Archive for July 2010

Thanks to Microsoft

Thanks to Microsoft, there are many things people believe about computers that they think must be true. Have you heard any of these? Or worse, have you ever thought any of these? It could happen to a friend, a loved one, or even to our selves.

My computer is slow so I will delete some files and uninstall some applications.

How does the amount of files and not-running applications on your computer have anything to do with how fast it is running?

Don’t run too many applications at once or your computer will crash.

Have you ever found yourself thinking this? Why would starting a music player affect the CD burning software?

You need to reboot your computer after installing an application.

Why do I need to reboot my computer after installing an instant messenger application?

If the computer has a problem just reboot.

Someone once tried to tell me that this was a strength of Windows. I’m skeptical. I’d rather have a computer that does not have a problem during regular use.

If you leave your computer on for a long time, it will start running slowly. Reboot the computer to make it run at normal speed again.

Why? What is Windows doing when you leave it on? Do you have any idea? Me neither.

Newer software always requires more hardware processing power than older software.

It doesn’t have to. What do you use your computer for today that you couldn’t do 10 years ago? 15 years ago? 20 years ago?

If you want to completely uninstall an application, you will have to erase your entire hard drive and reinstall the operating system.

…and the related…

There is an application that automatically starts when Windows starts, but I don’t know how to remove it.

Sometimes it seems like Windows is at the mercy of the applications that people write for it. I understand that all operating systems are like this in a sense, but with Windows it seems to be the standard way to do things.

Do you suffer from any of these ideas? Do you think this is how using a computer has to be? Because of Microsoft, there are many people in the world that think computers have to be incomprehensible and painful to use. It’s as if people have to fight with the computer instead of just using it as a tool.

It doesn’t have to be this way!

LaTeX for the Average Person

I have many complaints about word processors, applications like Microsoft Work and OpenOffice.org Write. Most of the time I open a document I don’t want to edit it, I just want to scroll through it and read it. I don’t want to see red spell check lines, I don’t want to see the caret, and I don’t want to be able to accidentally change anything. Another problem is that I can’t do a “diff” on different versions of a file to see what has changed. Also, after seeing the possibilities of how beautify a document can look, documents made with a word processor look terrible to me, even “immature”.

My biggest complaint is, when I use a word processor, I feel like I spend more time fighting the application (“layout fiddling”) than I do writing actual content.

I decided to learn and start using LaTeX for the times when I would have used Write. It allowed me to focus on the content of what I was writing instead of the application or how it would look, and I feel it produced much nice results. The problem is that, to use LaTeX, it was pretty much like learning a new programming language.

Last week, I was helping my wife write a document. We were about to open Write, when I made the suggestion to try an application I hadn’t used before but read about: LyX. LyX appears to be designed to look like and be as easy to learn as a word processor, but is only for creating LaTeX documents. We installed LyX and in a few minutes learned how to use it together. The document it produced looks beautiful.

The only downside I can see is that for easy viewing and editing, two files have to be passed around: the LaTeX (or LyX) file and the output (PDF) file.

Anyway, that brought me to a question: Why would anyone use a word processor to create a document when they can create a document using LyX and LaTeX for free and just as easily?

My guesses are because the Microsoft Word document format is an unofficial standard in many offices, because people are used to using word processors, and because Microsoft spent a lot of money advertising Word. As much as LaTeX is used in places like the academic world, it is fairly uncommon to everyone else.

Maybe it won’t ever become popular, but I’m glad I found a method of writing a beautiful document with an application that gets out of my way and lets me get some work done.