Sunday, July 26, 2015

An Outliner for Linux!

Screenshot of Hiero with two outlines opened
Assuming that I'm not a complete moron when it comes to coding (and the jury is still out on that one -- at least in my own mind), the Penguin tribe may finally have a usable outliner to add to it's ever increasing collection of Linux applications. Although Hiero (pronounced "Hire-oh") can be used to manage all kinds of hierarchical text, (task or "to do" lists being a good example) it's targeted mostly at those needing to draft essays, articles, dissertations, etc. (see screenshots).

For those not familiar with outliners, according to Wikipedia:

An outliner is a computer program that allows text to be organized into discrete sections that are related in a tree structure or hierarchy. Text may be collapsed into a node, or expanded and edited.

Hiero is of a class of outliners commonly referred to as single-pane (also one-pane) outliners, named for the fact that they use but a single pane to display both the outline's overall structure as well as each node's details.

A single-pane outliner is the perfect tool for use in the early stages of authoring content when the overriding concern ought not to be how the content will be displayed but rather, what content will be displayed (and in what order). It's for this very reason that students are often encouraged to create an outline for papers that they have to write in college -- not because college professors are just mean and they like sending their students off on a wild goose chase but because an outline is fundamentally the right tool for collecting ideas and putting them into the proper order.

But why develop a single-pane outliner for Linux? Isn't there something that's already available? Simply put, there aren't many choices of single-pane outliners developed for Linux. Whereas users of both Windows and OS X have had a choice of such applications on their respective platforms for years, to-date its been slim pickings for Linux users. That said, an investigation of Linux outliners quickly conveys that there was once much interest in the development of single-pane outliners for Linux. Indeed, remnants of past open source projects (such as the now defunct Gnome Outliner) can still be found on the web.

Due to this lack of choices, Linux users have had to rely mostly on text editors and word processors for drafting articles, etc. Of course, using a word processor to draft an article doesn't make a lot of sense given that word processors don't generally have the functionality built-in to fully support outlining. The fact is, word processors are much better suited to rendering a final draft than they are to helping you to create a first one. They generally support everything you need to do with regards to editing a document except help you to organize that all important first draft!

It may occur to the reader that mind mapping software accomplishes the same basic tasks as outliners do and in fact, an outliner can be thought of as a sort of specialized mind mapping tool. Mind maps are hierarchical just like outlines and therefore it's mostly just a matter of taste whether you prefer a diagrammatic representation of your text or an outline representation of it. For me, outlines just seem more natural and work better. Your mileage may vary.

So, having concluded that my word processor was conspiring against me and potentially limiting my ability to write, I set out in search of what I considered to be the holy grail of writing that I hoped would remedy my situation. Unfortunately, being a Linux user, it wasn't as easy as my just doing a search for and then installing my chosen outliner. After almost a week of scouring the web, I came up empty handed. Everything I found suffered from one problem or another. Either, it had an extremely limited set of functionality or it wasn't suitable for writing or it wasn't a single-pane outliner to begin with. Long story short, I came to the realization that if I wanted a single-pane, writer's outliner that runs as a native application on Linux, I'd have to develop it myself.

Today, I'm pleased to announce that Hiero is now ready for others to use. The application is available as a PPA on launchpad. The software can currently be installed on the following Ubuntu releases (including derivatives such as Linux Mint):

   15.04 Vivid
   14.04 Trusty
   12.04 Precise

To install, copy each of the following commands (one at a time) into a terminal and run it:

   sudo add-apt-repository ppa:bwb-s/hiero
   sudo apt-get update
   sudo apt-get install hiero

Warning: Hiero is still undergoing initial development and as such it may contain significant bugs that could impact its usability. Please use appropriate caution and be sure to save your work regularly using CTRL-S.

Note: Those who simply want to evaluate the application might want to install it on top of a Linux live CD rather than doing a full install to their system's hard drive. That way, the application's features can be fully evaluated without any changes made to your system. At the present, an excellent choice of live CDs to consider is either Linux Mint's or Ubuntu's MATE editions.

Note: Some features, such as the appearance of color bars and tree lines, is dependent on the particular desktop theme chosen and therefore, you may want to experiment some with different themes.

Please leave feedback below.

Friday, July 24, 2015

In The Beginning

Just like the main character of the semi-popular, one day potentially cult classic movie, Idiocracy -- which pokes great fun of the world we live in and where it's headed -- I likewise might be labelled "Not Blogger," if only because I've not blogged anything ever before. In fact, I'd like to think that I'm not blogging even now as I type these very words.

Not that I don't find the idea of blogging intriguing -- I do. I just don't see myself offering up my every single musing, to whomever might receive it, on a regular basis. On the other hand, like most people, I feel that I do have something to contribute to the world wide web -- if only on an infrequent cycle. Here, I'll attempt to limit myself to Linux-related topics with a focus on being productive; however, once again, don't expect a post a day or even a post per month spewing forth from me -- I'm not that guy (or at least I currently don't want to be).

So, if you're a member of the Penguin tribe who just happens to believe that virtually all time is of the essence and that function serves a higher purpose over form and even perhaps that Idiocracy might not have been all fiction, then you may just find something of real value here at Productive Penguin. Welcome!