LyX: a Wordish LaTex

LaTeX is by far the best professional typesetting program which is being widely used by academicians as well as by FOSS advocates throughout the world. It is free, standard, powerful, flexible, and enjoyable to work with. But STOP! This is a geeky narration of the story. The reality is that the vast majority of the individuals using the typesetting programs prefer the WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get) programs like MS Word over the scripting programs like LaTeX. The reason being:
In LaTeX:
1. The fact that you have to write programs (scripts) to produce documents scares many non-geeky people.
2. You do not immediately see what you have just produced and this gives many peoples the feeling that the document and the way it looks is not really under their control.
However, nobody denies the power and flexibility the LaTeX offers.

So, what can one bring the power and flexibility of LaTeX to average user? Answer: LyX.

LyX is a free and open source package which puts a user-friendly (kinda spelling idiot-friendly ;) Ha! Ha!) skin over LaTeX such that the user can see an interface much like MS Word or OpenOffice which is based on LaTeX. The binaries are available for Linux, Windows, and Mac. The list of its features very impressive and it works just fine. Some of its features are (taken from the program’s website):

  • Mathematical formula editor
  • Structured document creation (sections, labels, bibliography, so on)
  • Extensive Graphics/tables support
  • Support for writing documents in many different languages including right to left languages (like Persian and Arabic)
  • Access to all LaTeX functionality with capability to insert plain LaTeX code anywhere in a document.
  • Import LaTeX. Export LaTeX, Postscript, DVI, ASCII, HTML or send a fax
  • Unicode support
  • Latex source code viewer
  • Extensive documentation

To see some screenshots of the program visit this link. There is also a Wiki for LyX. The binaries can be downloaded from here. The needed LaTeX packages come bundled with major Linux distros. For Windows, you can let the installer download MikTeX or can use that version of the installer which is bundled with MikTeX. Try LyX! you will be hooked.

Open Source acounting package: GnuCash

GnuCash is a free and open source package for small business and personal financial accounting. It is developed by a team of developers and is distributed under GNU GPL license. GnuCash is available for several platforms including GNU/Linux, Windows, Solaris, BSD, and Mac OS X.

GnuCash allows tracking the income, expenses, stocks, and bank accounts. Some important features of Gnucash include:
1. Double entry accounting: each transaction should equally debit one account and credit another meaning that the transaction balance is always preserved.
2. Different account types: for example income and expense accounts.
3. Multiple currencies can be used.
4. Stock/Mutual Funds
5. Small business accounting features such as payment, invoice, billing, and tax.
6. QIF and OFX import: GnuCash supports Intuit Quicken QIF files and Open Financial Exchange format.
7. HBCI support: GnuCash also supports German Home Banking Computer Information protocol
8. Reports and Graphs
9. Transaction finder
10. On-line Stock & Mutual Fund Quotes
11. Scheduled Transactions
12. Mortgage & Loan Repayment Druid
13. etc

For screen-shots of the program see here and here. The binary version is available for Windows. The source codes have to be compiled for other platforms.

Make a virtual computer by VirtualBox

VirtualBox (VB) is an Open Source project for virtual machine simulation of x86 computers. By VB you can make one or several virtual computers and run them just as if they were real computers. The package is totally free and binaries are available for Linux, Windows, and OS X. The Source codes are also available free of charge. A very important point about VB is its awesome documentation although the package is so user friendly that a slightly above-average user hardly ever needs the documentation.

So why VB? For me it was quite clear when I first came across it. I wanted to install Ubuntu on my university laptop which already had Windows XP installed and was almost running out of space. Partitioning the hard disk or dual boot were obviously not an option because not only the space was limited, risking my hard disk contents was the last thing I ever wanted and I could not even run only my Ubuntu and get rid of XP because all my university programs are for Windows. First I tried a couple of USB-portable Linux scenarios but finally decided that those things are not gonna work well for my need. What I really needed was VB which I found one day by accident.

After downloading the VB binary for Windows, it took me a few minutes to install it and make my first virtual system. There is a fantastic wizard for creation of a new virtual machine. There are only a couple of things to decide about, like:
1. What is the name of your new computer?
2. How much RAM do you want to dedicate to this new computer?
3. What about Graphics card RAM?
4. Where do you want to create your new virtual hard disk? (Your virtual hard drive will simply be a file in a folder in one of your drives or an external hard drive or even an external USB flash)

And your computer is ready to boot. You can activate or deactivate other accessories like USB port, serial port, CD/DVD drive, etc. In my case I simply wanted my first virtual computer to have access to Ubuntu 7.04 LiveCD. So what did I do? I simply pointed the VB to the folder where I had the ISO file of Ubuntu CD and that was it.

Now the real fun was about to start. I simply powered on my new computer. The computer was easily booted by Ubuntu LiveCD and was running Live Ubuntu in virtually few minutes after downloading the VB. The remaining was straightforward. I just installed the Ubuntu on my virtual hard drive and started using it just like normal installations I had done before on real computers. Not to mention that the every piece of hardware was already detected and ready to use. Since then I am using my Ubuntu just there in one of my virtual computers. Yes! one of my virtual computers. I normally add a few mores when I want to try a new Linux distro or something. My virtual hard drive is on my external drives and I have my Ubuntu (as well as VB binaries) wherever I go. It is definitely more convenient that having my Linux on my USB flash unless you are really mobile and work with numerous computers.

A few more things:
1. The virtual hard disk can be defined as dynamically expanding and by doing so you save space on your disk by allowing the virtual hard disk to grow only when you need more things on it. You do not have to reserve a mutliGB place on your drive for your virtual disk.
2. It is really fun to run a couple of OSs at the same time on the same machine. But, to do so you need a good computer with a lot of memory.
3. By installing a set of plugins, you can get much more functionality like shared folders between the host and the guest operating systems. What more do you need?

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