Word processing is a huge deal, with Microsoft struggling to maintain the power and necessity of offline applications in the face of Google Doc’s cloud-based approach. Alex Jarvis describes a solution using a java app called JDarkRoom and the ever popular DropBox in an article on ProfHacker, a column about technology and “hacks” in the Chronicle for Higher Education. Words and their editing hold a special place in my focus both as a researcher and a writer, and so I responded with the following suggestion to look at Org Mode, my current and as far as I can tell, best available text editor:
I have already found and adopted a system of Techno Bliss, and it also resides on a cross-platform, DropBox-backed editor. However, my role as graduate-researcher-hacker has me working across multiple programming languages, linking data and dealing with situations where plain text breaks down. That is, unless you throw an operating system at it.
GNU Emacs (http://www.gnu.org/software/em… is an open source and free “Extensible, Customizable Text Editor.” It will edit text, yes, but it will also gladly format and compile virtually any other programming language besides. Now, a programmer’s swiss army knife is useful for only a select few — why should academics pay attention?
What if you could use that same program to fold arbitrary large lists, attach todo states and a getting things done framework in addition to exporting to HTML, LaTeX and vanilla Ascii? Take a look at an excellent package for Emacs called Org Mode. (http://orgmode.org/). You can find an interesting video on it here (http://orgmode.org/GoogleTech…. Org Mode has changed the way I see text and research, with it’s integration with BibTex and thus online citation management (Mendeley, CiteULike, Zotero), it has become the program which is always running.
There is a learning curve with some of the keyboard shortcuts, but once you’ve mastered simple navigation, you’ll realize just how limiting a single clipboard entry can be, and why all editors can’t divide into multiple windows, including temporary files (“buffers”).
The development community surrounding the software is inspiring as an open source initiative, with a high volume of mailing list traffic and quick attention to bugs and features. Whether you use it for simple outlining and task management or as a literate programming solution, Org Mode should be seriously considered when looking for a powerful alternative to Google Docs or Microsoft Word.
Do you have a better solution? What are the top features you look for when forging words into ideas and research?