Saturday, May 21, 2011

Word processor overload

I do not consider myself a hoarder.  I was kind of like that when I was younger, but now I'm pretty happy tossing stuff when it is no longer useful to me.  Sell it off, give it away to friends, barter it, fling it far away: I like to keep things streamlined and uncluttered.

I have absolutely no excuse, then, for the fact I realized this morning: I think I have five different word processing software programs loaded on my computer now.  Four of them are, in fact, the word processor in a comprehensive office suite.  I have four full office suites in my computer now, plus a fifth word processor that rivals the office suites in MB size.  How did this happen?

When I bought my shiny happy MacBook, it came loaded with iWork, the native office suite that Apple offers with its machines.  I worried, though, that there could arise compatibility issues from emailing documents back and forth to people who use PCs, to say nothing of my own documents' formatting as I made the transition from PC to Mac.  So I bought Microsoft Office for Mac, with the educational discount.  (Without that, I might have shied away, but I can't say that for sure.)  There were two office suites right there within the first week of ownership of the computer.

Then there was the whole matter of how to deal with my material, some of which is written in RC-ian.  (The language of Research Country, of course.)  It's common for me to write field notes with RC-ian speckled through the English text, as well as longer passages at times in pure RC-ian.  As it happens, RC-ian utilizes a completely different writing system than English, which makes Latin characters a rather unsatisfactory vehicle for representing many of the sounds and letters native to RC-ian.  Sometimes it's actually useful to write in Latin characters, so that I can specify exactly how someone pronounced a given word, but more often I prefer to type RC-ian in its native script.  This has been a burden on scholars for years, since computer programming largely developed with the assumption of words being composed of a collection of isolated letters that do not change their shapes and, if need be, can be given equal amounts of space.  (Think of how Courier font looks, and why old typewritten pages look so regimental.  That's monospaced font, there.)  Such an approach is goddamn-near impossible for RC-ian.  It took a while for programmers and designers to catch up to the needs of RC-ian, which not only was never intended for monospaced font, but also – sigh – runs in the opposite direction of Latinate scripts.

Point being, when I switched from PC to Mac, I discovered that Word for Mac (unlike its PC version) has approximately zero RC-ian capability.  How would I even access my field notes without destroying them?  And Pages, the word processor in the iWork suite, wasn't really any better.  I dealt with this by downloading OpenOffice, which has genuine RC-ian capability; thus came my third office suite.  But OpenOffice didn't handle RC-ian mixed with English as well as I wanted and needed, so what was I to do?  I had heard that OpenOffice and NeoOffice were pretty much the same animal, so there didn't seem any point in trying the other one.  In my zeal/craze to find the most robust application for my specific needs, I ended up buying Nisus Writer, which is a super-powerful word processor for an enormous range of alphabetic and ideographic scripts.  (In fact, I downloaded both Nisus and Mellel, another word processor with robust language support, but I discarded Mellel at the end of its trial period.)  Nisus can handle my writing in English while bopping into RC-ian for a phrase or two at a time, and saves documents in a nicely cross-platform format (RTF).  It can also save documents as PDFs, which I have found to be the most durable and stable form for such things.  And lo, it was good.  (And for purely English-language documents, I tried using OpenOffice for a while, but eventually felt it was actually more convenient to use Word, since that's what everyone else had.)

And yet.  Even from the beginning, I noticed that Nisus has a tendency to crash for no fucking reason.  It'll just give me the little pinwheel of death, and then close itself for some "unexpected" reason, losing everything that I typed before I last hit the save button.  This has trained me to save with absurd frequency, like every half-sentence.  It's annoying, but I'm willing to tolerate it for the larger robustness of the program. 

But yesterday, Nisus began its periodic automatic update, and gave me a message that this newest upgrade wasn't free, but would cost me $49.  WTF?  I just bought the goddamn program less than two years ago!  When I looked through their list of the bug fixes incorporated in the new upgrade, and couldn't locate a fix for "crashes for no fucking reason," I balked at paying. 

So last night, I spent an hour downloading a fifth office suite: NeoOffice.  In recent months, I've heard reports that NeoOffice works better and more nimbly than OpenOffice at certain tasks, especially on Macs.  It's also come to my attention during my postdoc that NeoOffice is what Apple sales people here in RC load as standard-issue on Macs they sell to locals, who naturally want good functionality in their native language as well as English and other Latinate-scripted languages.  Even though there's a fully freeware version of NeoOffice, I paid $10 for the newest one, since I wanted as many bugs worked out as possible.  I'm taking the new word processor for a spin today to see what it can do.

Why do I feel like I can't commit to any of these programs fully?  Why the hell do I keep OpenOffice around?  Why must Word be such a pain in the ass about non-Latinate scripts that I have to go all obsessive-compulsive about finding alternative software?  How many goddamn office suites will I end up storing on my computer?


  1. I keep Open Office on my computer is exactly this reason: so I could keep a database in RC-ish, of things I was translating. For field notes and things, I just use TextEdit, which handles RC-ish fine, though there is some drama about switching mid-line. (I am also that loser who uses the RC-ish QWERTY keyboard function, since I don't know how to type in RC-ish.) I do all my draft writing in TextEdit, too, since I want as uncluttered a visual environment as possible, and Word sucks donkey balls. Anybody know about how Scribner handles multi-script writing? My friends who use it swear by it, especially for long, multi-part writing.

    When I'm writing for others, I use transliteration, since nobody who regularly reads my stuff reads RC-ish, so it doesn't matter. (Plus, nakallam 3rabish, yanni?) But, since you actually, you know, publish in the field, and have contact with other psuedologists, do you ever have to submit things with mixed RC-ish/English?

  2. In all honesty, I've never really understood why people froth at the mouth about Word. It works fine, for the most part, doesn't it? What were you expecting it to do that it failed? I kind of liked the feeling that, by switching to some open-source thingie-dingie, I was somehow sidestepping any further involvement with a big greedy corporation that seemed to do slipshod quality control, but that's a pretty fuzzy criterion, I'll admit.

    I submit my absurd collection of word processing applications as evidence that there is no perfect program. I wouldn't even have given much thought to using something other than Word, if the Mac version hadn't screwed me over for everything I wrote in RC-ish. (Or RC-ian. Both forms are commonly used.)

    I've never yet submitted anything with RC-ish text untransliterated, but I can't rule it out. A few days ago, a colleague of mine published something with a few lines of RC-ish text in it. Frankly, I thought it looked kind of pretentious, since zi was obligated to translate and explain the phrases anyway. But maybe this is a new trend that will catch on, especially in venues where one assumes a relatively high proportion of readers literate in RC-ish.

  3. My problems with Word largely revolve around how it keeps trying to do things for me. It indents my paragraphs! It puts little squiggles under all the RC-ish, plus words like performativity! Things keep appearing! There are all these pictures everywhere. I JUST WANT TO WRITE SOME WORDS STOP ASKING ME TO DO THINGS. Again, this is why I write everything in TextEdit, so that I have a basically empty screen for writing. Also, I hate the menus on the new Word I encounter on university computers. I can't find anything all of a sudden! STOP CHANGING ON ME.

    As you can tell, I'm kind of nebbishy about my UIs.

    I think the idea of untransliterated RC-ish is a great idea, though you have the spoken/written problem. (This is actually why I prefer transliteration in a lot of cases? A good transcription system can let you communicate those things pretty succinctly.) As long as it doesn't get to the point I saw in an article in German Studies once, where not a single quote was translated into English. Let's not do that, please.

  4. I have just as many word processors as you on my computer (just switch Mellel in for Nisus) and like Ajnabieh I ended up using textedit for almost everything.