Writing my Dissertation: Linux or Windows?

I have noted previously that I am a Ph.D. student writing his dissertation. Recently I've been having some saving problems in MS Word and I've lost a couple paragraphs of writing twice. I have reconfigured my school desktop to dual-boot xp and ubuntu (jaunty) and I started to determine if I could accomplish writing my dissertation within linux. I already have about 40 pages of what should be around ~150 page document including over a dozen figures, schemes and tables. One of the likely culprits is Endnote, a powerful bibliography database manager which seamlessly manages your MS Office Word citations in any format you need. However, it may be inturrupting Word in some ways and causing it to flake out on me on save. And yet it is too useful to discard so I wondered if their was an alternative for Sun's OO-Writer.

There is and it is called JabRef. So far, JabRef seems just as useful as Endnote only perhaps not quite as powerful. It doesn't imbed a widget toolbar in Writer and if you delete a citation from your text it doesn't seem to omit it from the references section. (Although I still need to spend more time learning its capabilities.) [Update: JabRef works great. I imported my endnote database with ease, although I had to do some manual edits. Also, there is a "sync" button in the plugin that deals with any edits you make. The only downside (documented on Alver's site) is that you must only use the style-file downloaded directly from the web. You can edit it at will but I wouldn't even try to rename it or copy it in anyway or you are "stuck like chuck"] It can import from Endnote, SciFinder and numerous other databases with various formats. To get it to integrate with Writer a plugin (written by Morten Alver) must be added. Alver's site (see below or click here) details installation and includes a needed 'style-file' which tell JabRef how to format your citations.

When I installed JabRef from Synaptic, I found it was not the most up-to-date version. When I installed the .tar.bz2 from the JabRef site, it did not make available an icon in the menu which is a nice feature for commonly used programs (I don't mind command line, but I just like the clean feel of a menu icon to start-up). Although I had no idea how to fix this I found enough information in this ubuntu forum thread to get the job done. Very Nice!

In addition to JabRef, I will need a 2D chemical structure editor to generate structures for my figures and schemes. I love CambridgeSoft's ChemDraw and have used it freely (at school) for years. At home I had a copy of Isis Draw which was a free windows tool. In linux I am not fully satisfied here. I haven't found a single editor of nearly the capabilities as these programs. However, I did find a well written review on several available programs which can be found here. Possibly by using a few of these you can have the power of chemdraw. So far BKChem is the favorite by a small margin. Fortunately I mostly work with flat polycyclic hydrocarbons so I think BKChem will work for me.

In summary: Although it requires a little more work to install and configure and lacks marginally in functionality, at least for now, there appears to be a viable alternative for serious chemical thesis writing. I will probably make the effort to convert.






For an extensive list in chemical software written for linux see this link:


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