Software rental brought to you by Microsoft !

I have recently been having problems with my laptop computer.

The nature of these problems is not relevant to this discussion but it did necessitate what Microsoft call a ‘Reset’ of the PC.  I opted to keep all my personal files.  I thought I could re-install the applications I had bought and paid for from Microsoft after all it was the same PC they had originally been installed on and I had bought a valid license key for that computer right !

Wrong !  Microsoft have stopped re-activation of license keys for previous versions of Office software.  This was a copy of Microsoft Office Professional 2010 which I had been forced to buy after Microsoft destroyed my previous laptop with the disastrous Windows 10 upgrade.  I bought this software in September 2016 so I have had just over 18 months use out of it and now Microsoft refuse to re-activate the license key.

For many years Office has been a very profitable product for Microsoft.

Software has different characteristics to normal products, the development costs are high but the production costs are low.  This means that for a small company who aren’t selling very many copies the development costs are a large percentage of the profit for each copy sold but for a large company who are selling a large number of copies the development costs become tiny compared to the profit for every copy sold, particularly at the excessive prices that Microsoft charge.

This is what destroys many small software companies.  However Microsoft are not a small company and they have sold many copies of Office and looking at the differences between Office 2010 and Office 2013 they have done little or no development in those three years.  But now they have become even more greedy than they were previously.

They have moved their business model over to ‘SaaS’ or ‘Software as a Sentence‘.  So they have stopped the service to activate the license key by telephone which means that a license key which needs activation can be activated just once online.  If it has already been activated then it can no longer be re-activated.  They are trying to kill off older versions of Office.  They are trying to force everyone onto the rental version, Microsoft Office 365 because it generates a steady revenue stream for Microsoft.

Be warned, if you have a copy of Microsoft Office previous to Office 365 installed on your machine do not un-install it unless you really mean to get rid of it completely because you won’t ever be able to re-activate it on any computer ever again, not even the one on which it was originally installed!

So what alternatives are there for people who don’t like being milked by Microsoft.

Microsoft Office Professional 2010 consists of Word, Excel, OneNote, Power Point, Publisher, Access and Outlook.

Free Software

Mozilla Thunderbird is a worthy replacement for Microsoft Outlook.  I don’t think there is another program either commercial software or free software that can beat it.

Libre Office Calc can do almost all the things Excel can do but with a quaint old fashioned looking interface.

Libre Office Impress can do almost all the things Power Point can do but again it has an old fashioned looking interface.

Libre Office Base is a very different animal to Access, the user interface is not as good but the capabilities of the database exceed those of access.  The back end of Base is the HyperSQL database.  The user interface is different to Access and will take some getting used to.

Libre Office Draw is not a suitable replacement for Publisher.  It is quite awkward to use, it can produce good documents but it takes a lot more work than in Publisher.  Inkscape however is a lot more capable and although the user interface is not as intuitive as it could be you do get used to it with experience.  If you want a full desktop publishing solution then Scribus is far more capable than Publisher ever was.

OneNote was never a very good solution to note taking, it has a nice graphical user interface that is quite intuitive and it has a lot of features but many of those features were only added to tick boxes in the advertising feature list and they were added with no consideration for how they would be used.  For example OneNote has a tagging system but it is designed in such a way that if you have more than about 30 or 40 tags then it starts to become unusable.

There are many suitable replacements for OneNote both commercial and free.  The free programs aren’t quite as good for note taking as the commercial programs and none of them is similar to OneNote, most of them are similar to two pane outliners.  Treesheets however is quite novel, it is like a spreadsheet for text. Among the free solutions are Treesheets, KeepNote, SEO Notes and Cherry Tree.

Libre Office Writer is not a suitable replacement for Microsoft Word for one simple reason, it doesn’t do Outlining.  The absence of this crucial feature in Writer is what is holding Libre Office back from becoming the Office suite of choice for business and academia.

Outlining is a good way of analysing a problem, divide and conquer, keep on dividing the problem into simpler pieces until the pieces are easy to do.  Businesspeople want to organise documents in an outline, Lawyers want to organise case notes in an outline, students want to organise assignments in an outline.   It is one of the basic tools which helps people to put their ideas into a document and arrange them into a coherent whole.

Microsoft Word has a very good, well designed and easy to use outlining mode and once you have finished organising your document you can go back to the normal mode and concentrate on the formatting and presentation of your document.  But at any time you can switch back to the outline mode and re-organise/re-arrange things.  As an outliner Word is hard to beat.

