Ruby on Rails
Ta-da List


September 03, 13:53

Why do people still use word processors?

Richard Dale is one of the developers on the KDE project and he's also wondering why the wiki revolution hasn't yet swept the world:

[Instiki] is simple to use software, that is also powerful, and it would scale easily to serve multiple users where my beloved Acta wouldnít. Why do people still use word processors, rather than wikis, when they rarely print anything out on paper? I donít know..

I couldn't agree more. I wrote my bachelor's degree together with three companions using Instiki and LaTeX. We used to have a good laugh at the other study groups still stuck struggling with Word. Why would they slave so endlessly for that beast? Inertia, ignorance, Stockholm Syndrome?

Ready to ditch that word processor of yours? Give Instiki a try.

Challenge by Lon on September 03, 14:20

I just recently started using Instiki at work on our intranet and locally on my powerbook--awesome software. I'd used MoinMoin and some other packages in the past but yours seems to have the best mix between simplicity and power. Keep up the great work! I'm also evaluating Rails for use in web application I'm cooking up.

Challenge by Andrew on September 03, 15:15

Well, one reason Wikis haven't swept the world outside of the programmer-world is that they remain real pains to install. Yes, even Instiki, which requires at least that one get and compile the latest version of Ruby.

I agree that Instiki is better than other Wikis once installed. Wikis for the most part are ugly, poorly-designed applications, with far too many pointless features and far too little attention given to ease of use. For instance, why does OpenWiki provide a global link to a "Random Page" but no way to categorize pages easily? At this point, most Wikis feel like too large of a jump away from normal peoples' writing environments and file storage habits.

Challenge by David Heinemeier Hansson on September 03, 15:28

There's no reason to compile your own version of Ruby for neither Windows, OS X, or Linux. On Windows, there's the great One-click Ruby installer. On OS X, you can get the native version of Instiki that just requires a dobbelt-click to run. On Linux, you can usually just "emerge ruby", "apt-get ruby", or use any of the other packaging schemes available.

So that shouldn't be what's holding people back. At least not once they know that this is the way (which might mean that we should have links to these things on

Challenge by Andrew on September 03, 16:29

Ok, I might be wrong about the ease of installation, although I think the double-click installer of Instiki for OS X still requires a version of Ruby (1.8.1) that's not installed on OS X 10.3.5 by default. (Perhaps when someone adds to the OS X section of Rubyforge? :-)

But you have to admit I'm right about the other part: Instiki really is the first Wiki I've seen where it looked like someone actually gave a damn about how to make it work well.

Challenge by on September 03, 17:10

sidenote: I just noticed how cool is the wisiwyg editing system integrated in the interface..
It would be great to have that in instiki (and also as a rails component) !

Challenge by David Heinemeier Hansson on September 03, 17:40

Andrew: There's no "installer" for the OS X version of Instiki. It ships as a real OS X application that you double-click to start. It includes its own version of Ruby 1.8.1, so you can run it on just about any version of OS X (I've only tested it on Panther, though).

Challenge by on September 03, 17:56

Proof of concept - "WYSIWYG Textile is doable using javascript.":

Rails is getting all sorts of version bumps. How about some love for Instiki? :-)

Challenge by gabriele on September 03, 21:02

wow,this thing is freaking cool :)

Challenge by Richard Dale on September 03, 21:45

The install instructions don't actually talk about how to automate Instiki startup. On Linux, I added this line to my /etc/rc.d/rc.local file:

/usr/bin/ruby /home/duke/src/instiki-0.9.1/instiki.rb --storage=/home/duke/.kde/share/apps/instiki

Then Instiki is started at boot time, and it writes to same place where the data for other kde apps goes - in the '.kde/share/apps' directory under my home directory.

Challenge by James Britt on September 03, 23:50

" Why do people still use word processors, rather than wikis, when they rarely print anything out on paper? I donít know.."

What an odd question. Maybe they want file names ThatDoNotHaveToLookLikeThis. Or they like spell checking. Or want a rich format. Or they don't want to have to run a server to edit a file, then have to run 'kill' or 'task maanger' to shut it down.

