Friday, September 25, 2015

My new Word Processor - the Winners! Text Editors for Writers.

The previous post details why I won't be buying Office 2016. Here's what I did next.
My old computer had a valid copy of Office Professional 2010, so I used that to compare with the programs I tested. 
My search for an email client that I could use instead of Outlook began and ended with Thunderbird. It’s open source, fast, clean, and thank all the powers-that-be, simple to install on different computers. One file needs to be copied and pasted, and Thunderbird configured to use that profile instead of the default one, and there it was. With the Lightning extension installed, and Google Provider extension, it merges seamlessly with Google calendar online, so I can access my calendar and schedule from any device I happen to be using.
Job done.
The search for a replacement for Microsoft Word took a bit longer.
I downloaded a huge collection of Word substitutes, free and low paid (nothing is as expensive as Office, and all the programs I tried had trial versions). 
I want to emphasize that this was my own project. Nobody paid me anything, nobody gave me anything, and I had the same customer experience as you will have if you take the same route as I did. 
I created documents in the programs, opened them in my copy of Word 2010, and noted how well they imported. I looked at the text editor specifically as an author, with the needs of a professional author, not as a general letter writer, invoice printer or anything else. 
I’m Windows all the way, so if you have a Mac, there may be some slight differences. I have a tower PC at home, a Surface Pro I use on the road, and two Android devices, my phone and my Nexus tablet.

My requirements

Here was what I had to have in a new word processing program:
1. To work seamlessly with Microsoft Office. That’s because editors, reviewers and so on tend to use it, or at least use the formats as standard.
2. To look good. I have this program up all day, and if it’s ugly, I’m going to get unhappy. If it’s low-resolution, the blurry lines are going to get on my nerves after a while.
3. It has to work with Track Changes used by Word. This is how edits are done, and it’s not an option, it’s an absolute requirement.
4. An autocorrect facility. I use a lot of textual shortcuts when I write, including changing English spelling to US spelling. If I can’t have short versions of certain words, like my hero’s name, common terms (like “shape-shifting”) and a way to quickly convert my English spelling to US spelling, I’m going to get frustrated.
5. The ability to use it offline. If I’m heavily into writing a book, I might switch off the internet. If I’m on the road, I don’t always have access to it. That’s why I didn’t bother with Google Docs, Office Online or Zoho. They all need internet access to work properly.
6. The ability to use styles. I need to control the way the document looks.

Any processors without the above were immediately junked.

What I’d like to have:
1. A word count, preferably a live one.
2. Templates. I save my character and plotting sheets as templates, but I can get by with using them as documents and amending them as I need to.
3. It also needed a spellchecker at least, and I do like a grammar checker for the first line of defence.
4. Consistent capitalisation. Either off or on, either it works or it doesn’t. I’m capable of using the shift key, but if I have to think about it every time, that will stop my flow.
5. Macros, but I haven’t found a program that can handle the dozens of Word macros I’ve set up over the years. I haven't found a converter, either. If anybody knows of such a thing, can you tell me, please, please?
6. A customisable interface. At the very least I want a toolbar that I can call my own, and put the things I use most often on it.

The Contenders

I downloaded all these programs, gave them a good try, and made my decisions. You might not want the same things I do, but at least my reviews will give you a reasonable opinion.

WPS (used to be Kingsoft Office). I downloaded the free trial of the paid version. This is one of the more expensive programs on the market, but it claims complete compatibility with Word, so it was worth looking at. It has a ribbon (yay!) but you can use the older menu style interface if you want to use that. However, the toolbars aren’t customizable. And it doesn’t have an autocorrect function of any kind, or any way of putting common shortcuts in. So that’s a no from me. It comes with a spreadsheet, presentation and word processing program.
It’s a Chinese program, and seems to be an Office clone. However the free version has severe limitations, for instance if you print anything from it, it will watermark your document, so it’s probably not a program to consider for the free version.
The price is $80 for one computer, or $45 a year for the leased version. I’d already decided I wasn’t interested in renting, so that price is quite steep, especially if you want to use it on more than one computer. However, it’s still cheaper than Microsoft Office. A lot of people love this one, but I can’t live with the limitations it sets up.
I went back to the site, and couldn't find a link to a Windows version. I don't know if it's a licensing issue or something, but they seem to have recently removed the link.
Although the program claims to be compatible with Word, when I opened documents created in WPS in Word 2010, they didn’t look the same. There were spaces between paragraphs that I hadn’t put there that I found hard to get rid of. So I crossed WPS off my list.
You can download WPS Office here:  

