NeoOffice/J 1.1 Finally Released


After five years of development, NeoOffice/J is finally released. From the announcement (found in a NeoWiki cache):

The goal of NeoOffice/J is to provide an entirely free and complete Mac OS X office suite based on the international project — only with the look-and-feel you’d expect from any Macintosh application.

The project is a large open-source effort to create the ultimate office “suite” including a word processor, spreadsheet, presentation, drawing software, and much more. With, you can easily import, edit, and exchange files with users of other office programs, such as Microsoft Office or WordPerfect.

I’ve been using OpenOffice(.org) for years on Linux and Windows, and have found it to be perfect for my needs — in fact, it’s my preferred office suite. It’s great to finally have a Mac-native version with full support for all the OS X trimmings. Only downside? This is based on the older –but stable– OOo 1.1.4, while is nearing its 2.0 release (due this summer). I hear that the NeoOffice/J team has donated code back to the project to enhance the Mac compatibility, so hopefully this is a sign of good things to come. I do have a feeling that the Mac native version will still lag behind the Linux and Windows versions after 2.0 is released, though.

(BTW, don’t let the Java-based interface scare you. After start-up, it runs at a decent clip even on my G3 400MHz Powerbook.)

Review: An Attic Called DEVONthink

Sherlock Holmes, by J. Frank Wiles (Shadow of Fear, The Strand, 1914)“You see,” he explained, “I consider that a man’s brain originally is like a little empty attic, and you have to stock it with such furniture as you choose. A fool takes in all the lumber of every sort that he comes across, so that the knowledge which might be useful to him gets crowded out, or at best is jumbled up with a lot of other things so that he has a difficulty in laying his hands upon it. Now the skilful workman is very careful indeed as to what he takes into his brain-attic. He will have nothing but the tools which may help him in doing his work, but of these he has a large assortment, and all in the most perfect order. It is a mistake to think that that little room has elastic walls and can distend to any extent. Depend upon it there comes a time when for every addition of knowledge you forget something that you knew before. It is of the highest importance, therefore, not to have useless facts elbowing out the useful ones.”

– Sherlock Holmes to Watson during their first case, A Study in Scarlet

From hints in the Canon, I’m positive that Holmes nurtured a own home-grown content management system (CMS) of notes, newspaper clippings, pages torn from journals, snippets from medical textbooks, monographs on fingerprints and head measurements, observations on mud types and tobacco ashes, criminal trial transcriptions, and so on. Some of this was no doubt kept in his “attic” for casework, but there was much that didn’t fit (such as the fact that the Earth revolved about the sun, he claimed) and –should a pertinent nugget need to be recalled to solicit a possible solution for a case– that would require safekeeping for ready reference and analysis later.

I’ll leave the theorising as to whether Holmes would even bother with computers in this day and age to those Baker Street professionals who take great joy in debating such topics. However, I can’t help but wonder what sort of system he, as a knowledge worker, would utilise today.

I guess one might refer to me as a “knowledge worker” in the purer sense of the term (if you can indeed filter out the buzzword poisoning). Most of my time is spent instructing, consulting, preparing coursework, developing (mainly educational) multimedia, researching, writing, and coming up with solutions to uncommon problems. To do this requires a tremendous body of knowledge and information, very little of which I can actually retain in the little attic of my mind. Over the past few years, I’ve tried quite a number of ways to store and retrieve information, and they all have their pros and cons. In particular, I am very impressed with Tinderbox and the way in which it leverages agents, queries which act upon its freeform database and associated metadata to produce groups of links to items that match (and that can be further utilised in other scripts, like exporting to HTML for a website). However, I’ve never been able to find a content management system that also does an excellent job of handling non-textual media and concordance –finding items that are similar, based upon word relationships drawn out by context. That is, until now. Its name is DEVONthink.

Continue reading “Review: An Attic Called DEVONthink”

“I’m not dead yet…!”

Just working around the clock….

On the plus side, I think I finally found my Holy Grail of personal content management, the new version of DEVONthink (Mac OS X only, I’m afraid). It hasn’t impressed me as an ideal solution in the past, but the last few iterations are amazing. It’s been quite an enabling little beast for my job at hand, allowing me to sift through thousands of pages of text (plain, RTF, HTML and PDF), find related entries, track my sources, manage all related media, and write various documents without bother or fuss. Its capabilities are constantly surprising me. Stay tuned for a write-up….

