Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Results: Linux Experiment using OpenOffice

Introduction: So yesterday I posted that I wanted to go a day in Ubuntu to see what it would like to do my writing activities such as editing/creating new work using a free tool such as OpenOffice's Writer application.

For my editing work today I plan to make a copy of my current manuscript and turn on the apply changes. That way if I jump back to Windows I see the changes I made, but its not a hot mess of formatting changes. The point of this project is not to set back my work but to see what I can do with OpenOffice 3.1 and other tools in Ubuntu.

Part I - Setup
Its been a while since I've used Ubuntu so I had to update the system first. That wasn't the problem though. My current version makes the process quite pain-free. My first problem actually came with the network. My files are not on my laptop hard drive. I don't trust my machine. This puppy could crash at any time and then I'd be stuck yanking out the hard drive to fish the files out. So I use a machine on my network to save my files. Initially, I had no idea how to connect to it since its a Windows box that shares files. (Not a server.) But I figured out I needed smb://INSERT_LOCAL_IPADDRESS to connect to my windows machine. Once I had that done I was ready to rock!

Now I'm ready to apply edits from a crit group from a previous night. Let's see. First I need to be able to jump to Chapter 18.

Using a Document Map:
In MS Word you can use a document map for headings, etc. I use it to jump to different points of my manuscript like chapter 10. I could do a search for a particular word, but with a few clicks I can bring up the document map and I'm there. In OpenOffice you access the document map using the navigator:

Choose the View menu item.

View | Navigator

From there I saw all my chapter headings and I can jump around.

Tracking Changes:
Now its time for me to enable track changes to edit my manuscript. I had no idea where to look. Eventually I had to consult help. (For this experiment I'm trying not using the web. I'd only hope the Help gets me where I need to be.)

To start tracking changes go to the Edit menu item.

Edit | Changes | Record

Okay, that sounds easy enough. Now any changes I make will show up for later. I need to insert a comment for myself. After a brief search I learned in OpenOffice this is called a note. To insert a note, like Adding in a Comment in MS Word, I went to:

Insert | Note

Now if I want to add a box I just need to remember I'm adding a note instead.

What Looks Different:
Some of my headings don't look right. To test, I opened other word documents from other authors and for some of them the formatted remained the same. Since I use a special format to introduce space between my first paragraph (Heading 2) and my chapter heading (Heading 1), I guess I should expect a few issues. Without the Heading 2 gaffe everything would've lined up fine. Matter of fact, it was weird to see a few chapters didn't have the strange effects.

Starting a New Document:
The final part of my experiment related to creating a new document and preparing it in manuscript format. I know there are templates out there for manuscripts. (Even OpenOffice) But I am picky about how I want mine to look. So I started fresh. I added in a header first. Sounds easy enough:

Insert | Header | Default

Now the page number:

Insert | Fields | Page Number

With that done, I added in the rest of the elements for the front page, the title and word count. I used CTRL+Enter to jump down to the next page to enter Chapter One. I used Heading 1 to format it. Of course then I realized my page 1 sound be my page 0. I do want chapter 1 to be on page 1. I followed the directions on a website which seemed logical but I couldn't get it to work. So after a few tries I moved on...

Now I want to get rid of the first page header. I had to hunt this information down as well. First of all, place the cursor in the Header section of the first page.

Format | Styles & Formatting

A window popped up. I then selected the Page Styles icon (See picture). From there another listed showed in the same window with First Page as an option.

Part II - The Aftermath

I took my edited manuscript and headed back to the comfort of MS Word. Only to find things didn't look the same way I found them...

Word Count differences:
OpenOffice said I had 82,000 words while MS Word said I had 81,000... Ok, that is interesting.

Changes Made:
The formatting of my headings had been altered when I opened it in OpenOffice. I can see this carried over when I opened it back up in MS Word. :( That means I would have to go into each of my headings and change them back to a proper format.

The comments look good and any changes I have made have transferred over as changes I can approve. Which is okay.

Splitting up the Windows:
When I apply suggestions from another copy with comments in it, I like to have the other window open along with my main document. In MS Word I would have simply split the window and then had the other one follow along while I worked. Unfortunately, OpenOffice doesn't do this, so I had to do it the old fashion way and line up the windows by hand.

Like any new program, a few things flowed easily. But I also had to consult help for other things. I wish it was easier to change the starting number of a page. Overall, if I had to use OpenOffice for my work I would. The transition wasn't that hard and searching online for help was simple. If I needed a free option to do my work I'd use OpenOffice.

Ok, next I'll post how things worked out in using other goodies I found.

1 comment:

Kristi said...

Sounds like your Linux experiment had similar results to my Windows/OpenOffice experiment.

BTW, that reverse-tabbed-first-paragraph thing I think is unique to your existing Word files (something in the template?) I don't see it in files coming from Amanda, Jeannie, or Dawn.

I also get the word-count difference, and mine are sometimes more significant than 1000 out of 80,000. Mine are sometimes on the scale of 2-3000 across an entire manuscript. Maybe I use more funky punctuation than you do :)

And that particular problem worries me with a lot of RWA contests requesting specific word counts instead of page counts (I use MS Word as "correct", not Open Office).

Of course, with header/footers and page margins I also see a difference between the two apps even with the same exact file. What looks perfect in OpenOffice will run over 1/3 of a page in Word. Also worrying for those pesky contests where you could get disqualified for not meeting their guidelines.

Minor formatting and word-count issues are probably not a problem for submitting to agents/editors, though. I wouldn't care to work with an agent who rejected me based on my header spacing, and I imagine a publishing house imports your stuff into some other application (InDesign, or something commercial) before it heads to the printer anyway.