OpenSource Publishing Software

Despite the fact that I use it almost every day, I am not a fan of Microsoft Word, particularly for of longer documents or anything involving images, tables or charts.  So, when it comes to writing at home, I really prefer to use good desktop publishing software. The trouble is, I don’t write enough to justify investing in industry-standard packages like Adobe InDesign or QuarkXpress so recently I have been having a look at some of the free open source desktop publishing software options available online.

My current favourite is Scribus which has most of the features of the industry leaders and produces quite smart-looking output. I like that it provides italic and bold versions of some of the installed fonts , that it allow you to output press quality PDFs, and that you can align your text to a baseline grid which, if you’re fussy like I am, is the kind of detail that matters.

You can also set up stylesheets and then apply them to your document. The stylesheet specifies the font, size, line spacing, alignment, etc . For example, you might have a style sheet for a first paragraph that differs from your main paragraph stylesheet by using  a drop cap for the first word in the paragraph.

If you  have never used Quark or Indesign  (or don’t know what a stylesheet is) then Scribus may not be for you because even though there are good online tutorials and help, the learning curve would be steep. Instead, you might look at alternatives such as the new WordPress application, Pressbooks.com. However,i f you have used Quark or Indesign, then you’ll catch on to Scribus pretty quickly.

As far as techie tips go, I can only speak from having installed Scribus on a Windows XP laptop where I did not encounter any significant problems. Scribus prompted me to install a couple of utilities such as GIMP (for image manipulation) and Ghostscript (for print preview).

Once you start working on a document, the Scribus interface feels a bit clunky until you get used to it. For example, text is created and formatted in an editing window where style features can be applied will not be visible until you view the document. But all the features are there, and the more you work with it, the easier it gets. You learn some shortcuts along the way which speeds up the editing process.

Anyone who has used other DTP software will know that it is important to keep backups and, for longer projects, like a book, it is also a good idea to save Chapters separately just so that you don’t lose too much if anything goes wrong.

With those cautionary words, if you decide to give Scribus a try, you’ll find it at scribus. net and the help information can be accessed here:  http://wiki.scribus.net/canvas/Help:TOC

Amazon Kindle 3G Wifi Battery Life

While there are plenty of reports of readers getting up to a month of battery life out of the Amazon Kindle 3G, my experience is that the usage is about a week – less if you are reading a lot.

I have the Wifi/3G 6 inch EInk display model. I use it for about an hour a day. I leave it turned on with the 3G also on. This is a deliberate choice because I mostly use the Kindle to read newspapers.

The great advantage is that Whispernet sends the papers to the Kindle every morning so that they are already there when I board the train for my one-hour commute to the office. This is important because the 3G signal disappears for the first 20 minutes of the journey so if you forget to turn on and download the papers before the train leaves the station, you might just have to do without them for half the journey.

Typically, I estimate that I use the Amazon Kindle for about 5 or 6 hours of reading during the week. I charge it by connecting it to a laptop on Sundays so that it is fully loaded for the week ahead. It takes a couple of hours to fully charge using the USB lead. On a couple of occasions when If I forget to charge it on Sunday, it was dead on Monday morning so – regardless of whether it is in my bag untouched for the week – or used every day for reading – the battery only seems to last the week. That is something to keep in mind if you are a heavier reader than I am. I regret not purchasing a power charger because it would give me more options on topping up the battery during the week. If you’re purchasing one and they still have the offer on packaging in a charger, it would be worth getting one.

3G Amazon Kindle

Opting for the 3G version of the Amazon Kindle has proved to be a good choice.

For months, each time I read a review of a new book, I would check it out in the Amazon store to see there was a Kindle edition and, if so, at what price. Surprisingly, many titles are not available and those that are can sometimes be more expensive than you would expect. Yet, the more opportunities I had to handle other people’s Kindles, the more tempted I was to get one. In the end, I decided to go for it, opting for the 3G version so that I could purchase books while on holiday.

I really didn’t expect to use the 3G very much but it turns out that I am using it every day because instead of books I find myself reading newspapers. The download takes just a couple of seconds and with the content stored on the Kindle there are no irritating delays when you flip from one story to the next. The reading experience beats online reading every time – particularly on a patchy 3G signal.

I’m genuinely surprised that I’ve started to pay several monthly subscriptions. I wonder if I’m typical? If the answer’s yes, maybe this is a digital pay model for publishers that’s really going to work.