Draft – web-based word processing for the non-print world.

Draft is a free web-based word processor with an emphasis on collaboration and version control.

Microsoft Word was created at a time when documents were printed, once for editing and then again the final product. These days many of our documents never leave the digital world and Draft is designed for this work style. It’s assumed that the writing, editing and publishing are all done on-line.

It is Markdown-based of which I’m a huge fan. However, Markdown is intentionally limited in features. This is a good thing since collaborators can quickly learn it. But, Markdown is no replacement for a full-featured word processor.

Files can be imported from Google Drive, Dropbox and others. Documents can also be created via email and sent to Draft. This is a very useful feature that many companies no longer offer.

Draft exports to PDF, Word, HTML and a couple others. Files can be directly published to WordPress, Blogger and more. (Although copy-and-paste seems easier.) Draft also offers a code-your-own publishing option through Webhook which is great for self-hosted sites.

Simply put, it is a very open tool.

Great for collaboration

Perhaps the best feature of Draft is version control. It draws from the coding community where projects become quickly hard to manage when many people are collaborating.

I only tested this process but the concept seems fairly simple. One person owns the master document. She/he sends a link to a collaborator who works on their own copy. The document owner can view and merge the edits as desired. Collaborators must register but only an email is needed.

Since collaborators work on a copy, there is no danger to the master document. Free to edit this page. Click here.

A few small things

Probably the biggest missing feature is a real-time chat mode (as Google Docs does). With all the chat clients available, this is probably not a problem. Draft does allow in-line comments (like Google), which are arguably more useful.

I didn’t encounter any advertisements but the possibility of them in the free version was mentioned.

I was amused by the “Hemingway mode” which disables the backspace key and forces you to keep writing. I doubt I’ll use the feature but it’s what we want our students do in their quick writes.

Draft offers a paid service to get your work edited by real people. (sort of like Uber for English majors, I guess) It’s an interesting financial model and I hope it is successful.

Typora – fast, free word processor for your everyday writing.

TyporaTypora is free Markdown-based word processor.

Microsoft Word and Apple Pages are amazing word processors but bigger is not always better.

I have much more modest needs for that vast majority of my writing — bold, italics, headlines, etc. I must not be alone because a whole bunch of Markdown based word processors have recently sprung-up.

My favorite is Typora. It is free, simple and cross-platform. I have used the Linux and Windows version for months.

For those not familiar: Markdown is a very simple text formatting scheme that came from how people were already writing emails.

bold   italic

You can use a minimal text editor to write Markdown because it’s just a text file but Typora allows you to see the formatting as you write. Formatting can also be done with short-cut keys. ctrl+b = bold,     ctrl+i = italic,    etc.

Typora exports to Word, PDF, OpenOffice, HTML etc. There are also programs which convert Markdown to just about any format.

I have used Markdown for book-length manuscripts and it worked very well. The file was gigantic and it bogged down my full word processor to a crawl. Since Markdown is just a text file, it didn’t have this problem.

You can insert graphics but you won’t use it for desktop publishing. For your everyday writing, Typora and Markdown could be ideal.


typora.io

Description: Markdown based word processor for Windows, Linux and Mac (beta)

License: proprietary but free for now.

Usefulness: very

 

The Book Patch — affordable, honest self-publishing

book_patch_logoThe “vanity publishing” industry has a reputation right down there with Nigerian emails but there are some good ones and TheBookPatch really stands out.

The biggest scams seem to be minimum quantities, set-up fees and hidden costs. The Book Patch has none of these. Disclaimer: I have not personally used this service but I found almost no complaints about TheBookPatch,which is unusual.

TheBookPatch is truly self-publishing which means they will publish anything but leave all the editing, design and marketing to you. They provide templates and writing tools but your book is your responsibility alone. While they sell books on their own site, promotion and sales are also up to you. Most teachers and schools don’t need these services, anyway.

