Ebook reader and manager

For those who like ebooks, Calibre is a great program that was created to manage pretty much any aspect of your reading files.

calibre

The list of features is pretty extensive:

  • convert files from and to epub, mobi, LRF and supports input of several other formats including PDF, html, odt, rtf amongst others;
  • syncs to mobile reader devices (seems to work well with the iPhone/Stanza and the Kindle);
  • convert a news feed to an ebook;
  • scans your computer to check for all supported ebook formats so you can keep them organized, download cover art and meta data;
  • runs on Windows, Linux and MacOS X.

At the present moment the app is on version 0.5.3 and seems to be under heavy development. For me, file conversion from PDF to epub format went without any hitches and I was finally able to organize my ebook library under one program.

Import and edit PDF files in OpenOffice

For quite a while now OpenOffice has been promising the ability to import and edit PDF files. Although not released with the program itself, you can grab the Sun PDF Import extension to do just that.

This extension is in beta and is available multi-platform for Windows, Linux and MacOS X systems.

Tests that I ran were pretty good. The text in the PDF file is imported well and in a way I could edit the text, font settings and images. There was a small problem in that the document that was shown to me had colors inverted (black background with white font). But, don’t ask me why, the imported file actually contained 2 layers. Deleting the one on top will show you the layer with correct colors and fully editable.

The extension is in beta but it is sure worth a try and beats editing the PDF through an image software like I used to do.

Abiword – multi platform word processor

After a recent exchange of ideas about Abiword on identi.ca, I decided to take a closer look at it again. Although OpenOffice is currently my office suite of choice, it is a bit bloated and slow. So, what does Abiword have to offer?

abiword1

  • It is blazing fast;
  • works in Windows and Linux;
  • has all the main text editing and formatting functions one needs;
  • saves and imports documents in multiple formats (Abiword’s own formats, .doc, .odf, .html, .rtf, .pdf, .docx, LaTeX, Kword and xml);
  • has revision control;
  • has spell checker and thesaurus built-in;
  • and, has a plug-in architecture to improve its list of features even more!

abiword-tools

It even has a collaboration function so you can share your document through Jabber or TCP connection (I haven’t tested it).

I have tried Abiword before but to be honest I didn’t know it had this many features. For this review I can say there are a couple of tools I might miss when collaborating a document with others, such as being able to track and manage document changes and notes.

Overall I really liked Abiword and will seriously think about using it more often.

Open source at work

Migrating from a proprietary licensed mindset into open source can be perceived as a pretty challenging task. It is incredibly common for me to see that branding power often blinds people in a way that the functionalities of a software are disregarded in favor of the comforting sound of a brand name.

What does all that marketing blah blah means?

At my work, all new computers have open source software on it. The email client, office suite, browser, image editor, project management software and programming tools are all installed in the new employee’s computer from his/her day one.

But, the adaptation isn’t immediate. The icon, the menu bar, the layout are all excuses for a fuss: “I can’t do this, I can’t do that, where is the icon for this!?” After some guidance and explanation of functions, everything is settled and peace restored.

In your company, if you’d like to start introducing open source programs to support the cause, to reduce costs, or even to have the possibility to tailor some programs to your specific needs, don’t worry it can be much easier than you’d think.

Open source is fit for whom?

For the generalist worker, open source programs will go above and beyond the level of functionality compared to proprietary solutions. It is realistic to say though that some employees will need complex tools to work at full speed. For these team members, proprietary software can be rightfully requested.

How would your company make the transition?

If you’re a part of a large company, make changes with one or two programs at a time. All new employees though make sure they start with the most number of open source tools as you’d like. During the migration process, hold workshops to guide the team and be available to assist at other times when needed.

Overall, be supportive of your team and don’t hesitate to make the move. In the end, open source at work is an easier work than you might have thought!

Project Management

GanttProject is currently what I’m using for my project management duties. Why?

  • it is multi-platform (works on Windows, Linux, and MacOS X);
  • simple to use;
  • open source;
  • allows me to manage well dependencies, resources and milestones.

ganttproject-house-building-sample

The main drawback is that it is Java based so a bit slower to run than other native programs.

eBook open standards

If you like to support open standards format, here is a (at least for me) new discovery:  .epub.

If you like open standards and ebooks, support the spreading of .epub. This file extension is a mixture of three open standards OPS ( Open Publication Structure ), OPF ( Open Packaging Format) and OCF (Open Container Format), produced by the IDPF.

