I haven't written here for a while. A lot of changes have been going on behind the scenes for me. Around the time that I wrote my last entry I was brought into a new team within ISV Developer Relations at IBM. As a result, I am no longer editor for the Linux and Open Source content on developerWorks. This is bittersweet for me, as I really enjoyed helping authors to shape their information to share with people who want to learn. In my little intro on this blog I mention that I am really passionate about Linux and Open Source. This is not hyperbole. I've run a Linux desktop for more than ten years. We have no Microsoft Windows or Mac OS in my house. Personally, I don't find this a hardship. I do pretty much what I want and need on my computers and don't seem to have the struggles that others do. (I'm hearing a story by one friend who has been through ten different Microsoft tech support people over a period of days still trying to get his Windows 8 activated. Bleh!)
I've always found that it wasn't that Linux and open source couldn't do things that people needed, but that they just weren't aware of what was available or how they had become tool-bound. Perhaps a Linux environment tends to provide the most benefit to a technical person with a sense of curiosity. In any case, it was a joy to help provide a variety of information to help people try things and broaden their horizons. I got to work with some really talented authors and make a difference to hundreds of thousands of people. Wow!
My new role is going to take me more behind the scenes. I'll still be enabling people to get their messages out, but in a greater variety of ways. It's all fairly new, so I don't really have stories to share. I have no doubt that I'll get food for blogging in my new role.
I will continue to use this space to talk about technology and social issues that I think make a difference. I'll continue share things that I do with Linux and open source so that others can explore them as well. As my activities become more varied I may have even more to share!
Along those lines, I recently had to put together a booklet for a non-IBM project. I had done the writing in a word processor, but when it came time to generate the final format I decided that I really wanted to work with a publishing tool rather than a word processor. In a previous role, ages back, I did a lot of work with Adobe PageMaker. I remember renting time on Macs at Kinko's to create signs, fliers and such. Once I designed a set of sample pages for an elementary level math book using PageMaker. The pages were being shown in an editorial meeting for a major textbook publisher and it was the first time they had gotten a printed mock-up as opposed to a literally pasted page. (That sounds ancient doesn't it?)
It's certainly possible to do a booklet in a word processor, and LibreOffice works fine for that. (Have you downloaded v4 yet?) However, a desktop publishing tool is designed for a greater degree of precision in layout. If you can get your head wrapped around the different approach to thinking you really get a more finished product. The most popular open source publisher project I am aware of is Scribus, and the last time I used it was to do an 8-page, full-color mini-magazine for a convention. I know that many will consider Scribus to be lacking as compared to a PageMaker or a Quark, but the $850 price tag on Quark makes it a little out of my reach, and it's not available for Linux. Scribus is free and available for Windows, Mac OS and Linux. I essentially had to wish for it and it was installed on my system. Here's a sample from their sourcforge gallery.
Of course, working with page layout is different from other kinds of content editing. Publishing programs are much more concerned with controlling how things look than helping you to write. It's literally like having a lot of little pieces of paper that you are going to paste onto a blank page. You assign what is on each little piece of paper, a graphic, some text, etc. Some of this is handled by "frames" in a word processor, but in layout software it just seems to be a little easier somehow... at least to me... depending on the project.
Because of the "pagey" nature of this application, it was easier for me to set up something to be how I wanted it and not have things move around on me when I changed something. I had a few challenges with setting up a dynamic Table of Contents, something that is almost magical in LibreOffice. I will probably review this tutorial by Bruce Byfield before my next document.
If you want to play with layout software, Scribus isn't a bad place to start. It will acquaint you with the basic concepts of layout, primarily separating your design concepts from your content. For a big project it might still be worth using a commercial product, but for a little newsletter, booklet or other projects where you are assimilating various elements into a single document, Scribus might do the trick.
Now, when I'm designing a single page, like a sign, postcard or flier, from scratch, I will tend to use Inkscape. I've even done large, full-color banners with this and enjoy it very much.
More adventures later. I'm tinkering with Blender, the free, open 3D modeling/animation/compositing software. If you think moving from word processing to page layout is mind blowing you just wait 'til you see what happens in this paradigm! I used Blender to create the header graphic for this blog. Everything is composed of 3D elements which were lit and moved around, then "photographed". It's pretty interesting stuff.
For everyone who contributed to the Linux and open source areas on developerWorks for me, you have my sincerest gratitude. It was an honor to work with all of you. For the readers to gave feedback, sometimes in the most forceful ways, you have my gratitude as well. It's hard to function in a vacuum and your input constantly shaped my approach to what we covered and how. I look forward to my new adventure.