For a class book project or a school memory book, TheBookPatch is an excellent choice. A teacher can print a 60 page, B&W, 6” x 9” class book for less than $3 a copy. A full-color book would be less than $10. This is considerably less expensive than other self-publishing services I have used. Very helpfully, you can order a single copy (at a reasonable price) of your book for proof reading. In my experience, typos are much easier to find in an “advance copy” of a book and well-worth the cost.

To publish with TheBookPatch, you need to create a PDF for the body of the book and a separate color JPG file for the cover. TheBookPatch offers templates and clear, specific instructions for creating these. They can also create an ISBN number, also at a reasonable price. ISBN numbers are not required unless you want to sell your books through retailers.

Write_onlineTheBookPatch is also a cloud site for writers. They offer an on-line word processor that integrates with their print publishing service. I would probably use OpenOffice or Google Docs (if you need collaboration tools). Any application that creates a PDF file should work.

Bottom line: An affordable source for class or school self-published books.


Tool: TheBookPatch
Description: Affordable self-publishing
License: Open Ethos
Alternatives: Lulu, Kinkos, local quick print, others
Usefulness: very

Laverna – encrypted note taking with no registration.

Laverna_logoLaverna is another encrypted note taking program, similar to ProtectedtText which I reviewed in September.    While not a feature powerhouse, Laverna has more formatting options than ProtectedText.   It also has the security advantage of storing your files on your own computer, if you are worried about your files being stored on the ProtectedText servers.
Laverna files can also be stored in DropBox which is convenient but a concern if you are worried about the NSA or other high-level snoops who collect this kind of data.  However, it’s good if you are worried about privacy at work, since your files are stored off-site.  In any case, your files are powerfully encrypted and (supposedly!) not accessible even by the NSA.
Laverna_Screenshot   Laverna requires no registration and is very easy to set-up if you store your files locally on your computer.   Storing your files on DropBox involves a somewhat complex set-up.  You need to create a DropBox “app” for Laverna which is a little geeky but worked flawlessly for me.
I’m not sure which program is more secure but Laverna is much better for formatted text since it supports basic word processor features  (bold, italic, images, etc).   ProtectedText is simply text.
Even if you don’t use Laverna or ProtectedText, you should use something like it.  Hackers and snoops are a real problem and “cloud” office suites give you no protection from them.  Both programs automatically encrypt your notes while remaining easy to use.
Bottom line:  While a little difficult to set-up, Laverna is worth the effort if you want a secure note-taking program.  (and you should want it!)


Tool: Laverna
Description: free encrypted note taking, with no registration
License: OpenSource (GNU GPL v.3)
Alternatives:  ProtectedText
Rating: useful

Protected Text – free, secure note taking in the cloud.

ProtectedText_logoProtectedText does one thing:  encrypted text.  

If you need to share or collaborate securely with parents or co-workers, it doesn’t come easier than ProtectedText.

Recent news stories reveal that our “cloud” data is not secure and, best I can tell, this would include Google Docs.  ProtextedText does not require any sign-in our accounts — and no advertising — solving all kinds of other issues.

Creating a new document could not be more simple: just create a URL and start typing.  As in:

https://www.protectedtext.com/[AnyFileNameGoesHere]

Be aware that ProtectedText has two levels of security, both important.  The first is the name of your URL.  The longer and more obscure your file name, the more secure.

https://www.protectedtext.com/aFazDjbupeqP2eVgjD8A
will be much more secure than:
https://www.protectedtext.com/Fred

The second level of security, of course, is the length of your password.

If you are worried about serious hackers, make both very long.  But, if you are just worried about snoopy students or other amateurs, something memorable is fine.

ProtectedText has the age-old problem of single-key encryption: you must somehow give your collaborator the file name and password.   Obviously, if you do this on the Internet, you compromise your security.    The best strategy is to hand it personally to them on a piece of paper.

