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Thursday, May 14, 2009

Is it something comes natural?

Ever since I got my first Mac (in 2007) I've favoured free and open-source software. This is primarily for reasons of convenience rather than ideology. The free software community tends to be pretty onto it with making their Linux/BSD software compatible with OS X, and such software is quick to download and install. No need to go to a store or mess around with license keys. It's not even about the money - I've donated money to a few projects that seem particularly worthwhile. It's just the ability to get new software in under 30 minutes and without leaving my sofa.

As a result of this laziness, all my class work is now done with some combination of OpenOffice, TeXShop and GIMP (and when I get around to learning some syntax, I'll add Sage to that list). It works pretty well. Graphics handling of any kind is superior on my Mac. There's not much Excel can do that OpenOffice Calc can't. There's nothing Word can do that TeXShop can't (although actually making this happen, of course, is a different story). And as I'm now discovering, there's nothing PowerPoint can do that LaTeX can't be made to imitate.

The trouble with this approach is that, while obtaining and installing free software is trivial, learning to use it is not. Occasionally it's necessary to make a huge leap in knowledge in quite a short time, and during this time, generally nothing else gets done. Fine when you're not relying on the new knowledge to get something done to a deadline, but...

I'm discovering the slide-creating capabilities of LaTeX 24 hours before a presentation, and boy, is it slow going. Yeah, I could use OpenOffice Impress, but somehow OpenOffice output never quite looks polished enough. Or I could abandon my vision of fancy slides with graphs, but then I'd have to do a bunch of extra math to compensate. Or I could login to a School PC and use PowerPoint with Microsoft Graph... ugh.

I feel dirty just thinking about it.

My last presentation was unsullied by proprietary software, and I'd like to keep this one the same way. But my last presentation was text-only (in LaTeX, equations count as text-only). Tomorrow's presentation calls for something more. And I don't know if generating crude plots in OpenOffice Calc and importing them to my LaTeX is quite going to do the trick.

OTOH, by virtue of my ignorance, I will be completely and totally incapable of bombarding my audience with bright, flashing, singing, dancing slides which utilise the full potential (shudder) of PowerPoint. Maybe fancy tools should always be this hard to use.

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