Calligra –  This is a free program, and includes a complete office suite, except for the email client. It’s open source, so you can fiddle with it, if you want to delve into coding. It uses the old-style menu interface. It has a nice distraction free mode that gives you the page and nothing else.
As a word processor, it has a few drawbacks. The way it shows on the page is, frankly, odd, with spaces where there should be none. It also has a huge sidebar which I can’t get rid of. It is primarily a Linux application, and what it provides for Windows is severely limited. It’s forked off the KDE office, so that’s something you might want to look at, too.
You can find Calligra here:

SSsuite – this was so ugly I’d hardly opened it before I decided to uninstall it. I downloaded this a couple of times, because I thought I wasn’t seeing it properly. The icons are horrid, and I couldn’t find a way of changing them, or the layout.

Nevron – It has a ribbon interface, but no Quick Access bar, or a way to customize the ribbon. I had difficulty finding any way of customizing anything. 
It doesn't have tools for Reviewing or Track Changes, so it wasn't a starter for me.
On my HD screen it also rendered a bit blurry, and it didn't look quite right. But as a basic word processor, it will prove perfectly acceptable to many, and if you need a free application for a different computer, then it might well serve your purpose.

Word Perfect – Word Perfect is back! Corel has revived it. But when I downloaded and installed it on Windows 10, it wouldn’t work. I couldn’t test it. A shame, because back in the day it was a good program, some claim it was the best. The interface looked good. However, it’s expensive, as expensive as Microsoft Office (£252!), so unless they change the pricing and the compatibility with Windows 10, they’re on to a loser, I’m afraid. You can get the Home version for £110, which is more reasonable. If it works. I'd only advise WP diehards to go for this one, simply because there are other, perfectly acceptable free and low cost processors available. If you manage to get the trial working on Windows 10, let me know!

Scrivener. I very nearly invested in this one, and after NaNo, I might take the plunge. Scrivener is a complete suite for writers, and very reasonably priced. The word processor is fairly simple, but it has everything I need when I’m writing. However, the interface is cluttered and, to my eyes, ugly. There are numerous extra windows. I write my novels in one big manuscript, not in chapters, so some of the tools provided are of little use. The character sheets, corkboard and so on are all handy, but I have all those in different applications. 
I prefer my interface much less cluttered, with only essential tools showing, and with Scrivener, either you go with everything, or you use the distraction-free mode, which doesn’t have things like a word counter. 
The learning curve for the program is steeper than for the other programs. However, some writers love this program, and wouldn’t be without it. You can download a fully functioning version of Scrivener, which works for 30 non-consecutive days, and there are frequently discount vouchers, so it’s definitely worth a look. 
There are similar programs aimed at being an all-in-one for writers, including Write Way Pro, Plume and Ywriter, so if you want a set of tools, you can try those, too.
Scrivener also made a mess of my folders, imposing its own system on me, and saving documents in its own proprietory format, which I didn’t like at all. You can “export” documents as Word documents, though. With Scrivener, it’s a bit “my way or the highway,” so I took the highway.
 You can get Scrivener here: 

The Winners!

I have two winners, and from now on I’ll have them both installed on my main computers. 

