Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Quick and Dirty Lotus Symphony 3.0 Review

I've made a hobby out of trying out different free word processors in hopes of finding my final replacement for Microsoft Word. Don't get me wrong Word is a good program, but the cost is ridiculous, and there are so many features cluttering the real useful ones that it's sometimes hard to do simple formatting. If you go over to your local office supply store you can get a cheap word processing program other than Word, but that's what you get, cheap.
I think the best replacement options revolve around the Open Office based Word processors, or LibreOffice from The Document Foundation. I need a word processor that is easy to use and with features that are readily available but not intrusive.
After a bit of reading I downloaded and installed IBM Lotus Symphony that is based on Open Office code, and was pleasantly surprised. Lotus Symphony takes advantage of modern wide screen monitors that we have today and puts a well thought out area next to the document with controls. I wanted to add spacing between my paragraphs, and I simply looked to the right and increased the spacing. I have yet to find the spacing controls in Word, that feature is buried someplace in the program, but I'm still looking for it.
At first I was a little worried that I might not be able to load a .docx Word document into Symphony, but I had no problems at all loading a .docx file. I can save the file in the older .doc format if I need to send the document to someone who uses Microsoft Word, or I can simply export the document as a PDF if the recipient doesn't need to modify it. Of course your document can be saved in .odt, .txt, or .rtf formats that are readable by anything.
The real value of using Lotus Symphony is the interface, it's comfortable and doesn't get in the way of my creativity. It has a wide variety of controls for formatting a document readily available, and clip art to jazz it up. It really isn't set up for creating a Web Page like Word is. But I don't care about that anyway, if I want to work on an HTML document I will use a program better suited for it than a word processor anyway, like KompoZer for web authorizing.
IBM Lotus Symphony is an office suit with a word processor, spreadsheet, and presentation program and costs nothing; it's free. All of the programs that I have mentioned here are free, except for Microsoft Word which can be purchased for the ridiculous price of $120 on Amazon. I used Symphony to write this article, and I think I'll keep using it.

Update: I wanted to add an update, I have really been enjoying using Lotus Symphony, but one thing was missing that I like, and that is a grammar checker. I like that feature in Microsoft Word but it isn't incorporated into Lotus Symphony as of yet. It is on IBMs list of things they want to add, but it's not available at the time of this post. But I did find a workaround, I did a bit of research and found that Abiword has a grammar checking option, and Abiword is also a free word processor. I downloaded version 2.86 and had to check a box on the install to have the grammar function installed, then I had to go into preferences under the spell checker, and turn it on. But the grammar checker works pretty good.

I'm not so thrilled about Abiword's interface but what I can do it create my document in Lotus Symphony then run the completed document in Abiword to make sure I put all of the commas, and semicolons in the right place. The grammar checker doesn't suggest a corrective action like Microsoft Word does, but I really just need the mistake caught, I can figure it out after that.


Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Re-map Your Keyboard the Free and Easy Way

Have you ever wanted to easily remap one of the keys on your keyboard? I did, I was always hitting the "Windows Key" while playing Subspace Continuum  and Bang! Dropped to the desktop just as I was getting blasted by by some space punk, well no more.

I downloaded a free little program that allows you to change your registry, and turn any of your keys into something else called Sharpkeys. Sharpkeys works with XP, Vista, and WIn7. You simply select the key that you want to change, then select what you want it to do and click "OK".

I changed my left "Window Key" to function like the "ctrl" key next to it. Now when I play my game the left "Windows Key" now acts like a shooting key instead of a "Get your butt blasted while you're trying to get back in the game" key. 

Thursday, August 4, 2011

First Look Google +

I finally got an invite to use Google Plus, the much anticipated Google version of social media. I have been looking forward to trying it out because it solves some of the problems that I have with Facebook. I reluctantly started using social media a few years ago, with so many things in my life that require my time I initially viewed Facebook as just a big time suck. But I started checking it out, my relatives started using Facebook, my wife started using it, and my friends did too. It didn’t take long before I saw the usefulness of Facebook as a virtual meeting place.  I also started detesting it.

My problems with Facebook first started when I clicked on a like button for Veterans for Peace. I’m a veteran of the U.S. Air Force with almost 11 years of active duty and 4 years of active reserves and this organization seemed to share a lot of my values. The next thing I knew I get a reply to my clicking the “like” button from a second cousin that responded with “Really?” My second cousin is a self proclaimed Tea Party activist and her husband who is in the National Guard was getting ready to be deployed in Afghanistan. Needless to say I just ignored the comment because I just didn’t want to go there.
Then there was the person who I didn’t want to be associated with who was checking out all of my pictures because his wife was friends with my uncle. I had to change my picture settings to try and shut that down. Recently I started getting friend requests from relatives that live 3000 miles away that I’ve never met. I have a last name that is so unique that anyone who has it is a relative, and these strangers now want to be my friends. This is all good and fine if I could easily restrict the kind of information that they see and respond to. You can sort of do this with Facebook but it’s a royal pain in the ass. 

So here comes Google Plus with circles, an easy way to control your relationships with people as its major focus. This feature directly addresses the main reason I detest Facebook, everyone isn’t your friend. I want to be able to easily have private conversations with groups of people without having to filter what I’m saying. I want to easily see conversations in the way I want to see them, and show people information in a way I want them to see it.

The first thing I notice when I’m using Google Plus is that the screen is clean and uncluttered. The buttons are intuitive, so the learning curve was shorter for me, than I experienced with Facebook. When you initially add people to Google Plus you add them to circles, so when you post to a particular circle you know who your post is being sent to. To post a message you simply click on the circle on the left of the screen and then post. The message, picture, video, etc. is only shown to members of that circle.

I’m going to keep playing with Google Plus, and add circles for all sorts of groups. I would even add those far off relatives to Google Plus because I can easily control what they see. I think for me Google Plus could easily take the place of Facebook, and Linkedin, but I will keep you posted as I fully explore this new social media site and new developments unfold.