Taking a Peek at Some Open Source Software for Writers

25 July, 2019

Over the years, I’ve heard (and I keep hearing) that you can’t do this or you can’t do that or you can’t do the other thing using Linux or using open source software. And guess what? Most of those things I’ll never do or rarely, if ever, need to do. As I’ve written and said in the past, I really don’t care what other people think or what they use their computers and devices for. None of that has any bearing on what I need and what to do.

And what’s that? Write, of course. Articles. A weekly newsletter. Blog posts. ebooks. And more. Linux, and the open source software that I use with it, are more than up to the job.

Let me introduce you to the software that helps me write and publish.


I live most of my life in plain text. And a key tool in living in plain text is a text editor. While Emacs is my current editor of choice, I sometimes need a tool that’s a bit more streamlined. That tool is gedit

Why? It’s fairly small, it’s fast, it’s easy to use, and I can extend it using plugins. Most of my work in gedit is using Markdown to format articles.

On top of that, gedit packs a good spelling checker and syntax highlighting which is useful when working with any markup language.


As you may or may not know, I’ve been writing and publishing ebooks for a while. Those ebooks are offered in two formats: PDF (more on this in a moment) and EPUB. That’s where Sigil comes in. It’s billed as a WYSIWYG ebook editor. A friend of mine calls it an EPUB word processor, which (while simplistic) is a valid description.

Sigil’s native format is EPUB, so I don’t need to worry about converting my books. Everything is in a single EPUB file waiting for you to add to or edit it. You don’t get much formatting with Sigil, but then again how much do you need? On top of that, it does have a built-in HTML editor that lets me fiddle with the code when I need to.


A couple of paragraphs ago, I mentioned that, in addition to EPUB, I sell my ebooks as PDFs. I create those PDFs using LyX. Being a document processor, LyX does all the heavy lifting for me — I can concentrate on the words and let the tool worry about formatting and layout. Best of all, I can set LyX up to to create a book that’s suited to reading on screen.

What I really like about LyX is that it uses the LaTeX typesetting engine. That means, depending on the template (called a layout), I can publish some nicely-formatted books. If I ever want to get ambitious, I can add more complex formatting or use a completely out-of-character layout for whatever I’m writing.

What about Word Processors?

You might find this surprising, but I don’t use a word processor as much as I used to. Most of my writing is done in the tools that I’ve just talked about. Of course, when I do use one — whether it’s for writing or applying a template to something I’ve written in another format like Markdown — then I use LibreOffice Writer. It does everything I need a word processor to do.

Scott Nesbitt