The outlining feature has been requested many times on the Libre Office forums but the developers at Libre Office say “well we have Navigator and it does the same thing”, no it doesn’t.  Navigator was designed to move about documents and find things, it is not an outliner, it does some of the things outliners do but it is not a fully functional outliner.

Unfortunately if you want to stick with free software you will need a separate outlining program and word processor.  So unless the outliner has very good formatting and printing you will need both programs and there will be problems with re-organising things unless you maintain two versions of your document.

UV Outline is a very good free outliner and The Guide is also quite good.

Commercial Programs

If you are willing to pay a little money then the available options become a lot more numerous.  None of the programs here are rental versions.  When you pay you actually get the program, you don’t have to keep on paying for it over and over again.

For Office suites there is SoftMaker Office, it is quite expensive but at least you get the software indefinitely and don’t have to pay rent (although there is a rental version of the Office Suite as well).  I haven’t used SoftMaker Office so I cannot comment on its performance or features and it is pretty pricey.

For something a little more affordable Ability Office is quite good and this is one I have got.

Ability Office Professional consists of a database, a paint program, a presentation program, a spreadsheet and a word processor.  They claim to be Microsoft compatible and to be able to load and save files in Microsoft format and this is largely true apart from the database where it can load the tables and queries from your Access files but not the forms.

The word processor ‘Ability Write’ doesn’t do outlines, it doesn’t even have anything as functional as Libre Office Write’s Navigator, but as a basic word processor it is OK.

Ability office has some nice features like being able to link data from one document to another so you can have numbers in a table in your Writer document which come from the spreadsheet and this link can be both ways so you can change figures in the table and it changes the numbers in the spreadsheet.  The same links can exist between the database and the spreadsheet and between the database and the word processor.

You can also set up Ability Office to have conventional toolbars and menus and get rid of the ribbons.

The lack of an outliner in Ability Office Writer is a big limitation but there is another solution out there.  Scrivener from Literature and Latte is a word processor designed for authors to write books.  It has a lot of nice features to help in producing long documents and of course it does outlines.  For each project there is a section containing research notes or background information.  If I was writing a long complex document like a thesis then Scrivener would be my word processor of choice for such a task.  If I wanted to produce a quick half page note then Scrivener probably wouldn’t be suitable.  Scrivener is quite reasonably priced.

As far as desktop publishing goes then Serif PagePlus X9 is very good and is also surprisingly suitable for producing long documents.  Serif are heavily promoting their new replacement for PagePlus called Affinity, it looks good on the website but its someting I haven’t tried yet so I can’t give an opinion on how good it actually is.

There are many note taking programs out there for sale.  If you don’t want too many complex facilities and are satisfied with a strict hierarchical structure and no universal links then there is a note taking program called ‘Right Note‘ which is fairly simple to learn and also does spreadsheets as a type of note.

I was going to do a review of Right Note sometime in the future but a preview would be, simple to learn, attractive user interface with plenty of colour and quite useful features but not very sophisticated.  A lightweight!  However sometimes a lightweight program is all you need.

For something with a little more power then you could choose MyInfo or ConnectedText but there are some problems.  The developer of MyInfo is threatening that the next version of MyInfo will be a rental version (Software as a Sentence), if that is true then I won’t be updating my copy.

ConnectedText is very good and very powerful but I cannot honestly recommend it for new users as it is no longer being developed, version 6 (the current version) will be the last.

If you want something with lots of power but a very steep learning curve then you could try InfoQube.  InfoQube is a lot more than just an outlining program or a note taking program but it is a formidable program to learn.  InfoQube also links to and synchronises with Google Calendar.

There is also Ultra Recall, WhizFolders, TreeDBnotes, The Brain and 3D Topicscape. I can’t recommend any of these for a variety of different reasons, but they are all better than Microsoft OneNote.

As far as e-mail programs go Mozilla Thunderbird is as good as any commercial program and it’s free but if you really want to pay some money then Essential PIM Pro is just as good and quite reasonably priced.


There are many alternatives to joining the Microsoft hegemony both free and commercial.  Microsoft are a big company and their attitude seems to be that they can do whatever they want and their users will just have to accept it.

Unfortunately the version of SaaS they have chosen is a very pernicious one, if you stop paying the rent the program stops working completely.  In other words they are holding your documents and files hostage against your future payments.  There are some other companies which have chosen a less aggressive version of SaaS, like The Brain Technologies, if you get TheBrain on a rental deal and stop paying the rent then the program continues to work you just don’t get any upgrades or online services.

