Migrating from Mac to Linux

I am curious how Linux users fit Scrivener into their workflows. I’m an academic writer who has been using Devonthink Pro as a database and file organizer and MS Word for writing. Now, for multiple reasons, I wish to abandon Mac and move entirely to Linux. However, in searching for a Linux replacement for Devonthink, I discovered Scrivener. I had never heard of it, but I like what I see. What I don’t know is whether it could double as a database, which is a big part of Devonthink’s usefulness. Suppose one dumped several gigs of data in the Scrivener Research folder? Would that be madness? Do any of you use Scrivener as a database?

Scrivener can, in a limited capacity, function like a database such as DEVONthink. It’s primary goal however is to replace Word (or OpenOffice, more likely, in the Linux realm) in the writing and composition part of the job. You will find that its features and overall philosophy are geared toward composition, rather than organising bulk data. It can do okay with bulk data, it was after all designed to allow research to coincide along with an evolving and growing manuscript, but it’s not a “database” in the strict sense of the term, and you will run into limitations over the gigabyte mark. The format itself is robust enough to handle that (it uses individual files to store data rather than one huge file), the main issues comes with backing it up. Again, it’s default arrangement is focussed on writing, and so it comes out of the box backing up your project every time you close it. A sensible default for someone’s work in progress, but not quite so sensible for 5gb of PDFs (well, that’s kind of moot as the Linux version does not yet have a PDF viewing kit, but the point stands)! If you combine your manuscript with that much research, it would hamper how often you back up your WIP, and that’s no good. So I’d say the limitations in file size are more practical than technical. Searching will be your next roadblock. Don’t expect anything sophisticated like DTP for searching. The search engine in Scrivener is optimised toward the types of searches people do within a manuscript and amongst supporting material, not bulk data trawling. For example, you can search by letter case and include punctuation in your search criteria. You can’t do either of those in DTP, but on the other hand you can only search for one criteria at a time in Scrivener, but can combine a dozen axes in DTP to cut through hundreds of thousands of documents.

Anyway, I’m biased, but I’d say you made a good find coming across Scrivener—just probably not for what you were looking for. You may instead find it to be a good part of the puzzle in replacing a word processor for the writing part. I can’t really think of anything like DTP other than DTP, honestly. It’s a rare breed.

With me it’s the exact opposite: Waiting for my MacBook Air because of Scrivener - Scrivener was orginally developed for Macs and the Mac version is some years ahead.

As I read so many good reviews about using DT and Scrivener for academic writing (adding a bibliography manager like sente, or, in my case, bibdesk) I can’t imagine a reason to drop such a workflow.

See, f. e. Arno Wouters’ post: morepork.home.xs4all.nl/software.html.

I’d be really interested to hear why you want to make that move …

I can appreciate moving from a Mac to Linux. It is not a move that I would make myself, but if operating systems become increasingly dumbed down and converted into tablet interfaces with badly executed “desktop features” buried somewhere within them, then I might be tempted to transition to an actual operating system that doesn’t make any assumptions about my level of knowledge and does not apologise for being a computer instead of a smart phone. Macs so far seem to be sitting on the fence with all that. Lion really started making things a bit stupid, but it didn’t go crazy with it. A few nice OS features were stripped out to be more like a cell phone (but, without the touch interface, which is what makes the whole thing weird). Mountain Lion is making some moves that might damage the third-party culture in the long term (might not though). Then Microsoft seemingly took that as a cue to strip naked and jump into the mud even though Apple was just looking at the mud pit. So now Windows 8 is wallowing around in this horrible tile interface designed specifically for mobiles and joystick operated game appliances. Hopefully Apple keeps their cool and remembers that a computer is supposed to be a computer, but if they start mucking about in the mud I’ll probably start using Linux as my primary OS again.

That’s worst case though, and at least 10 or 15 years away; even if Apple announces the death of OS X tomorrow (which they won’t). I’ll buy my last Mac post haste, make it a Mac Pro so I can swap out parts as they fail, never upgrade the OS, and just use it until it falls apart. Then I’ll think about Linux.

I know what you mean. I really hope the major Linux desktop managers don’t drink the smartphone Kool-aid. Then again even if KDE bites the dust (GNOME hasn’t been usable for me for years), there’s still xfce, Enlightenment (which I used from 1999 until a couple years ago), and a host of other managers. Seeing Windows 7, I almost considered putting a real windows partition back on (I’ve got 25 gigs or so for XP so I can run the NWN2 toolset), but no way would I go near Windows 8. I despise that interface on my Xbox. No way would I want it on my desktop.

My father-in-law and other in-laws are the biggest Mac fans on the planet, and they’re loudly complaining about Lion. I’m thinking Apple will back down.

