Open Source Musings


(This post was first published, in a slightly different form, at and appears here via a CC-BY-SA 4.0 license.)

Before you start reaching for those implements of mayhem, Emacs and vim fans, understand that this article isn't me putting the boot to your favorite editor. I've used both Emacs and vim. And I like them both. A lot.

That said, I realize that Emacs and vim aren't for everyone. It might be that the silliness of the so-called Editor War has turned some people off. Or maybe they just want an editor that's less demanding and which has a more modern sheen.

If you're looking for an alternative to Emacs or vim, keep reading. I have two that might interest you.


While writers have the reputation of being solitary figures, tapping away at keyboards in small rooms, we sometimes have to collaborate with other writers. And sometimes we need to collaborate while an idea or document is hot.

Collaborating in real time can be tricky. You just can't email word processor files around and hope to quickly or efficiently work together.

A number of online tools make real-time collaboration easier and cheaper. I know a number of writers who have embraced those tools for working with other writers and with clients. But not every writer uses those tools, and not every writer wants to.

If you're in a situation like that, then you might want to consider an open source alternative: EtherPad.


(Note: This post was first published at and appears here via a CC-BY-SA 4.0 license.)

If you're like most people, you don't have a bottomless bank account. You probably need to watch your monthly spending carefully.

There are a number of ways to do that, but that quickest and easiest way is to use a spreadsheet. Many folks create a very basic spreadsheet to do the job, one that's consists of two long columns with a total at the bottom. That works, but it's kind of blah.

In this article, I'm going to walk you through creating a more scannable and, I think, more visually-appealing personal expense spreadsheet using LibreOffice Calc.

Say you don't use LibreOffice? That's OK. You can use the information in this article with spreadsheet editors like Gnumeric, Calligra Sheets, or EtherCalc.


The humble (and often, not-so-humble) text editor. It can be a wonderful thing. I know more than a few people who are zealous about their editors, and view them in the same way that they view their toothbrushes. Yes, they’re that hardcore.

Having said that, I know more than a few people who actually shy away from text editors. Why? Because they view editors as strictly a programmer’s tool. Nothing could be further from the truth. Even though I’m not a coder of any stripe, I find a text editor to be a valuable tool. More than that actually. For me, a good text editor is indispensable.

You might be writing an article, either in straight text or with a markup language like Markdown. You might be editing the HTML of your web site. You might be peeking at a shell script. Or you might just be taking a peek at a README file or change log for some software that you’re about to install. Pulling those kinds of files into a word processor is overkill.

Those are situations in which text editors are very handy. But with so many editors out there for the Linux desktop, how do you choose the one that’s for you? And by you, I mean someone who isn’t a software developer or (too much of) a techie. Someone who thinks that C is the third letter in the alphabet, for whom regular expressions are an ordinary way of speaking.

Everyone has their own favourite editor. Here’s some advice I give people who are looking for the right one for them.