This Old Workhorse

Like most other gadget freaks, I always want the latest and greatest. I can’t go near a Future Shop without venturing inside with a drool cup duct-taped to my chin. I dream of all the things I could get –one day– when I have far too much money and have those business needs which somehow validate purchasing plasma screens wider than my apartment’s living room, wireless speaker systems capable of generating more noise than the eruption of Krakatoa, pens that do everything but write, and strange hunks of plastic that serve as an all-in-one cell phone, barometer, airplane landing signal, holographic chess projector, egg timer, and remote control for next-generation iPods yet-undreamt-of. Like other forms of lust, this too can lead to blindness.

Lately, my dear old faithful Linux SGI box is staggering on its last legs, and so my thoughts turn to how I might replace it. Since portability is key to a lifestyle like mine, a laptop makes perfect sense. But ah, which one?

In my last place of employment, I requisitioned a shiny new Sony Vaio laptop with a Pentium 4 2.66GHz processor. Part of the day was spent in Windows XP Pro, part of it in Debian Linux. Let’s say that the machine was not without its problems. At times, especially in Windows, doing more than one thing at a time seemed to make it incredibly sluggish. (When burning a CD or DVD, you had to be careful not to run another program in the background or touch any keys –even the screen brightness– lest you make a coaster.) Because of the “shared memory” video card, it wasn’t even possible to play a 3D game like Neverwinter Nights while on the road: the OpenGL was software-only. And then there was the failing power brick. When I called Sony tech support, I was pushed to a flustered Indian woman who knew no other English than what was in a flow chart: after nearly an hour’s wait on the line, a 10-minute conversation (me: “Look, I’m a techie… I know that this power supply has a loose connection inside, and I can’t open it!”; her: “Please check that the plug is in the wall socket, and you have pressed the laptop ‘on’ button”), and her request to “Please hold while I look into escalating your issue”… I was promptly dropped. It wouldn’t have been so bad, but this happened a second, third and fourth time as well, albeit with different call centre personnel who had even less of a mastery of English.

Confession: I used to be an Mac bigot. Occasionally working with designers who felt confident and smug about how their pricey machines were far superior to my beloved PCs, I learned to make fun of these hippie freaks who barely knew anything about their machines, who clinged to overly-simple interfaces, and who resisted the urge to join the rest of humanity. I stayed as far away from Macs as possible, which was actually quite easy in this redneck Windows area of the world.

Powerbook 2000 PismoFive years ago, I joined a school in Nova Scotia that would only provide me with a Mac laptop, specifically a Powerbook 2000 Pismo. This oddly-shaped little black laptop came with Mac OS 9.1, and O! did I hate it. I could barely change anything, the interface was far too simple for my liking, there was no right-click button, and there was very little complexity under the hood (I had grown quite used to Linux). When the UNIX-based OS X was released, however, it was an entirely different story: it was powerful enough that I could start to enjoy it. How could you not like something that lets you use Photoshop one minute, and then jump into a terminal to edit bash scripts with vi and tweak its Apache the next?

Five years later, I still have the Pismo.

Now, five years for a laptop is a looooooong time. Usually, an older machine has been dropped, has begun to experience major hardware malfunctions, and is so woefully underpowered that it is practically useless with modern applications. In contrast, this Pismo is still running exceedingly well, to my complete surprise, and each new generation of OS X seems to make it faster. Its specifications: 256 MB RAM (eek!), G3 400MHz processor, 8 MB ATI 3D video card, DVD drive, Firewire, 10 GB hard drive, AirPort wireless, Mac OS X 10.3 Panther. Strangely enough, it’s quite zippy and responsive. I can have several large applications going at once (including Adobe programs, Firefox and a word processor), and it seems to be able to handle the load very well. In fact, I’d even venture to claim that it’s almost as fast as the P4 2.66 Vaio for regular day-to-day work. True, the poor thing is starting to show its age: the fan comes on and sounds a little whiney, DivX movie files stutter ever now and then, the DVD drive occasionally has to work a little harder to read some CD-ROMs, and the power brick (er… “yo-yo”) is held together with electrical tape and tender care, but all this just gives the little beast more personality. I can see why people adore their Pismos: there are plenty of user comments on sites like LowEndMac that sound off about their wonderful little “workhorses” in such endearing tones that they often verge on love letters. The resale value is also extremely high for such an old machine.

While I will –no doubt– eventually succumb to the technophilia evoked by the beautiful new Powerbooks, I’ve decided that I’m sticking with the Pismo for now. I’ll pump up the RAM, slot in a new hard drive, refresh the electrical tape, and maybe even get a G4 upgrade. The new Powerbook can wait: I already have a good machine, one that feels a little more like a companion than a cold hunk of silicon, metal and plastic.