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Feature: Desktop Software

Wyneken: A powerful, flexible notetaking program

By Bruce Byfield on July 16, 2007 (4:00:00 PM)

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Wyneken belongs in the growing list of note-taking applications for GNOME, along with the Sticky Notes panel apps, Evolution, and Tomboy. Specifically designed for students' needs, it is equally well-suited to the random jottings that anyone might make during the course of their work, as well as letters, reports, presentations, and even man pages. Wyneken is built on LaTeX, so it allows for complex formatting when necessary, with the tradeoff of not having a WYSIWYG display.

Version 0.4, the latest production version of Wyneken, is available in a Fedora RPM package, but users of most other distributions will have to build it from source. Pay close attention to the building instructions, which include a long list of dependencies: pysqlite 2.0.3 or higher, sqlite 3.x, pygtk-2.6 or higher, python-2.4, and tetex. Depending on what formats you want for output, you may also want to include latex-beamer 3.x for presentations, latex2rtf for converting to RTF, and hevea for converting to HTML and ASCII text. In addition, you also need a suitable viewer for each type of output, such as Evince for PDFs and a word processor for rich text format.

Wyneken in action

The first time you open Wyneken from the menu, a GNOME wizard opens to help you set up a location for notebook files and specify the external programs for viewing different output formats. Most of these choices default to standard GNOME choices, such as Gedit for plain text and Epiphany for HTML, but you can change them at will, either in the wizard, or later from Edit -> Preferences.

To start using Wyneken, choose the type of document you want to work on. Each document type has either a wizard or a template structure to help you get started. The program assumes that the most commonly used format will be a Notebook, a collection of random material arranged by day, such as a student or an IT worker might use. Wyneken provides tools for organizing Notebooks and automatically adding an entry each day when you open one. Other specific document types include articles, reports, letters, presentations, and man pages.

Although Wyneken uses LaTeX, basic formatting in the editing window uses a BBCode-like notation that is halfway to HTML. For example, while a bold weight is indicated in LaTeX by \text bf <boldtext>, in Wyneken it is indicated by an opening tag of [b] and a closing tag of [\b]. According to the manual, one of the major reasons for this practice is to reduce the number of escaped characters (ones that require a backslash in front of them in order to display properly). Despite the differences, anyone comfortable in LaTeX should start functioning in Wyneken in a matter of minutes.

Like Bluefish, Wyneken automates simple formatting -- bold, italics, underlining, and ordered and unordered lists -- by providing toolbar or menu items for inserting tags. However, unlike Bluefish, Wyneken adds them one at a time, instead of inserting the start and end tag together. Some more complex formatting, such as the LaTeX preamble to each file, are inserted for you, while other types, such as tables or indexes, must be added manually, with help from Appendices B and C in the user guide.

One advanced feature that you may want to learn to add immediately is flagging. Flags serve as a sort of bookmark. For example, if you created a flag [flag:Homework:read page 23], you could press F7 to open the Meta-data window to get a list of all homework assignments in your notes.

When you are finished writing, you can save in Wyneken's native format, or output to a variety of formats, including PDF, DVI, RTF, HTML, or ASCII.

Accessing Wyneken

To some, a non-WYSIWYG text processor seems a dinosaur in these days of full-featured -- some would say bloated -- word processors. A program like Wyneken seems especially paradoxical for presentations. After all, why produce something that is mainly visual in an editor in which you can't see the results?

However, advocates of non-WYSIWYG programs point to the advantage of having a smaller, quicker program, and encouraging users to focus on content rather than layout. After working with Wyneken for a few days, you may come around to their point of view. Basic formatting is already automated for you, and, at the cost of memorizing a few other tags, Wyneken can easily become an efficient tool. If the developers add other automation before the 1.0 release, that efficiency will only increase.

The first steps in Wyneken's future can be seen in version 0.5-aluminium, the first in the latest developer's version that is being developed concurrently with the production version. This newest developer's version includes not only a revised interface and the use of Python's standard build tool, but also versioning and the start of a new bibliography tool.

Take the time to learn Wyneken, and you'll soon lose any prejudice you might have against semi-GUI tools. In another few releases, Wyneken seems destined to become not only one of the most advanced note programs around, but also one of the most efficient LaTeX editors as well.

Bruce Byfield is a computer journalist who writes regularly for Linux.com.

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Wyneken: A powerful, flexible notetaking program

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