Geeky academic tech advice needed

Here’s hoping one or two of you blog readers, Twitter followers or Facebook friends might help out with this.

I’m coming up to that new computer purchase time again, and I’m facing that Mac or Windows question once more. Purchase price aside (for the sake of argument), what is the best choice for someone considering whether to start a fairly big academic writing project?

I’ve taken a look at these options in (mainly) trial versions.

Nota Bene. It looks as though it has the power, but it also has serious design ugliness (very much function over form) and complexity, and isn’t yet fully Unicode based (although I’m told that is coming, almost certainly later this year). In theory it runs well on a Mac, but is most at home on its native Windows.  It includes the two main components of word processor and bibliographic manager, and further note-searching database tools.

On a Mac, Mellel (or possibly the seriously improved Word) and Bookends. Neither piece of software seems to me particularly straightforward. I’m not sure how good the Bookends note-taking and storing capabilities might be, or whether I’ve quite got the hang of it yet. However, it seems that each entry for a chapter in a book (for example) requires you to re-enter the book details – which is annoyingly time-consuming. Mellel (like Nota Bene) seems to want you to learn to work its way, rather than adapting to yours.

On Windows, Word with Citavi. Word on Windows is so much more capable and user friendly than its (rapidly improving) Mac counterpart. Its document map feature offers a very good way to move around and edit your text by editing its outline. It has good language support, and it integrates well with most Windows bibliographical tools. Of those, Citavi seems on first blush to be the nearest thing to an intuitive bibliography manager of any that I’ve looked at.

So that’s where I am. Actually using (and learning to use) a particular system reveals both problems and benefits you don’t find by trying it out with a few test cases while you’re trying to learn it. So if anyone who has knowledge is prepared to offer a bit of advice, I’d be grateful.

I should say that, all other things being equal, I’d prefer to stay with Apple (for unrelated reasons), but my bank account would prefer me to switch to Windows. As OSes, they’re very close, but the integration of OS and hardware design gives Mac an edge not available to most Windows options. So please don’t try to troll a flame war!

2 Replies to “Geeky academic tech advice needed”

  1. LaTex is designed for academic writing (de facto standard for scientific writing, some say) and says it does the layout for you. It is way too sophisticated for me but is it one you’ve looked at?

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