book writing tools

I’m involved in the authoring of two books at the moment – both using different tools, neither of which would be my choice if it was up to me. One is using DocBook, writing raw incredibly verbose XML… which honestly, isn’t that much fun. The other is in Microsoft Word (well, Writer for me). The last time I really used Microsoft Word really seriously was probably around 1998/1999 with Office 98 on the Mac. It was a pretty awesome suite of software actually. Especially after the update that fixed a few crashing bugs :)

One thing I do notice though is the collaboration tools in OOo Writer are nowhere near good enough. The notes are small yellow rectangles where you either have to hold the mouse cursor over them to read them (ick, slow) or double click them and scroll right forever to read the whole or in conjunction with the last way, use the object browser.

Also, track changes doesn’t really track changes to things you’ve changed. i.e. i cannot edit the same thing twice and keep both changes. urgh. I’m pretty sure MS Word let me do that… It certainly allowed me to use versions in a Microsoft Word format document – which, unfortunately, a lot of the world still primarily deals with.

If these few things were fixed it would be a much better word processor.

It’s always frustrated me how poorly word processors handle large files too (except perhaps Nisus Writer… that was certainly a neat app). Add a bunch of images and your file now takes ages to open and save. blergh.

As for figures in DocBook, there seems to not be much input and output processing… i.e. if you put in SVG and you output to HTML it doesn’t output very nicely (puts in SVGs into small windows) and probably completely doesn’t work on browsers that don’t do SVG.

I sometimes wonder if we’ve really moved on to something better than LaTeX and xfig…. okay, there are better tools than xfig for a large number of diagram types.

4 thoughts on “book writing tools

  1. No, we have not done better than LaTeX as far as I’m concerned. I haven’t seen its match yet, especially for writing a real book that will be read on paper. Good typesetting really makes a huge difference. For example, my wife just bought a Barnes/Noble classics edition of Tale of Two Cities. It’s 4.99 USD and basically unreadable; the margins are about a centimeter and there are no ligatures. There isn’t even an extra space between sentences. I think typesetting is the most important aspect of a book after content.

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