See that’s the thing with Linux, if you don’t like what KDE and Gnome do, you’ve got many dozens of very good options available (and thousands of dubiously useful ones, but if you know how to code you can help fix that). I always just used Sawmill as my window manager (which ended up being the primary WM for Gnome, but the vanilla version of it is better—lightning fast and extremely customisable), I never even messed with the total desktop kits like KDE and XFCE. I did try XFCE for a while and I liked that. It was NeXT-y in a way, and didn’t try to take over the whole world while making itself genuinely useful. Linux is idiot-designer proof. Worst case you can download a flexible distro like Slackware, Debian or Gentoo and do whatever the hell you want with it. You aren’t tied to what the industry thinks is best.

Windows 7 is really the apex for Windows right now. I have a feeling it will die a very long and hard death in the way that Win 2k did, which was the last decent OS (XP has probably turned out to be the champion for lingering OS versions though). I honestly don’t mind Win7, and these days I use it nearly as much as my Mac (though I doubt I would were it not for Scrivener; I just use it for games otherwise).

That’s the funny thing. I don’t know many people that like how the XBox interface works. They live with it, because it is cheaper to game on one than a PC and you don’t have to sit at your desk like a nerd, but it’s a nightmare GUI. I don’t know what possessed MS to think it would be a good idea to port that concept to PCs.

I tend to feel the same on most days. I think a lot of the push toward making Lion more like an iPad came from Jobs, and for a while that shadow will linger, but Mountain Lion hasn’t made any moves toward reducing the desktop experience. The only gripe I have with it is GateKeeper. I worry that will stifle the hobbyist programmer ecology a bit, but getting a Developer ID is free, so I think in the long run it will work out okay. Initially it sounded like everyone had to pay to get an ID (and basically, that would mean nobody could think of programming for a Mac without paying to do so), and that would have been a major blunder—but thankfully that turned out to not be the case.

Unlike now…Unity/GNOME pisses me off.

Yeah, I got mine and have been happy with it, since it sometimes takes the WINE people awhile to get around to fixing things, especially regressions. Don’t get me wrong, I love WINE, but I also like not having to upgrade my computer every time the next big game comes out. It wound up being cheaper to buy the xbox, and be able to use my video cards a bit longer.

But ugh. That interface. It’s awful with a controller.

Given Apple’s ire towards the FOSS community, I’d worry that the dev license would be increasingly restrictive. It’s easy to keep the OSS rabble out, when you dictate the terms of the license and/or institute fees again. I’m not sure i’m comfortable giving any corporation that much control over my computer. (And it’s why the idea of the software center in Ubuntu rankles.) Not sure what I’m going to do once Volkerding stops or kicks the bucket. Go back to LFS?

I’ve a quick question: AmberV said, “I can’t really think of anything like DTP other than DTP, honestly. It’s a rare breed.” (DTP = DevonThink Pro information retrieval software)

I have DTP ver 1.54 on my Mac (G4 w/ OS-X Tiger; ver 1.54 is the latest DTP available for me)

I, too, am anticipating the day my old gear dies, and I’ve considered buying a Mac Intel box and moving to Snow Leopard, but that is also a dead-end move, as all I get is newer “old” stuff. I absolutely have no plans to get on the forced march to a new computer/system every year or two. So I’ve dug in my heels with G4/Tiger, until death do us part. Scrivener & DTP 1.54 serve me beautifully.

But, I’ve got Debian Linux as a backup system on a nice older Win box. And there is the problem. Mac folks have DTP, and Win folks have AskSam. What do the Linux folks have as an equivalent? I’ve searched & searched, and come up empty. Or is it just a matter of using folders of files, and a good GREP utility?

With a combo of Scrivener for Linux, and a good DTP or AskSam equivalent for Linux, I could rest easy knowing a fall-back route exists. Thanks.

The thing that nearly everyone has now that shouldn’t be overlooked, I think, is hardware support for virtualization. Memory is relatively cheap; multicore processors have plenty of horsepower and virtualization support. If there’s a Windows version of something you need, but you are using GNU/Linux, then no problem. Run a Windows Virtual Machine for that one thing. That’s what I do with Scrivener and a few other Windows apps like Sigil and Adobe Digital Editions, not to mention a game here and there (ahem). VMWare Player, which is free and with which you can create virtual machines, even has a “Unity” mode (not to be confused with the desktop manager in Ubuntu) that mixes Windows apps along with your Linux desktop–so you can take advantage of all your virtual desktop real estate. It runs smoothly and will integrate well with your file system.

The other thing to try is Wine. There’s an online database of reports on various Windows apps and how well Wine can support them (look at winehq.org). Maybe your Windows database app is supported.

So you don’t really have to wait until something comes along. Given the open-source culture that dominates the linux world (and I think that’s a good thing) I wouldn’t hold my breath, but you have options.