, but it didn’t seem to make it to my home set-up. But I was also syncing my data to Zotero and I wonder if there were just so many versions of things floating around, that Mendeley got confused.
One nice thing about Mendeley, though, is that they have a Linux client, so using it is really no big deal. It installs like any program, once you add the Mendeley repository.
I’ve played with Zotero on and off for years. Like Mendeley, there’s a web sync option, so you can access your research across computers. It works well but the Firefox dependency is a real killer. I don’t use Firefox very often and I don’t want to have to switch browsers when I’m doing research.
citeulike didn’t knock me out. It’s tough to get it to effectively grab metadata. It seems like at least 75% of the time, I had to export citations in BibTeX, a standard citation format designed for LaTeX, and then manaually import the BibTeX into citeulike.
But in the end, I’m sticking with citeulike because it’s web-based. I just install a browser button into ANY browser, and I can grab (some) articles relatively painlessly.
Mendeley has an easy browser button, too, but it still requires the client to export your work into a bibliographic format.
So even though Mendeley is easily the most robust of the three tools (you can view and annotate PDFs using it), citeulike is the easiest to implement. So I’m sticking with citeulike for now.
Zotero is working on a standalone client, and while I really love the ease with which Zotero grabs metadata, a client just feels like a lot of work. It’s something else that needs to be updated. It’s something else that needs to be opened. And it’s something else that needs to be installed.
Given that I usually print articles and keep them in folders, annotating them by hand, citeulike seems to be the easiest way to keep track of my research and generate semi-clean bibliographies.
Also, some institutions (including my own) provide access to RefWorks. RefWorks is pretty nice, but they only have browser buttons for Internet Explorer and Firefox. Like with Zotero, that’s kind of a deal killer for me, even though RefWorks has some nice functionality, like using a URL resolver to link to subscription material automatically.
I appreciate that Mendeley took the time to develop a Linux client and I feel like I should support that, but the idea of a standalone client feels like overkill. Having said that, I might eventually check out some Linux citation management clients, just to make sure I’m really not missing out on anything. Referencer is well-reviewed but looking for a new maintainer. And JabRef also looks interesting.
Committing to a reference management tool represents a new research work flow for me, but I’m hoping having everything in one place will eventually pay off for me.
But if nothing else, I’m learning lots about BibTex.