From what I know Kindle – the hot ebook reader of the moment – does not support .epub format However, you can find some .epub ebooks in various websites, including Project Gutenberg. Viewing these files will be no problem with a software like FBReader.

Creating diagrams [Windows/Linux]

Don’t think Visio is the only application out there to create diagrams and workflows, Dia is an excellent alternative!

dia screenshot

With Dia you can easily create relationship diagrams and with the several object styles it has, you’re able to do some more technical work such as UML diagrams, flowcharts, and chronograms. Although the default format you can save your files will be .dia, there is an excellent export tool for several formarts including svg, png, eps, jpg, and bmp.

Best of all, it is a stable Windows and Linux program! So, you can already make this open source switch even if you are on a Windows machine.

Open source push emails and contacts sync

I got a new phone and was terrified about the manual work that would be needed to sync all of my contact details. But then I thought, we’re in 2008 so there must be an open source way of doing this!!

Funambol MobileWe did the trick perfectly! Funambol allows syncing over the air emails, contacts, calendar, tasks and notes with mobile devices. The site reports syncing capabilities with 1.5 billion mobile devices and thousands of online services. You can sync your information from GMail, Yahoo!, Hotmail, Thunderbird, AOL, MS Outlook (if you’re still using it), and emails from POP and IMAP access.

If your contacts are scattered all over the place, like I had, with Plaxo, GMail and other cell phones, first centralize everything in one spot. I chose GMail’s Contacts since I can then sync it nicely to my Evolution.

Then, create an account at  MyFunambol, select your mobile device, go to your profile link, and configure your email and where to sync your information from. After all the configuration is set, you will receive a message on your mobile to download the needed sync app.

After everything is installed, with a click of a button on your phone, all of your contacts will be synced and you’ll even get push emails! Much better then Blackberry and Apple’s MobileMe. With MobileWe you will have a safe backup of contacts, receive push emails and sync contacts even with multiple devices.

End result for me? Contacts nicely synced and my phone displayed even the pictures of my contacts I had created in GMail.

*Note: also supported but not endorsed by this author are iPhones and Windows Mobile OS.

Organizing Tasks in Linux

While trying to make my productivity life easier on my machine, I started searching for a program that would allow me to have a 2-way sync between my desktop and RememberTheMilk. As I’ve mentioned before, Evolution does only 1-way sync to my favorite task management web application.

So, searching away in the vast world of the internet I found Tasque. Built for Novell’s Hackweek v2, Tasque plays nicely with Gnome and RememberTheMilk to display tasks.

The UI is quite simple and straightforward. You can create new tasks or edit existing tasks, all syncing pretty much real time with your RememberTheMilk account. More features include setting deadlines and priorities.

It still isn’t exactly what I was looking for. Personally I’d rather have Evolution with 2-way sync, but while that doesn’t happen, I’ll keep on trying Tasque a little bit more. The program deserves the attention.

Why I’ve switched from Thunderbird to Evolution

On my computer (unfortunately) I’ve always had a dual boot setup. For my email, calendar, and contact management Thunderbird was my favorite pick. Was until I had a closer look at Evolution.

Why have I now switched?

1) Thunderbird is email and contacts only, so there is the need to install Lightning or Sunbird to get calendar and tasks functionality. With Evolution, everything is already packaged, more convenient for me.

2) Syncing Evolution with webservices is very easy! I have integrated my GMail (in IMAP), GCalendar, RememberTheMilk (1-way syncing), and Google’s contacts. Just go through the options of creating a new Calendar, Task List, Address Book, etc. and choose where you information is placed on the web.

Important note, unlike some other reviews that I heard, Evolution handles GMail’s IMAP just as well as Thunderbird.

3) Integration with my desktop: Gnome’s clock applet will show you not only day, time, and weather information, it’ll also show you any events you have in Evolution. Plus, sending files through email is easy with “Send to…” options inside Gnome.

4) Palm syncing, yes I still have a Palm… I’m currently using my Palm more like an ebook reader, but if I ever wanted to sync my email, contact, calendar, and task list, I can do it with Evolution (absolutely not with Thunderbird).

I realize some of the above functions are still from plug-ins that Evolution has, but being convenient by bundling these plug-ins saves me time. Less setup time with same (and even a bit more) functionality has now made Evolution my favorite office tool.