Writing a Book With Free Software

This post was originally posted at jonobacon.org. You can read it here

Some of you have emailed to ask what I am using to write the Art Of Community, and some of my Free Software friends out there have been asking if Free Software tools were used when writing the content. Oh yes. :)

I am writing the book on an Ubuntu laptop and using OpenOffice.org version 3.0. Inside OpenOffice.org I am using a special O’Reilly toolbar in a template which helps me format the content in a way that will make typesetting easier later in the process. When I have completed writing content it gets saved to my disk and I then commit my revisions to a Subversion repository at O’Reilly. This allows my editors and I to all have access to the same content.

In terms of editing, it is also performed in OpenOffice.org, making use of its change tracking and notes features. This functionality is more than suitable for working on a book. I am also pleased to see this is being further refined in OpenOffice.org 3.1 with the ability to reply to notes. Interestingly, one of my editors uses Microsoft Word to edit. This means that my original .odt file is converted to a .doc file, edits are made in Word (using change tracking and notes) and then saved back in .odt format. It all works flawlessly, with the exception of having to re-import the O’Reilly toolbar. Pretty nifty, eh?

I am also making extensive use of Tomboy to store notes throughout the book development. I use it to have my book outline (which I regularly add new ideas to as I write), as well as other general notes, TODO items and more. Finally, I use the GIMP for imagery, diagrams and screenshots.

13 Responses to “Writing a Book With Free Software”

  1. Blaise Alleyne January 28, 2009 at 2:54 am #

    Are you using anything to keep track of references (e.g. OpenOffice.org pluging, Zotero…)?

  2. jorge January 28, 2009 at 2:57 am #

    No LaTex? ;)

  3. Malcolm Bastien January 28, 2009 at 3:16 am #

    Have you considered that GO-OO varient of OpenOffice.org at all?

    Good thing you are doing it using version control.

    I would think that your tomboy set up must be pretty freaking huge for the recording that you need to do!

  4. Jonathan January 28, 2009 at 3:35 am #


    Nice to see you using OpenOffice for this. The last time we did a revision of the Official Ubuntu book I tried to use OpenOffice but the commenting and tracking that Word has is so much better then OpenOffice 2.0. Looking forward to trying this in OPenOffice 3.0


  5. Jono Bacon January 28, 2009 at 3:45 am #

    Blaise: not right now.

    jorge: hah, not quite. I think I will just stick with OOo.

    Malcolm: to be honest, so long as it has the change tracking and notes functionality, I don’t really care which version I use. :)

    Jonathan: hey! Yeah, when I wrote for the Ubuntu book I needed to use Word too. Times are a-changing. :)

  6. amaneiro January 28, 2009 at 8:41 am #

    Good of hearing that O’Reilly is using subversion to share the previous documents. My experience of using this kind of tools to share contents between non-programmers is a bit dissapointed.

    Although control-version-systems could be a real useful tool in some projects I was involved, finally, I had to used other tools like wiki or google docs to write contents in a way that other people could see them easily.

    Because this, we needed to do a further stage (format it the doc to print) and it was a bit hard & boring task :S

  7. Lee Aylward January 28, 2009 at 4:10 pm #

    Is O’Reilly going to have a designer covert your OOo document to a professionally typeset version for print? I’m not entirely clear how the process works, but I’m curious if they are picky about what formats and formatting they’ll accept.

    Thanks for the interesting peek into the process.

  8. Florian January 28, 2009 at 4:55 pm #

    Very nice to see that you’re using openoffice to write this book.

    Openoffice is in my opinion not anymore just an alternative for MS word. No, Openoffice is now on the same eye level as word. with 3.0 it became a really good office suite.

    In Germany lots of government agencies from various cities changed from word to openoffice. So schools, universities and many other institutions now work with openoffice!


    best regards


  9. Jono Bacon January 28, 2009 at 4:59 pm #

    Lee: yes, OpenOffice.org is merely used for me to write the content in and mark it up: O’Reilly will typeset it.

  10. linuxcrypt January 28, 2009 at 6:48 pm #

    I am loving this project Jono. Great job thus far, looking forward to the final product and spiral media and attention from this. Great Work!

  11. Jono Bacon January 29, 2009 at 2:57 am #

    linuxcrypt: thanks so much! :)

  12. JoshPanter January 29, 2009 at 5:25 am #

    I’m going to school using all open source software. I plan on achieving a masters and hopefully a doctorate using only open source software for my papers and projects. So far so good! This achievement will, if all goes well, be on my resume some day.

    Thank you for doing this: announcing that it is not only possible to write a book using all open source software is one thing, but doing it, being a proven example, is an entirely other thing all together.

    So thank you.

  13. Jono Bacon January 29, 2009 at 6:13 am #

    Thanks for your continued support, Josh!

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