So help to promote more diversity in the software marketplace, switch to a non-Microsoft solution today!

#DeleteMicrosoft

Your money would be better in the hands of small software developers than in the hands of a corporate giant that treats their customers with contempt !

 

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A Review of InfoQube

Introduction

This program is very complicated. It tries to do everything which Connected Text can do and more but without the markup language so everything is done through a GUI and with tables of properties and context menus but there are so many options and features that it all becomes very messy.

There was once a program called ECCO Pro which arranged data in grids very much like InfoQube. If you are familiar with ECCO Pro and liked it then you will probably like InfoQube, InfoQube is like ECCO Pro on steroids. However in my opinion the program tries too hard to be like ECCO Pro. A personal Wiki (ConnectedText) is a better place for your data in my opinion.

This program has been in development for a long long time, the final version has always been predicted to be six months away. In 2007 it was predicted to be six months away and now in 2018 it is predicted for the last quarter of 2017 but it isn’t here yet, I suspect the website hasn’t been updated and pretty soon it will be six months away yet again. Development seems to be progressing at a steady pace but I suspect that there has been some mission creep because no endpoint has been set. So how will the developer know when it is finished ? I think the answer might be that he will stop when there are no more features to add.

On the InfoQube website it says:-

While in beta, InfoQube is free to download and use. Initial release is planned for Q4 2017.

Each version is fully functional for 90 days, after which time it turns to read-only mode. Simply download an updated version to get another free 90 days. Simple and totally free !

Personal licenses will have a special introductory price of just $49.95

In the meantime … you’ve seen what can be don with InfoQube and you think it has a great potential.

Perhaps you’d like to give us a helping hand … You certainly can:

  • Donate $50 USD or more and you’ll receive a free Personal License ! (PayPal account is not required. All major credit cards are now accepted)
  • Participate in the Community forums
  • Contribute to the Documentation

Spread the word on how great and unique InfoQube is, to friends and in other forums.

Update – 15th May 2018 : The website has been updated, the ridiculous statement about paying for a free license has been removed and the price of a license has been dropped to $30.  And yet again release date is six months from now, but the development of the program is progressing at a fairly brisk pace.  I will wait and see with interest.

The developer is a guy called Pierre Landry from Canada. I don’t know what he means by a ‘Free Personal License’ because if you are ‘donating’ $50 in order to be issued with that free license then surely you are just buying the license for $50 in which case it wasn’t free.

So I tried the program out and decided it was worth further investigation, I made a donation and got a ‘free‘ license. I have tried this program out before but failed to understand it properly, this time however I did get a little further than previously. Try it out if you want but you can expect a very steep learning curve, you practically have to read all the documentation before you start understanding any of it.

InfoQube started out as a program called SQL Notes, this was a GUI front end for the MySQL database but it has developed a lot since then. It is difficult to describe it’s function because it quite literally can do so many different things, it tries to be everything for everyone. Imagine a program written by an enthusiastic and talented programming geek who tries to add every conceivable feature which has been suggested on the forum, all this backed by a very powerful database. Well this is what InfoQube appears to be.

Linus Torvalds once said that Linux developed when his terminal emulator program grew legs. Well InfoQube started out as a GUI front end for SQL and it grew legs and just about everything else, including a kitchen sink!

Score 48 out of 60

Verdict : Very Powerful but not very User Friendly.

 

1. Connectivity = 10

Some programs organise their data as a hierarchical tree. A node can only have one parent. InfoQube is not one of these programs, anything can be connected to anything else, a node can have multiple parents so the organisation in InfoQube is a graph and nodes (or items in InfoQube parlance) can appear multiple times. These multiple appearances are not copies or clones they are the original item appearing in a different place. So InfoQube supports transclusion.

Each item in the database has an area of text associated with it, in InfoQube this is called the HTML pane and every item has one.

The text in this area can contain links and/or the title text of the item can contain or be a link. Each link can link to other items in the database, other grids in the database, URLs, e-mail addresses, folders or files. This program supports universal links, both inwards and outwards. If the link is a universal link then the target program will be opened at the appropriate place. If the link target is an e-mail address then your default e-mail program will be opened on a new mail to the target e-mail address. If the link target is a file then the file will be opened with it’s default application. If the link is to a URL it will be opened in your favourite web browser.

Also you can generate universal links to the items, grids or views within InfoQube. If you right click on an item then go to the ‘Copy’ section of the context menu then one of the items will be ‘Copy items URIs’, if you click on this it will copy a universal link to the item onto the clipboard which can then be pasted into another application. If one of these links is used in another application it will open InfoQube and open the database the link points to and open the item, grid, view the link points to.