LibreOffice Writer - LibreOffice has a lot going for it. It has everything I want, except a decent macro capability and one thing that drives me nuts, described below. It uses the old menu style, instead of a ribbon. I prefer a ribbon, but I can live with menus, especially since it has a customisable menu and toolbar option. And it's free.
I like my programs to capitalise the first word of every sentence, including the ones that start inside quotation marks. And I use curly quotes. LibreOffice complicates this unbelievably and makes the capitalisation option unusable. If you start a sentence with quotation marks, it doesn’t capitalize the first word. If the sentence starts with a contraction like “don’t” or “aren’t,” then that isn’t capitalized either. The inconsistency means you have to think “shift or no shift?” every time you start a sentence, so it’s best just to switch capitalisation off from the start.
The new version of LibreOffice Writer, number 5, is highly compatible with Word. The developers are working hard at cleaning the code, speeding it up and improving the look. 
You can set LibreOffice to save automatically in .docx and the files I use, including the Styles, import into Word just fine.The newest version of LibreOffice has a greatly improved review and comments section for track changes, which works excellently with the Word version. Everything imports and exports as it should.
I think the problem for me is that I come to Libre Office as a Word Power user, and things are done differently here. I have to unlearn all I know and start again. If the developers of LibreOffice provided an easy way for Word power users to move to LO seamlessly, like introducing a Ribbon option and making the macros usable or providing a converter, then they would have an outright winner on their hands. There would be little point in going anywhere else. 
The add-ons provide useful functionality, too. The language and spelling add-ons are good, and it has an Alternative Find and Replace add-on that is hands down the best I have ever come across anywhere. 
For my purposes, the macros are useless. When I recorded a couple, the behaviour wasn’t consistent. I tried to correct the capitalization issue using macros, for instance, but the resulting macro sometimes worked, and sometimes didn’t. The limitations on the macros also make the facility a bit pointless.
LibreOffice also includes a complete office suite, everything except an email program, including a graphics program, presentation and Excel substitute.

Note: I haven’t reviewed OpenOffice, because LibreOffice is based on the same platform, and it has more people working on it.
You can get LibreOffice here: 

Softmaker’s Textmaker .This is a German program, so it does have special capabilities for the German market, but you don’t have to use them. The 2016 office suite is a paid for version, but it also has a free version.
I downloaded the trial version to evaluate it, and I got hooked. Softmaker offer two versions, Standard, at $70 and Professional, for $90. Each cover three computers owned by the same person. However, if you download the free version, and upgrade from that, the upgrade prices are $40 and $60.
Textmaker looks good, has nice little icons, and is customisable. I would like a live word counter, but all you need to do is put the number counter on the toolbar, together with the update button, and you get the word count easily. It has a very nice choice of views, including the one I use when I write, the Continuous view. It’s better than the Web view in Microsoft Office and LibreOffice, because it is more accurate to the way it looks on the page. The sidebar can be hidden or revealed, and is very useful when setting styles and details. 
And it has tabs! (Squee!) For every document you open, there are tabs (you can turn that feature off if you want to). A tabs view is something I’ve longed for in Microsoft Office, so to find it is a delight. When I work, I have my main document, my characters document and the overall synopsis open, and this way I can switch with little trouble. 
There are some pleasant touches, such as when you open a document with Track Changes and Comments in it, the Review toolbar automatically pops up.
I opened quite a few documents that I created in TextMaker in my copy of Word, and they all rendered flawlessly. It also exports as epub, which is so useful when self-publishing!
It’s not as powerful as LibreOffice, but the text editor is much better. It capitalises, remembers your selection of languages, and the toolbars are customisable. It also has a form of autocorrect which works a treat. It has a spellcheck, but no grammar check. Since I rarely use the grammar checkers, that was no problem for me.  
The paid version has macro capability, but no macro recorder, or a converter for VBA, the language Microsoft uses, so I couldn’t try it out. I would like to use the macros!
I love this program, and the more I use it, the better it gets. It’s small, and you can even have a mobile version, installed on a USB stick, so you can use it wherever you go. That is pretty awesome. It looks good, it’s fast and it’s a no-fuss, no-muss program. And it’s a lot cheaper than Office, and doesn’t include all the extras I don’t want.
The free version is the 2012 version, FreeOffice, which isn’t crippled, so this might suit many people. It will open .docx files, but it won’t save them, you have to save them as .doc, rtf, or one of the open office formats. I found the interface a bit blurry, but nothing I couldn’t live with.
You can download the paid Softmaker Office here: 
The free version is available here: 
If you want to buy Softmaker, I highly recommend downloading and installing FreeOffice first, and upgrading from that as there's a considerable discount on the price if you do it that way. Softmaker is also free for educational purposes.