A deal breaker for some will be that ProtectedText is just text.  Nothing more — not even font formatting or links.
ProtectedText-explain

Geeky tech stuff:   Best I can tell, ProtectedText is genuinely secure.  (It’s not NSA-proof, however.  For that, you’ll want something like PGP.)   It is secure because the encryption is done with JavaScript  locally on your own computer before it is sent to ProtectedText‘s servers.  When it is sent, it’s done with HTTPS, giving you another layer of security. So, if you create a long file name and password, it should be quite secure.  I use LastPass for storing my passwords but I would consider PotectedText if I had a short list of passwords since it seems to use the same technology. You might have noticed my “should be” language.  These days, I am never feel totally safe on-line but it is worth trying to stay ahead of the snoops and thieves.

In summary:  If you need to send a secure message or collaborative document. it doesn’t get easier than ProtectedText.


Tool: ProtectedText
Description: free, online, encrypted note taking, with no registration
License: OpenEthos
AlternativesLaverna,
Rating: useful

Shutterborg – free, easy web-based word processor

logoShutterborg works so well I just needed to review it  even though I’m not sure how to use it.
It is simple a “cloud” word processor that requires no sign-in or account.   It creates a PDF, Word Doc or HTML file all which are useful for printing.
Unfortunately, Shutterborg does not save your document in the cloud so it is mostly just useful for single-session writing.
jjffjj_shutterborg_screenshotShutterborg‘s  most intriguing feature is that it allows you load a file from a web page.  For example, you can load a Wikipedia article and edit it as a word processor document.   Again — it works very well but I’m not sure of how this might be used.
Shutterborg does have some advertising on the initial screen but, otherwise, it is distraction-free writing.


Tool:  Shutterborg
Description:  Free “cloud” word processor
License: Open Ethos
Alternatives: many
Rating: potentially useful

Writer — no-hassle word processor in the cloud

JJFFJJ_writer_logoWith Writer it’s 1992 all over again!

This is one of those little oddball tools that is both retro and ahead of its time.

If you are of a certain age, you remember DOS computers with monochrome monitors, first green and then amber, which, I believe, were one of the purest writing tools ever, even better than typewriters.

 Big Huge Labs provides a free and very simple on-line text editor called Writer which reminds me of the DOS days.

Retro but also ahead of its time: Writer launched in the “cloud” back in about 2007 when Google Apps was still clunky and slow. But, Writer is no GoogleDrive — which can be a good thing.  (Read my sort rant on privacy and the cloud.)

JJFFJJWriterIn Writer it is possible to do basic formatting (italics, bold, etc.) but Writer really shines for just writing. Despite its sparse formatting features, it offers several useful ways to export your document including text, PDF, print and Word. (Sadly, no OpenDocument format) You can also publish your writing directly to a blog.

There is no need to register but, if you do, your document are saved. Writer offers a paid option that is integrated with Google Docs and Dropbox. Unfortunately, Writer does not offer collaborative tools. BigHugeLabs offers special services to schools.

Writer could be a great alternative to Goodle Docs if the main point is to write. I have found, with Google Docs or MS Word, students tend to fuss for too long before they get down to writing. I haven’t tried it in a classroom but I think Writer would require less of a “fuss phase.”

I still think MoPad is probably better for classroom writing because of its collaborative features. But, if the point is to just write, Writer does that very well.


Tool: Writer (atBigHugeLabs)
Description: simple “cloud” word processor
License: OpenEthos
Alternatives: MoPad, GoogleDocs, many others.
Rating: very useful

Desktop Publishing with LibreOffice Draw – a school “newspaper” template

 I frequently use LibreOffice Draw for desktop publishing as I previously blogged about here.  I think this makes me unusual  since Scribus is the more-powerful, better-known open-source DTP tool.   But,  for one- or two-page items printed on a school/home printer, I find Scribus a little bit of over-kill.   (I’m not bashing Scribus!  I plan on leaning it better and reviewing it later.)