Items can have a link in their title so each item in a grid could be a bookmark to a URL. Thus InfoQube could take on the role of storing bookmarks to interesting web pages.

InfoQube can be set up to receive e-mails, it can be set up to poll a mail server and receive e-mails which are then imported as items. This means you can send items to your InfoQube database from a mobile phone or from a computer not running InfoQube and it also means that other people can send you items if you give them the e-mail address.

 

2. Classification = 10

The basic unit of information in InfoQube is an item, items exist independently of anything else. So what I usually refer to as a node is called an item in InfoQube. The basic mechanism for the display of items is the grid, a grid has criteria for the display of items and will display any items which meet those criteria. Items do not ‘belong‘ to grids, you can have an item which appears in no grids.

Normally grids are ‘simple’ which means that any items created in that grid will have a flag in the meta data with the name of the grid and the grid just displays all items with that flag. However you can set up grids with complex criteria for the selection of items (a valid SQL statement which will return TRUE or FALSE) in the ‘grid source’ field. So a grid itself can be a search with the results of the search appearing in the grid.

Having an item which doesn’t appear in any grid is not good and so I wanted a grid which displays all items unconditionally, this proved to be ridiculously easy you just set the ‘grid source’ field to ‘item’ which returns true if the item exists, so it tests each item to see if it exists and so for all items it always returns true.

The program organises items in a different way to most programs. The hierarchical tree is present but it is not the way things are organised, it is there to arrange things in a way which is convenient for humans to look at. Items may have multiple parents so they may appear in many places (even in the same tree) so transclusion is inherent in the system and the hierarchical trees are really graphs.

An item has a title, it also has a page of text associated with it (known as the HTML pane) but an item may have any arbitrary meta data which the user adds. Different items may have different meta data. Usually you create an item in a grid in which case it will have a flag with the grid name automatically (if the grid is simple).

InfoQube has some powerful search facilities using multiple criteria combined with AND plus OR. For number and date fields you can use AND, OR plus the following operators are allowed: <, <=, >=, >, = the powerful search is unsurprising for a program which has the MySQL database engine at its heart.

You can also display a mind map of items from your database but these facilities are rudimentary compared to programs whose primary role is mapping.

https://i2.wp.com/www.infoqubeim.com/drupal5/files/1/images/Gantt8.png

There are various different ways to attach tags or categories to items.

Firstly there are Wikitags, you can add a list of named tags to items which can be searched for and linked to. They can also be used in the selection criteria for a grid.

Secondly you could add meta data to any item which could be a drop down list. The list either has a predefined set of categories or gets populated as things are added to it.

Thirdly you could set up a hierarchical tree (or graph) of ‘categories’ and assign them as parents to the items you want to categorise. Hierarchical tagging is not built in to InfoQube but that is essentially what I have added using the built in facilities of InfoQube.

The way things are organised in InfoQube is very open ended and you can arrange things the way you want them which can be very good if you think about what you need and how to achieve it before you start organising things but a consequence of this is that things can degenerate into a disorganised mess if you don’t know what you want or if the objectives are poorly specified.

InfoQube also does not have the concept of place, things appear wherever it is appropriate for them to appear. InfoQube and ConnectedText are the only two systems which I know of that have this characteristic. Patterns and insights can emerge from the data which were not apparent in the input once the data has been properly classified.

 

3. Text Layout and Formatting = 9

Each item has a ‘HTML pane’ associated with it. This is like a word processor document attached to each item. It is HTML but what you see is a WYSIWYG editor that supports tables, images, diagrams in SVG format. It can hold a copy of a web page or may hold a document formatted in a markup language called ‘Markdown’.

The HTML pane has a competent word processor/editor more than adequate for a note taking program. Links can be embedded in the text and all the usual formatting can be applied.

 

InfoQube has good facilities for using tables within text on the HTML pane. Cell borders can be dragged about to resize the cells. All the usual formatting can be applied and the cells can contain icons and images as well as text. Just like using a word processor.

 

4. A Sense of Time = 9

Usually this is the section which note taking programs fall down on but not InfoQube which has a very good calendar together with facilities for project management.