So there you have it. I hope this little review is useful to somebody! 

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Bye bye Office!

I have never looked much further than Microsoft Word for my word processing needs. All the criticisms of Word over the years didn't bother me, because it was what I needed, and it did everything I wanted. From Word 97 onwards, I faithfully bought the newest upgrade. 
Sure, it was bloated, and I had to work to get it looking the way I wanted, but then I was set.
The price was high, but not too high. After all, I'm an author, so I needed the best tool for the job.
However in recent years, I've come to believe that Word isn't what I need anymore. When I got a new computer, I didn't have a copy of Office I could put on it, so I started thinking-do I need Office anymore?
I'm an author. I need to write a clear document, start to finish. I write all my books in one long document. It keeps the formatting consistent and I can go back and forth, checking on things. I start at the beginning and I finish at the end. Some writers write in chapters. Others write significant scenes and then link them together. Word can do all these things.
My favourite version of Word is 2010. I like the Ribbon, and unlike Word 2007, the Ribbon can be customised. What's more, I can put my own toolbar on, holding all the things I use most often. Including my custom macros that help me when I edit.
Office 2016 is all about collaboration, people working on the same document at the same time, in different places, coming together in the Cloud.
I don’t collaborate. The internet isn’t always available to me. So all that careful development is of no use at all to me. Why should I pay for it? The nearest I get to collaboration is working with editors, and publishing doesn’t work like that. We exchange documents, we don’t work on them at the same time. When I need to work, I disconnect the internet, to avoid distractions. 
I also use Outlook for my emails, and I like the way everything is integrated, so I can make notes, schedule events and link them together. Outlook. It’s useful, and handy to have it incorporated into everything else, but it’s murder to try to move settings from one place to another. Yes, you can use the .pst file, but it doesn’t save your settings, accounts, signatures and so on. So you have to do all those separately. 
I have the Ribbon and the Quick Access Bar set up the way I want, but if I set Word up on another computer, I have to import all those separately. That is a pain. Setting up my macros has become trickier with each iteration of Office, too.
True, Word has always been lacking in a few areas. It's a mega-program, and it has always done things I will never need. I just shove them out of the way. It can take its time opening, and it eats a lot of resources. I just get powerful computers. After all, I also use Photoshop.
I bought a tablet last year that had a copy of Office 2013 included. I used it, but I wasn't impressed enough to upgrade. It wasn't very attractive, for one thing, and it had things I didn't want, that wasted my time.
So I looked forward to the release of Office 2016. Maybe that would be the one. When Microsoft announced it, I looked at the innovations for Office 2016. I didn't see a need for any one of them. Not a single one. All that collaboration stuff went right over my head. Meh. I don't need it. The things I wanted, like tabs, just weren't there. Again.
Office works closely with OneDrive. I used that for a while, but it never worked properly. I tried using it as a back up, but that didn't work, either. It stopped working, or didn't copy what I told it to. Basically, I don't feel that I can rely on it. And telling my editor to pick up a copy from OneDrive? Forget it.
What I want isn't there anymore. I want a program I can write a book on. I'd like a good word processing and calendar that I can share across my devices. That's it. Everything else is frills.
When Microsoft announced Office 2016, I knew I had come to the parting of the ways. It was no longer meeting my needs.
But it was reliable, and I knew my way around it. I was willing to buy in one more time. Until I saw the price. You can lease the software, or you can buy it outright.
I don’t want to rent my software. I have no desire to go on to the subscription model. I want to pay for and own my own software, and do what I want with it. However, to buy Microsoft Word and Outlook, the two programs I use most often, I would have had to pay £80 a year for the rentable version, and £180-ish for the purchasing outright version – for one computer. That is shocking, especially considering the price for the Windows 10 operating system is around £80.
 I started looking around at word processing alternatives, and I've found some applications that suit me far better. I'll be talking about them in another post.
How could Microsoft have kept my custom? They could have given me a simpler program, or the ability to buy the features that I want. They could have given me a chance to buy the programs I wanted, instead of sticking me with programs I never open. Access? I think I opened it once. They could have slimmed it down, given me some of the features I wanted, like tabs, and the ability to export into epub and other formats. Made it a buffet instead of a big sit-down meal with a fixed menu.
So bye-bye Word, bye-bye Outlook. It's been good to know ya. 
I will miss a few things. The ability to move a date to the calendar with a drag and drop, and the extensive note taking. Macros (I haven’t yet found a way of importing all my Word macros into another program). But are they important enough to pay a premium price for a collection of features I’ll never use?