Anyway, I decided to contribute to the commons with a “newspaper” template for newsletters.  As an exercise in open-source discipline, I strictly used only open or free fonts and graphics.

iconAlthough I used LibreOffice Draw to create the template, it should work flawlessly in OpenOffice Draw (but I have not tested it.)

Although I’m pretty good with LO Draw, it still was a learning experience.  One of the biggest lessons I learned was that if one uses the “Styles” feature, every element (headline, subhead, body text) must to be in its own frame.  (frames can be joined)  I tend to do this, anyway, so it’s no big deal but this could be a deal-breaker for some.

You can preview the Newspaper Template with this PDF file.

I am keeping the file at Archive dot org since they get a lot more traffic than my site.

Here is the Newsletter Template page.   Here is a direct link to the zip file (will all fonts).

 

 

 

 

3 Note Taking Programs Reviewed

I prefer to write in a note taking program rather than a word processor because I want a single place to store my random ideas/clippings, organize them into a final draft. and then archive them for future reference.

I used Info Select for many years but they kept charging me a hundred dollars for every upgrade which I had been doing version 1 in DOS. This made it possibly the most expensive program on my computer — maybe by quite a margin. When I wrote them an email mentioning this, they wrote me back telling me that their program was a value because of savings in efficiency. But I wasn’t using it commercially! That response was one reason I became so committed to open source.

But, I have to admit, I have not found an open source note taking program as good as the best parts of Info Select. (Info Select has suffered a bit from bloat.)

Lately I have been playing with three such programs, each which have limitations.

Cherry Tree CherryTreeLogo

Cherry Tree is being basically a hierarchal word processor, making it the simplest of the three. In note taking, simplicity is a huge virtue. While graphics can be used in Cherry Tree it not a convenient process. Cherry Tree exports nicely to PDF, HTML and text which for backing-up and publishing.

Cherry TreeUnfortunately, Cherry Tree doesn’t have a clip-library or template function, a feature I find very helpful for repetitive tasks like taking phone messages. The deal breaker is not spell-check. All writing tools need a spell check! In my world, this is an essential feature.

But, if you are a very good speller and you mostly are writing documents, Cherry Tree could be a good tool for you.

BasKet Note Pads BasKet Note Pads Logo

BasKet Note Pads is the most ambitious of the three note taking programs and is the best for collecting random pieces of information. It doesn’t have templates but it does allow fast importing of an HTML file which could be used as such. It only exports notes to HTML which will surely be a limit for some even though HTML can be imported into many different programs.

BasKet Note Pads It has a “nearly finished” feel to it but still has a couple of missing features (and it crashed once in my testing the program). To make-up for this, it does allow you to launch an external program — like LibreOffice if you need, let’s say, a spell checker, because this program does not have one either! (This just amazes me.)

If you are collecting random notes, lists, graphics, etc, then Basket Note Pads could be useful for you but it is probably not the most useful for writers.

Everpad Everpad Logo

Everpad is a Linux open-source implementation of Evernote. Like Cherry Tree, it’s mostly a hierarchical note taking program. (with fewer hierarchies.)

Everpad screen shotIts stand-out feature is that it synchronizes with the on-line version of Evernote. This is a huge advantage if you use your notes from several computers and devices.

If you use Linux with the “Unity” interface, Everpad is nicely integrated in the “Dash” menu so that your notes are discoverable, even when Everpad isn’t running. Of the three programs, it has the most limited export options.

Some users have complained on-line that Everpad does not always synchronize properly with Evernote. I did not have this problem in my testing but this would be a critical issue, if true.

And, it doesn’t have spell-check!

Of the three, I am most likely to use Everpad because of the “cloud” advantages of Evernote. But, I’ll keep looking for the perfect note taker.


Tools: Cherry Tree, BasKet Note Pads, Everpad
Description: easy to use digital story telling tool
License: open-source
Alternatives: many others
Rating: useful