The calendar supports reminders and repeating reminders. You can add a date to any item as part of the meta data and these will appear in the calendar. There are some pre-defined dates and durations which can be added to items to tell InfoQube that these items should appear in the ‘Gantt chart’, if you add a Gantt chart to a grid then any items with the relevant meta data will appear in it. Dependencies can be added so that the items will appear in the correct sequence in the Gantt chart.

https://i1.wp.com/www.infoqubeim.com/drupal5/files/1/images/Gantt1.png

‘Gantt charts’ can illustrate a sequence of events and show dependencies, the facilities for project management in InfoQube are not quite as good as Microsoft Project but InfoQube has many other facilities for general information management and organisation which would in my opinion make it far more powerful if it was used to manage a project.

The calendar in InfoQube can be synchronised with the online ‘Google Calendar’ (both ways).

 

5. Ease of Use = 3

Ahh … there had to be a downside didn’t there and to be honest this program has a pretty big downside.

This program has so many features crammed into it that the user interface has become complex and is certainly not intuitive or consistent. There are features hidden away in context menus which if you don’t know about them you might never find them.

Pierre Landry the developer has spent most of his time and effort adding new features to the program but I think there should be some time and effort put into making the user interface simpler and easier, looking at how the features work together. Perhaps take a look at how some other programs have designed their user interfaces. For example the support for universal links has only recently been added and on the forums Pierre was asking users about what the best way to implement the links were not about how they would be used. But the user only sees the user interface, usually they don’t know or care about how it is implemented. It is much better to have a clunky feature with a slick user interface than a slick feature with a clunky user interface.

On the plus side it does get easier with time but you can expect a very steep learning curve, even steeper than for ConnectedText.

You can customise the toolbars and set keyboard shortcuts for any command but the basic problem is that there are so many commands and so many features everything is too densely packed in. This program tries to provide anything and everything you might need but it ends up providing none of them very well. Often it is better to have several programs which are each good at one task than to have one program which tries to do everything.

InfoQube has Visual Basic built in. You can write programs in Visual Basic which have full access to the database. This can be used to customise the database still further but it is a whole new level of complexity to master (especially if you don’t know Visual Basic to start with).

When put under load InfoQube eventually performed very well and did not noticably slow down with a very large database of text files, but importing the files in the first place proved to be more challenging than I had anticipated.  Text files were perhaps not the ideal source of data to import but that was the data I had.  The InfoQube documentation states that it does support database formats like .CSV and Tab delimited files and many other formats but if you try to import a simple text file it wants a specification of how to split it up into fields.  In my case there were no fields I just wanted the text of the file in the HTML pane and the filename as the item name.

 

6. Visual Appeal = 7

The user interface is a pale blue colour with a standard toolbar (not a ribbon). There are no themes and I have not yet found a way to alter the colours of the interface.

Everything else is configurable. Items and grids can have their default colours set but this can be overridden for each item. You can change the font used for each item and include icons in the text.

The various panes which can be displayed can be docked in any part of the main window or they may occupy a floating window of their own. The floating windows can be placed on a second monitor if you have one.

Overall the interface is OK visually but not the best I have seen, and certainly not the worst. However having said that a lot can be done to configure it and reduce the clutter. The icons on the toolbar are configurable so one configuration of InfoQube can look quite different from another.

Ribbons, screens and links

Why ribbons?

A few of years ago Microsoft started putting ribbons on most of their applications and trying to promote them as a good idea, “this is the future” they said and many people believed them. On a lot of applications the ribbon is optional, you can choose to have the traditional menus and toolbars but on Microsoft applications the ribbon is mandatory whether you like it or not. But on a small screen a ribbon is a really bad idea, it takes up far too much room. If you use the keyboard shortcuts a lot then this is just wasted space.

The reason Microsoft are so enthusiastic about ribbons is that they see the future of computing in small mobile devices with touch screens, like the Microsoft Surface. With a touch screen you prod the screen with your finger. With a finger you have much less precision than if you are using a mouse or even a stylus, so the icons have to be bigger and have to be spaced further apart.

So the ribbon should have been optional on mobile devices with touch screens but instead Microsoft chose to impose it on everyone. It is puzzling why they have caught on as much as they have, I think this is partially due to the novelty value and partly because Microsoft are such a big company with a disproportionately large influence over the computing community that anything they do becomes a standard so they do not have to pay any attention to common sense or ease of use.