I think you know the answer to that.

Friday, September 11, 2015

Memories of 9/11

Where were you?
The last generation asked each other "Where were you when Kennedy was shot?"
For mine, it is, "Where were you on 9/11?"
I was here in the UK, sitting at the one computer in the house, talking to a friend in Florida via MSN messenger.
I had the radio on, and my program was interrupted by the news, so I switched on the TV. There it was, live from New York. I said to her, "Turn your TV on."
She said, "They won't have the same program on here as the one you have there."
"Yes they will," I said.
We watched the same pictures together, relayed from one of the big American news networks, NBC I think. At first it looked like an accident. People had been talking about the possibility for years, but they were thinking small private place like a Cessna. Nothing like this.
When the second plane hit, it was obvious it was anything but an accident. We watched the day together, Kathy and I, because we were alone, and scared. It was terrifying to watch the events unfold. When the first tower collapsed, I screamed, and I heard other people in our quiet street yelling as well.
Then a writer friend broke into our conversation. He gave us a phone number and asked us to call his great-aunt, who he was living with at the time. He was working in the Pentagon, and another plane had hit it.
The pictures started coming through on the TV. He wasn't hurt, he told us, but the plane had taken out the phone network. The computer network was cabled way underground, so it was intact. His great-aunt didn't have a computer.
So we called. Bizarre, that people so far away could call her and tell her he was fine.
Like the rest of the world, we were numb with shock. I'm just glad I wasn't alone that day.
So where were you that day? How did you hear the news?

Tuesday, September 01, 2015

News for September, 2015 - exciting news and four new releases!


Well, here we are, three quarters of the way through the year!
Big news - I have all my rights back from Ellora's Cave! I won't go into the details here, but it became clear that EC and I were no longer a good fit, and finally, I have the books back. That's nineteen of them. I plan to reissue them under the LM Connolly name, and one of the series is ready to go now.
I've had Pure Wildfire re-edited, and Ginny Glass of Wordsugar Designs did some amazing new covers for me. If you have these books already, then you probably don't want to buy them all over again, but this series means a lot to me. It was the start of a whole new career for me, my foray into paranormals, which started with the Department 57 series. These books are about - well, see below. I've put a short introduction, the new covers and a brief introduction.
I went to the Swanwick Writer's School in August. What a great time I had there! I met a bunch of people, including the writer of the Charles Paris series, Simon Brett, and the writer of the TV Detective series, Simon Hall. I went on some courses, and had a lot of fun, talking about writing for a week. A real treat.

New Releases and Excerpt

So, releases. I have to concentrate on Pure Wildfire this month, although there are more exciting releases ahead. I just keep writing!
Pure Wildfire is a four book series about a rock band with a difference. They are all shape-shifting firebirds, except for the guitarist, Aidan. He is the phoenix, the one and only.
I wrote "Sunfire" as a one-off, but the book proved so popular, that I wrote more. Aidan, the epitome of the rock guitarist, meets Corinne, a classical guitarist. She is under the control of her father, the manager of the band. I did have certain media types in mind when I wrote this!
The series is about each member of the band finds love, sometimes in very unexpected places. The series takes place during a long world tour, and each book is named after a Pure Wildfire album. But it's not all music-centric!
The books are coming out every week in September, one every week, and after that, a box set. The books have lovely new cover art, and they've been lightly edited, so although there is still lashing of action between the sheets, the language is a tad less graphic and the emphasis is back on the story.

