29 April, 2006

Okay, I'm experimenting again. I'm doing this journal entry with Writer. I know that I've talked about this before. I think that Microsoft Word really peaked with Word 97 and that it has just been downhill ever since. The whole office suite has simply gotten blotted and unwieldy. I don't even like most of the aesthetic changes that have been made to Microsoft Office since version 97. Now, it is true that I mostly use the Macintosh version of Microsoft Office at work so I don't have that much exposure to the newer versions of Office for Windows, but I have used them. I have worked with the Windows version, and I don't like it. I don't like it one bit. I'm not even that fond of the Macintosh version that I have to use, and I really think that the Windows version of Office is worse than the Macintosh version. All of which just goes to show why I still use Office 97 at home. Well, there is the fact that I think the suite peaked with Office 97 and then there is the fact I cannot afford to get the new version of Office. But mostly it is the fact that Word 97 is still the best version Microsoft has produced.

So I still worry about that day to come at some point in the future when Microsoft Office 97 just won't work anymore. Maybe it'll develop some kind of insurmountable error. The program will just crash one day and there won't be anything to be done about it. Maybe there is some other bug that will allow hackers to steal control of my computer. I don't know. Maybe Windows will just evolve to the point one day when Office 97 simply will not function any more. This is the one that worries me the most. Microsoft Office 97 may simply become incompatible with the current version of the operating system. So all of this has left me wondering what to do when that day finally arrives. I could always just break down and get whatever happens to be the current version of Microsoft Office at that point, but I kind of figure that will be a rather expensive option. So I want to consider the alternatives.

Now, I've always been a big fan of Wordperfect. I remember it from the old days. I remember when Microsoft Office just really sucked and Wordperfect was the best thing around. Well, it just so happens that Wordperfect came pre-installed on my computer, and I've tried experimenting with it. I've done journal entries with it, and I've reached the conclusion that Wordperfect simply has too many buggy little things wrong with it to make it a good alternative to Microsoft Word. To be clear, my computer came pre-installed with Wordperfect 10, which has given me no end of trouble. Maybe they fixed the problems with the more recent versions of the program, but I'm not going to shell out the money just to find out.

So I don't remember exactly when I first heard about OpenOffice. I don't even think I had heard specifically about OpenOffice. I just knew that there was some kind of open source office suite out there. I was curious about it but not enough to actual try and track it down. So a couple of weeks ago the web comic User Friendly made some references to OpenOffice and I decided to check it out. After all, User Friendly had been right about Firefox, which I now user pretty much exclusively. I only ever turn on Microsoft Internet Explorer when there is some specific task needed such as Windows Update. So I found the website, and I downloaded the software. Of course what with one thing and another, I didn't get around to installing OpenOffice until today.

The most interesting thing I noticed when I went searching for OpenOffice is that Sun Microsystems is behind the project in sort of the same way that AOL is behind Firefox. This boosted my confidence in trying out OpenOffice since it meant that the program probably wasn't a complete fly-by-night affair and that there was actually a sporting chance that it would work. OpenOffice is essentially an open source free-ware version of Sun Microsystems' StarOffice Suite.

Okay, I've blathered on about unimportant stuff for long enough, and there are a couple of things I've already noticed about Writer. Actually, there's a bit of a funny aside there. One of the things I learned is that the name of the suite is in fact They had to do it for trademark or copyright reasons. I don't remember which. Anyway, the very first thing I noticed is that Writer is trying very hard to look like Microsoft Office. It's not. The similarities are very superficial, but this fact does help for that initial impression of the program when you first sit down at it. You've got that first moment of wondering what to do or what option to select, and it really helps that the whole mess just looks vaguely familiar. Wordperfect, for example, looks quite different from Microsoft Word, and it is quite a shock when you first fire that program up. Writer is also running really smooth and slick, which is much better than Wordperfect. Yeah, Wordperfect just presented me with no end of little quirks, aesthetic bugs and problems whenever I would try to use it. So we've got a plus to Writer going here.

However, I have also very quickly noticed that Writer does not have a grammar program, which is standard on both Microsoft Word and Wordperfect. This could be a problem as I tend to get very nervous about my grammar skills, and it is nice when the program helps point out obvious mistakes. Of course, I also hate all the times that Microsoft Word points out things that are not actually problems. Drives me nuts. I almost think that if I had to choose between no grammar help and really sucky grammar help that I would rather go with no help. I can struggle through this on my own, thank you very much. It isn't exactly as if Microsoft Word has helped me with grammar problems in my work. Just go look at the journal archive or any of my books if you doubt that.

So we shall see. At this very moment, I think I could live with if I ever had to give up on Microsoft Office 97. In fact, the next couple of times I get around to journal entries, I'll try to remember to do them with this here program to see if I can stumble across any problems or anything.

Okay, I've rambled on for long enough. Is there anything actually worth mentioning here?

Well, I've now got all three of my novels up at Cafe Press. I don't like how much the books cost. No, I do not like that one bit. On the other hand, it is really cool to be able to show people that I have in fact finished three whole novels. It just gives me this nice little feeling that I can show people I'm serious. Of course, proving to people that what I've written isn't total crap is another matter entirely, and one that I really doubt I'll ever actually be able to prove since I am still sticking with the self-publishing route. Well, I guess at the moment it is more of the print-on-demand route, but since there has still been no editorial gate to crash, I'm going to stick with calling it self-publishing.

I've also been helping Samantha set up a website of her very own. She has done all of the design and style choices, and I've just had to worry about how to actually make them happen. Samantha did the basic website layout in PowerPoint, which really doesn't translate into a website very well. This goes to show you more of my opinion of PowerPoint's website design conversion abilities than anything else. So the first thing I tried to do when Samantha had finished her design was to see if I could recreate the whole mess in Adobe Illustrator. I quickly discovered that I just don't know enough about Illustrator for this to work. Samantha remembers how much I started cursing at the program, and there was just a bit of concern that she wasn't going to get her website done the way she wanted. In desperation, I fell back upon one of PowerPoint's save as graphic options, which always cause me so much trouble at work. I swear that I'm constantly asking the researchers to not build their images in PowerPoint as these cannot be converted into graphics for manuscripts or research plans with any resemblance to what they had intended. But much to my surprise, this actually worked. Maybe because we are running PowerPoint 97, which is a much older version than anything I have to deal with at work. I don't know. It worked, and Samantha got the basic site layout that she wanted.

So it is pretty cool. There isn't that much to look at yet. There are pictures. The basic process for this part of the website design is for Samantha to select the pictures that she wants and then I go through all the trouble of formatting them, placing them in the layout, and finally uploading everything. I then print out a copy so Samantha can decide if she likes the picture order and then write text to go with the pictures.

I don't know if Samantha is really ready for people to be looking at her website, but I think the whole thing looks pretty cool.

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