How to tame the ribbon on Microsoft Office

You can make the ribbon less obnoxious on Microsoft Office programs. At the top far right of the screen just below the window controls is a blue circle with a white question mark in it. This is next to a white up arrow. If you click on this up arrow the ribbon goes away until you click on one of the menu tabs at the top of the screen, then the ribbon you have selected appears until you have used it and then it goes away again. There is also something called the ‘quick access toolbar’ which isn’t used very much by most people.  It is usually at the very top of the screen but in the options there is a ‘quick access toolbar’ tab with a tick box to put it below the ribbon, from this screen you can also select which commands go on to the quick access toolbar.

I have put many commands on there, if I find that I am having to use the ribbons a lot then I put the commands I need onto the quick access toolbar and so it has grown until now it is almost all the way across the screen and it only takes up a small amount of vertical space. Microsoft are very good at designing user interfaces so I suspect this is deliberate and how the interface is supposed to be used but it is not obvious and a lot of people just don’t use the quick access toolbar at all.

High DPI Screens

I recently had to buy a new laptop because Microsoft destroyed my old laptop. When Microsoft destroyed my old laptop in the upgrade to Windows 10 (an upgrade which I did not instigate or desire) I needed to buy a new laptop. The one I chose has a very high resolution screen, the resolution is 3200 by 1800. I thought that having a high DPI screen would be a good idea, now that I have been using it for a while I think that perhaps it wasn’t such a good idea. The picture on the screen of the laptop itself is very clear and incredibly sharp but at a scaling factor of 100% the text is un-readably small, currently I have it set to 200% and this is still a bit small.

The problem is the scaling of text in applications. If the application doesn’t scale the text properly then you get microscopic text or on some programs the text does scale properly but the toolbar icons are microscopic. And some programs have not got the idea that a computer can have two different resolution screens, so windows and dialog boxes are scaled correctly on the screen that they were drawn on but if you drag them to the other screen some programs re-scale the dialog box or window properly, some programs don’t scale the dialog box so it becomes very small, some programs make the window or dialog box disappear whilst other programs just crash.

The problem is the new ‘Windows Presentation Foundation’ which is an API for rendering text and images on a computer screen. Somewhere between Windows 7 and Windows 10 it has been updated to include new features to handle the scaling of text and GUI elements, so programs which use the new features in the API need to be re-written, or at least the GUI needs to be re-written.  The change is not trivial, it isn’t just like compiling to a different library, the changes cannot be done automatically so the code needs to be edited manually to include the new features.

Of course all the Microsoft applications handle this correctly, as you might expect, but other programs sometimes don’t handle it quite as well. This has meant that some of my favourite programs either don’t work properly or are completely unusable on my new laptop.

I tried out a few of the programs I have been using and which I have used in the past using my laptop with it’s high DPI screen and a 1600 by 1200 monitor plugged into the HDMI port of the laptop.

Compendium

Compendium ignores any scaling factors you have set on your screen and draws its user interface at the native resolution of the screen. The text and icons are microscopic and the program is unusable without a magnifying glass.  On the external monitor things are scaled to the same size but the pixels are bigger so that even with a magnifying glass it is unreadable.

WhizFolders

WhizFolders scales everything correctly and works as expected.

VUE

VUE ignores any scaling factors you have set on your screen and draws its user interface at the native resolution of the screen. The text and icons are microscopic and the program is unusable without a magnifying glass.  On the external monitor things are scaled to the same size but the pixels are bigger so that even with a magnifying glass it is unreadable.  This has left me looking for a new mapping program, I relied on VUE quite heavily.

CMAP Tools

Because I can’t use VUE on my laptop anymore I revisited CMAP Tools, a program I tried a while ago, but alas CMAP Tools ignores any scaling factors you have set on your screen and draws its user interface at the native resolution of the screen. The text and icons are microscopic and the program is unusable without a magnifying glass.  On the external monitor things are scaled to the same size but the pixels are bigger so that even with a magnifying glass it is unreadable.

Scrivener

Scrivener draws most of its user interface correctly but the icons in the toolbar are now small and the text in the binder panel looks cramped, it has been drawn at the correct scale but too close together. This can be solved by switching fonts to a font which has a larger line spacing, Calibri worked on my system.  The toolbar icons in Scrivener were too large, having them much smaller is a little tiresome but not as bad as it would have been if the icons had started out at normal size, this problem is trivial.  Scrivener works well on a high DPI screen.

TheBrain

TheBrain scales its user interface correctly but cannot handle having two screens with different scaling factors.  If any of the panels are put into a floating window and dragged to the other screen then the program crashes if the scale factor is different on the two screens.  If the scale factor is the same on both screens then everything works as expected.

MyInfo

MyInfo scales everything correctly and works as expected.  Embedded OLE objects are rendered at the correct scale.

