Solutions (and they’re free)

Generating, and using, documents doesn’t sound like very exciting stuff – but finding alternative solutions to these everyday problems certainly is. Here’s what I discovered. Feel free to share. BRENDAN LEWIS

Brendan Lewis

By Brendan Lewis

After email and web browsing, the number one tool I use on the computer would have to be the standard Office suite. You know; Word, Excel, PowerPoint.

But if you have read any of the previous weeks blogs, you would also know that I have just moved over to a Linux-based Netbook. And in the world of Linux, Word, Excel and PowerPoint don’t exist. So I had a problem to solve.

Being a good technologist, I had to come up with a conceptual framework first that dealt with the different ways I would need to generate documents – and answering questions like who am I creating it with, sharing it with, in what content, and in what format. Once I had figured that out, I went looking for answers.

Bugger me though if I didn’t come up with more than one solution.

No. of documents

Creator

Reader

Final format

Solution chosen

Single

Me

Private Individual

PDF or Microsoft Office

Open Office

Single

Me & Private Individual

Me & Private Individual

Web

Google Docs

Many

Me & Private Team

Me & Private Team

Web

Wiki

Many

Me

Public

Web

Blog

Probably best then if I explain each solution I decided to use.

Open Office

Open Office is a full blown open source office suite that runs on Linux and Windows. It is now fully compatible with Microsoft Office, that has all the same functionality plus a bit extra. Therefore it’s the obvious choice for when I want to whip up a document, spreadsheet, drawing or presentation. A couple of other cool things about Open Office.

  1. It’s free – a saving of $200 to $600 per user.
  2. You can get it in Linux, Windows and Mac flavours, so I can use the same product at home and at the office.
  3. The user interface now looks a hell of a lot like Microsoft Office (making a really low learning curve).
  4. Open Office natively stores its document in ODF format, the open standard, rather than Microsoft’s proprietary standards. So I am unlikely to get stuck with a document I can’t read in a couple of years.
  5. Open Office can save documents in Microsoft’s proprietary formats if you need to (you know .doc, .xls, .ppt). This interoperability is seamless in all but the most complex documents.
  6. Open Office natively prints to PDF format, so you don’t have to purchase PDF generating software. Another cost saving.
  7. Did I say it’s free?

Google Docs
Sometimes though I realised I wanted to communicate something with one of my Flinders Pacific clients, but didn’t want to get caught up having to constantly resend a document that was changing.

For instance when I arrange a dinner, I normally get harassed for the minutiae of what’s going on, “has so-and so got invited yet?” , “what did they say?”, “how many are coming now?” etc. Things get worse too, if I create a spreadsheet but leave it on the wrong computer. The solution therefore was Google Docs.

For small lists, I create a spreadsheet, then share it with the client. I can then update it from wherever I am, and the client is satisfied that they can get up-to-date information simply by checking on the internet.

Wiki
Sometimes though it’s not just one document I am collaborating on but a whole suite.

For instance the operations manual for the Churchill Club is a whole series of documents covering accounting, marketing and event management. These documents are always a work in progress, as we add new bits as we run into them. In fact sometimes they’re just a couple of dot points.

I say we. as there is a small geographically dispersed team building and using them, however they are not for public consumption. Since there is a suite of documents, I decided a Wiki is a much better solution as it’s:

  • Native web format (html).
  • Searchable.
  • Pages can be edited by anyone (just click the edit button at the bottom of each page).
  • Can be secured or made private (just turn on security and authorise users).
  • Natural environment for developing documents that are always changing.
  • Lends itself to a team constantly editing, rather than two individuals going back and forth.

I chose dokuwiki as the wiki solution as it’s just too easy to deploy, it doesn’t even require a database backend, and it is designed for small team document collections.

Blog
Finally I decided that the blog format (html through a blogging engine) is best suited for the blogs I write for SmartCompany. I realised its just silly to write a document in say Word format, then have it edited to be suitable to be printed as a web page. Why not make it a web page in the first place?

So I set-up a WordPress blog (see also here). It’s where I keep all my completed articles, and partially written ideas as drafts (note you won’t be able to see anything there that you can’t already see on SmartCompany).

So I have now solved my documentation problem and all the other major problems other than accounting software. Next week I will cover off the new accounting solution implemented and the benefits I have discovered from moving it off the desktop.

 

Brendan Lewis is a serial technology entrepreneur having founded : Ideas Lighting, Carradale Media, Edion, Verve IT, The Churchill Club, Flinders Pacific and L2i Technology Advisory. He has set up businesses for others in Romania, Indonesia and Vietnam. Qualified in IT and Accounting, he has also spent time running an Advertising agency and as a Cavalry Officer with the Australian Army Reserve.

To read more Brendan Lewis blogs, click here.

 

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