You can see them here -
They're up for preorder at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Apple iBooks, and all the other major outlets.

I've put the first part of Sunfire here for you, as a taster. You can read the whole of the first chapter on my website.

Aidan went over the upcoming meeting in his mind. He’d only promised to play on their manager’s pet project, a charity album, because of the news he had for John Westfall. Once Westfall knew Pure Wildfire’s second guitarist had walked out, there’d be fireworks for sure.

But then, who better to face fireworks than the phoenix? Aidan grinned and headed out the grove in the direction of the manor house.

Before John Westfall converted it into a business center, the house was a modest, but handsome, eighteenth-century gentleman’s residence. Now offices occupied half the house, together with the heavily soundproofed studios, the acoustics in them honed to perfection. People came from all over the world to use them. Nobody liked Westfall, but he was a good manager and the studios were a dream.

Buttery cream stucco covered the house, giving an impression of continuity through the ages, which Aidan knew was entirely false.

As he got closer, the coarse grass changed to fine lawn, barbered as short as velvet pile. Aidan tilted his head back and took a lungful of the clean, fresh air. Nowhere in the world had the same crisp newness as England in the spring, the fresh, clean air he loved spiced with a bite of the chill of winter just passed. Just back from a visit to the States, Aidan savored the pleasure of being on home ground again. He loved America, but whoever said there was no place like home was right. Come to think of it, an American said that. Aidan grinned. To each his own. No doubt Chris and Jake Keys, the bass section of the band, felt the same about their native Texas.

Very few places heralded a visitor’s arrival with a burst of Bach, especially played on the guitar. Drawn by the music, as always, Aidan changed direction and strolled toward the west wing, business forgotten for now.

The French windows lay open to the air, invalidating all the careful soundproofing in the studio behind it. Aidan reflected wryly that the staff always closed the windows when Pure Wildfire used the studios.

This was magical, a moment out of time. He stood outside, watching and listening.

A girl bent over a fine Spanish guitar, picking out a melody, spinning the counterpoint on the strings with agile fingers. Her long, straight dark hair fell over the polished wood and even her clothes seemed magical, the fine white embroidered lawn top and gathered skirt marking her as special, untouchable.

Unless Aidan was greatly mistaken, this was Corinne Westfall, the eldest of the three girls known in some circles as the Westfall Gold Mine. Since the age of sixteen, when the music press acclaimed her the latest wonder to hit the classical world running, Corinne Westfall dominated the classical music charts. Corinne’s and Aidan’s worlds crossed only through her father and the few times he’d seen her onstage, but now he wished he’d met her before. He’d never felt drawn to a human like this before, the music, her slender form, calling out to him to touch, to explore.

Aidan watched her fingering with a connoisseur’s eye. Her hands were large enough to form unusual bridges on the fret. He hadn’t considered her level of skill before, distracted by Corinne’s ingénue appearance. Onstage she wore skimpy clothes, which gave him uncomfortable feelings of underage sex the one time he’d seen her, curious to know what drew people to her performances. He’d turned away from the pictures on her many album sleeves. Looking at her now, mentally calculating her current age, he was pretty sure this was the effect Westfall wanted and he mentally labeled any man a slimeball who turned his daughter into an underage sex symbol just to sell a few albums.

But this girl was now a twenty-eight-year-old woman—no ingénue. But the memory of his distaste stayed in the back of Aidan’s mind, however much he tried to dispel it.

Today, Corinne Westfall was a purely lovely woman, lost in a world of her making. Hers and Bach’s.

There you go! It is so good to see the books back on the virtual shelves again!