Ultra Recall

Ultra Recall scales its user interface correctly and works as expected apart from one problem.  Embedded OLE objects are rendered at a ridiculously large scale.  The developer said that he is using Internet Explorer to render the objects within Ultra Recall and so cannot do anything about the scale factor at which they appear.  However developers of some other programs seem to have been able to do this correctly.

ConnectedText

Unfortunately ConnectedText has some problems with high DPI screens, the icons on the toolbar become microscopic and the titles of topics show only the top half of the text.  Apart from those problems it works correctly.  I still use ConnectedText despite the problems.

Essential PIM Pro

This is a curious one.  I was using Essential PIM Pro 6 which had all sorts of problems with scaling when I was forced onto Windows 10, so I wrote to the developer telling him what the problems were and he wrote back saying that ‘Unfortunately there is no way to overcome this problem’ which I assumed to mean that he wasn’t going to do anything about it and started looking for a new e-mail program but then just a couple of weeks later Essential PIM Pro 7 came out which solved almost all the problems.  He could have told me that the new version was coming out and to wait a little while but for some reason he didn’t.  There is still a problem with some of the text in some of the panels and dialog boxes looking too cramped, this could be solved by switching fonts but you cannot change the interface font in Essential PIM Pro like you can in Scrivener.


So, which laptop should I have bought?  Well I think there is an optimum screen resolution for each screen size, you want it high enough that the individual pixels are not visible but not so high as to cause the scaling issues detailed above, and for the external screen you want it to have enough pixels so that you can set the scaling factors to be the same for the two screens.  So the external monitor should be high resolution. But I am stuck with the monitor that I have (1600 by 1200) unless I want to purchase another one.

For a screen which is 13 inches between diagonally opposite corners I think the optimum resolution would be 1920 by 1080.  If the screen were bigger then the resolution could be higher to keep the DPI (dots per inch) the same.

Universal Links

I sometimes get e-mails about the blog and sometimes people put comments on my posts.  One thing that has been asked more than once is :-

“What is a universal link anyway?”

A universal link is a link to specific content within the file of an application.  For instance Essential PIM Pro allows you to copy a link which will point to a specific e-mail in a specific database created in Essential PIM Pro.  This can be activated from another application and will not only start up Essential PIM but open the specific e-mail to which the link points.

There is a protocol which the application needs to register with the operating system when it is installed, once registered if the operating system receives a link of the correct format it will pass the link to the specified application.

As an example of what they look like a link to one of the e-mails in Essential PIM looks like :-

epim://D:\Data\EPIM\Pauls.epim/mails/544385275277860595

the bit up to the :// is the string which is registered with the operating system, the rest is application specific.

As another example a link to a topic in my ConnectedText notes looks like :-

ct://Potek/HD%20Clone%20Notes

again the bit before the :// specifies the application to which the link points but the rest of it is almost human readable once you realise that ‘%20’ is the space character.

So a universal link is like a URL but it points to specific content within a specific application on the local machine.

An Idiosyncratic Review of LyX

I tried LyX some years ago but I didn’t really ‘get’ the program, it just seemed like a needlessly complex word processor, and it wasn’t WYSIWYG. But since that time I have been using ConnectedText which definateley isn’t WYSIWYG and have gradually become accustomed to working in different modes. I was reminded of LyX recently and so have given it another go.

LyX is a free and open source document processor running on Windows, Mac OS X and Linux/Unix. Its proponents call it a ‘document processor’ rather than a ‘word processor’ because unlike a standard word processor, LyX encourages an approach to writing based on the content and structure of the document, not it’s appearance.The writers of LyX have adopted the term WYSIWYM to describe the approach.

It is a graphical front end for a LaTeX typesetting engine (MiKTeX) so the final output can be quite good if you manage to get a font you like.

Using LyX you are expected to concentrate on writing, leaving the typesetting to the software. This is a similar approach to using styles in a conventional word processor but instead of styles being optional they are mandatory, you may override them if you wish but that takes extra effort.

LyX is a bit overkill for short notes or letters. But for long and complex documents LyX can save a lot of time and effort. There are many pre defined document templates which make it easier to make a document which conforms to a particular set of requirements. For instance there are templates for writing articles in the format required by academic journals, there is a book template, there is another template for writing a film/play script.

LyX automates the formatting according to a predefined set of rules, this gives consistency throughout the document. For example, you can have all your headings in the size and font you want but when you make this change it will affect all the headings, you don’t have to go through your document changing them all individually.