I happen to like using a wiki as a PIM, because of the self-organzing aspect, and the use of plain text files as a data stor makes it simple and fast and excessible to other tools. I like being able to grep for content, of being able to just drop in files without having to go through the wiki server itself.

Wikis make a better Notepad, but Notepad was never a word processor. So, folks using Word when they might be better off using Notepad should try a wiki. But otherwise it's apples and oranges.

Challenge by David Heinemeier Hansson on September 04, 0:06

Instiki doesn't require camel case wiki words, you can use brackets. Which is exactly what we did in our bachelor's assignment to get natural chapter and section headers.

Spell checking is available in all text fields on OS X. I hear that on Linux, you can get a plugin for Mozilla to use VIM, emacs, or whatever external editor.

The richness is provided by Textile, Markdown, or any other flavor low-tech markup languages.

So no, I really don't think it's an apples and oranges thing. I wouldn't ever, never have dreamed of writing a 100+ paged bachelor's assignment in Notepad. In Instiki with LaTeX exporting, it was a utter joy.

Challenge by Morten on September 04, 11:15

"People" are generally not IT professionals. It's hard enough for some to even understand the concept of a table. It's very hard for quite a few to understand the simple concepts of HTML. LaTeX is harder still to learn and use.

Textile is a good start and leverages some users, but probably not my mother, anyone else in her generation, or a significant part of the entire private sector.

Challenge by David Heinemeier Hansson on September 04, 11:50

The trick with using Instiki is that you use Textile to write the entire paper. Then the system converts that to LaTeX. The user doesn't have to ever touch LaTeX.

But you're right. Just installing LaTeX is still a pain, so it's not likely to find wide-spread adoption until Instiki at least includes LaTeX in some form.

I was puzzled that students attending HA.dat (computer science and business administration) would suffer to Word when there were plenty of alternatives that didn't require a bachelor's degree in CS.

Your mother is excused, they were not.

Challenge by Richard Dale on September 04, 13:00

"Wikis make a better Notepad, but Notepad was never a word processor."

Neither word or notepad are server based; they don't support multiple users running on an assortment of client machines. If it's harder to start and stop a server process because you need 'kill' commands or by using the task manager, then it's up to the OS to make server processes easier to use.

I think the real issue I have with word processors is that they don't support collaboration over a network. When you have multiple people wanting to work on a Word document, you have to agree with each other who can edit it at any one time. Then when everyone has finished a version of the word document, the usual practice is to send a complete copy as a mail attachement to everyone interested (authors and non-authors). Then, as soon as someone makes a minor change to the master copy, all those attachments are out of date.

Notepad is a simpler form of a word processor like Word, but it isn't in the same software category as Instiki. Maybe Notepad is to Word, as Instiki is to Lotus Notes.

Challenge by Morten on September 04, 17:03

It would be really cool with an HTML+CSS -> PDF rendering engine (like the Safari built-in feature).

I understand what you mean when we're talking about students, I missed that point the first time. I think your question is important and interesting in a larger scope too; The lack of viable competition to Word (from around 95 to 2002) has sadly made it the de-facto standard, even now when good alternatives exist. What does it take for CFO's in major coorporations to understand that they could save 90% of their Word licenses as free (an in many aspects better) tools like eg. AbiWord!? Going from Wintendo to Linux is a big and hard effort, but installing AbiWord instead of MS Office is a no-brainer in my book.

I'm pondering to use Instiki for writing a book along with 2 (non-IT) friends. Right now it seems like the only real way to go. Did you encounter any drawbacks to this approact when writing your project?

Challenge by David Heinemeier Hansson on September 04, 17:11

Instiki is an excellent platform for writing a book. It's so great to be able to have revisions on different sections and to be able to share the project with many readers and contributors.

Jim Coplien used a wiki to write his Organizational Patterns book with great success.

Drawbacks: You must accept the default style from your latex template. Inline styling is pretty darn messy. Accepting an overarching template can be hard if you're used to micro-managing every single style in Word.

Challenge by Martin DeMello on September 06, 11:55

Lout export would be nice too (after having used it for one small project, I'm a total convert. Way better user experience than LaTeX). Should also be significantly easier to write, since it was designed with machine generatability in mind.

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