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The Linux terminal – why it’s A Good Thing.

You may have noticed that a fancy new operating system was released earlier this week. To much media fanfare, Microsoft’s latest Windows incarnation, Windows 7, was released. Microsoft even suggested that we throw parties to celebrate. Judging by their video of what they think a party should look like, I dread to think [...]

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Subversion and LyX for project writing

Ok, so a while ago I mentioned that I was going to try using a new way of working on my thesis using Subversion (a version control system predominantly used by computer programmers) and LyX (a document processor that uses LaTeX in an almost-WYSIWYG style to allow the author to focus on content alone rather than having to constantly worry about typesetting issues). And the result of the experiment? It’s been a resounding success. In this article I’m going to explain how to set up a working system so that you can work seamlessly across several computers, or collaborate with other authors without having to resort to fiddling around with USB disks or emailing yourself latest versions of documents. All using completely free software! How’s that?

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Writing a thesis on open-source software, across several platforms. An experiment.

Writing a thesis is a particularly difficult job. Writing a PhD thesis in Microsoft Word, particularly, is a difficult job. Writing a thesis in Microsoft Word, across several computers, running forms of Windows, Mac OS and Linux is an excruciatingly difficult job.

For one thing, standards vary across all platforms. Linux, for example, doesn’t have a native version of Microsoft Word – ok, so it is possible to get it to run, but it’s a) so bonkily unstable and b) if you’ve made the plunge and chosen to use Linux, you’ve probably done so with a long-term view to completely freeing yourself of Microsoft software so trying to run it defeats the object of installing Linux in the first place. Different platforms also have different fonts – how many presentations have you seen where some poor sod has prepared their Powerpoint presentation using the gorgeous looking Helveticus Roman Sans Grotesque font, only to discover that the font doesn’t exist on the projector computer, and the replacement font is some awful blocky thing resembling Ceefax that’s far larger than the original, pushing all the text either off the edge of the screen or over the top of a painstakingly created graph? Thought that might ring some bells.

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Speaking of lawsuits…

…there’s been a recent update in another lawsuit, the Thomson Reuters vs Zotero case. Zotero, an open-source reference manager that works directly inside Firefox (whose praises I sung before) are currently being sued by Thomson Reuters (maintainers of Endnote, a proprietary reference manager software package), claiming that Zotero (or rather, George Mason University, where the Zotero developers are based) reverse-engineered their Endnote software in breach of the Endnote license agreement. The background is described in more detail on these blogs: DLTJ (part 1, part 2, part 3 and part 4) and Martin Feldstein (part 1 and part 2).

Particularly notable is Martin Feldstein’s initial opinion (that Thomson Reuters’ case may have merit) changing as he learned more and more facts about the case. It is extremely good academic practice to seek to back up hypotheses with evidence and to let go of the ones that are not supported, and as such, extremely laudible. Others, take note.

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Firefox without plugins? You’re doing it wrong (updated 26 May 2009)

A particular passion of mine, that I have rather neglected since my first post, is the advocacy of open source software where possible, particularly for non-specialist work-related tasks, such as web browsing and word processing. For my PhD, I write all my documents using OpenOffice (and occasionally LaTeX), and save them using open formats. Of course, I don’t stubbornly neglect proprietary formats completely, mainly due to necessity. For example, to give a slide presentation, I may need to export my slideshow to a Microsoft Powerpoint or Adobe PDF, unless I’m fortunate enough to be able to plug my own laptop into the projector system (which can be a rather cumbersome process) or the host’s computer has OpenOffice installed on it.

EDIT – This article has been updated (26 May 2009).

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