LyX has a concept called ‘environments’. These are just like styles in a conventional word processor. Each piece of text in your document has to be put in the correct environment, if no environment is set then it will be in the default body text environment of ‘Standard’. No text exists without being in an environment. The environment sets the font, the size, the indent and everything else about the text is defined by its environment. There are environments for headings, subheadings, sub-subheadings, bulleted lists, numbered lists, tables, bibliographies, footnotes, references, etc..

There is also some intelligent automation, by default all headings (at whatever level) get placed in a table of contents, if you want a table of contents then you need do nothing, but if you don’t want a table of contents then you can delete it. References are also intelligent, if you refer in your text to ‘figure 1 on page 7’ and then you add more figures and text before the target of the reference it automatically changes the number to refer to the same figure on whatever page it ends up on.

One thing which I thought was quite neat, usually the reference would be something like ‘refer to Section 3.7 on page xx‘ where xx is the page number but if the target is within one page of the reference then it changes to ‘refer to Section 3.7 on the previous page’ or ‘refer to Section 3.7 on the next page’.

The types of environment available is different for different document types.

And of course you can insert tables, graphics, bitmap images and even SVG files which are good for drawing diagrams in Inkscape but which Microsoft Word has great difficulty with. There is an excellent equation editor. The equations have a particular LaTeX styling which sets them apart from the main text, but that is not a bad thing. The equations can be numbered to make it easier to refer to them from the text.

When you install LyX you get a lot of other programs installed as well, Ghostscript, Perl, Awk and MiKTeX amongst others. MiKTeX is an open source implementation of LaTeX, this is the program which produces the output. With the default settings the output produced looks exactly like all the Linux DocBook documentation files along with that thin ugly anaemic looking font they use.

Fonts are a problem, LyX uses postscript type 1 fonts, you can use true type fonts in your documents but you then limit the options for the rendering of your document. If you use the postscript fonts then there are only a few supplied with LyX, most of them are not very pleasing to the eye, there are a couple which are OK but the default serif font is perhaps the worst of the lot.

This is very frustrating for me because I have many postscript type 1 fonts available but installing these in MiKTeX is a hideously complex task and so far I have been unsuccessful. The task of installing a font should not be that difficult, it should at least be documented somewhere.

LyX Badfont

An example of the hideous postscript font used by default if you don’t choose another, but the choice is very limited.

At first sight LyX looks like a conventional word processor, it is not until you start typing that you realise how different it really is, you have no control of spacing. Hitting return many times inserts one carriage return, hitting space many times inserts one space, hitting TAB does nothing. All the content is typeset and rendered by LyX, you don’t have to think about the spacing and the layout. Someone who only has experience of Microsoft Word will find this disconcerting at first.

LyX Main Screen

LyX main screen with the manual opened for editing.

You can control all the aspects of the layout, the spacing between paragraphs, the margins and all the rest but you do it for the whole document. You have to get used to working at a higher level of abstraction.

LyX has no problem with handling very large documents. The table of contents which is continuously updated can be viewed as a panel at the side of the text. This acts as an excellent outline, you can jump to whatever section or subsection you want just by clicking on it and sections can also be moved about, promoted and demoted just like in an outlining program.

In some ways the separation of edit mode from output mode can be more convenient than a conventional word processor. You can enlarge the screen fonts to suit your needs but the text wraps so it is all still on the screen, but this does not affect the formatting of the final output.

There are many manuals supplied with LyX, all in LyX format. They are a very comprehensive reference for LyX. They can be printed out to PDF format to read and if you use the default settings with postscript fonts everything will work as expected, however if you typeset them with true type fonts sometimes they will cause errors or crash the program when you try to export them.

LyX has very limited import facilities, it can import LaTeX or plain ASCII text from the clipboard or from a file, it can also import various spreadsheet files or a CSV file into a table. It also lists LyX files as an import option but to me importing files in the format of the program is not an import, I think what they mean is inserting one LyX file into another.

The export facilities are a little more extensive, you can send the output to DVI, EPS, HTML, LaTeX, Open Document Format, PDF (various flavours), plain text, postscript and even to a printer.

Will LyX become my main word processor?

Probably not.

For short documents, notes and organisational stuff I use ConnectedText. For longer documents Scrivener is hard to beat. But LyX is free and Scrivener costs $40.  I can see that LyX could be very useful if I were writing something like a book or a doctoral thesis and I didn’t want to spend any money.

LyX is a very powerful and quirky program but it still has some rough edges.