Friday, April 8, 2011

KompoZer as an outliner...

I told you in my last article that I'd found a new outliner-style-thingy that gives me rich text options and even allows screenplay formatting, though it brings with it a few limitations.  Here's the story:

A friend of mine and I have been looking into the possibility of putting something together for the Amazon Kindle.  You don't format Kindle files and send them off to Amazon though, you format html files and send those off to Amazon, which they turn into Kindle files.  I started looking for a good WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get) html editor.  I found a few, KompoZer being the one I landed on.  I noticed after poking around a bit that it's site manager could be pointed to a local directory, so that you're able to browse those files and folders as if they were nodes on an outliner.

KompoZer is an Open Source, Cross-Platform html editor/website manager (it can transfer files to and from your remote server).  It has multiple views for documents (I believe it can only open html files):  "Design" (WYSIWYG), and "Source," (plain text, html code and all).  I tend to spend the most time working in it's design view.

It handles html and css very well, so I can display screenplays exported from Celtx.  Celtx screenplays are html files with css definitions stored within.  I edited one of these files to use as a template for create new screenplays within KompoZer.  It works well, though there are some problems.

Problems with KompoZer specifically:

  • No right click context menu in the site manager.  You can rename and delete files and folders, but you have to click icons on the toolbar, you can't just right click to change things.
  • No drag and drop.  It would be cool if you could drag html files to a different folder from the site manager, but it's not possible.
  • KompoZer crashes a lot.  This is a big deal.  A really big deal, but at the same time, not a big deal at all.  Since you're using html files, and it only saves if you tell it to, nothing gets corrupted.  You might lose changes if you save, but being a long-time computer user I hit CTRL-S quite frequently.  Compulsively, even.
  • KompoZer doesn't save your open tabs when it closes.  Also not a big deal, but it'd be nice if it did, so it doesn't take as long to get your workspace back to where you had it yesterday.
  • It's can bit of a pain to apply style to a new screenplay.  I mean, click on text, click on drop down menu, select style.  Easy, right?  Now repeat 500 times for each scene heading, character name and block of dialog.  Would be nice to have a format painter or shortcut keys to apply different styles.  Can just copy styles in the source view, bit it's still a bit time consuming.  Workaround - write the script in Celtx, then copy and paste it into KompoZer.  All the formatting should remain intact.

The above was about the application KompoZer specifically.  Now I'll discuss the benefits and limitations of this system in general, regardless of what app you may find to do this with.


  1. Html editors can handle a lot of what most browsers can.  This means css, which is all I need to edit and format screenplays.  You can do quite a lot of custom document formatting with html and css.  The setup I use has the css bits contained in the document itself, so no external stylesheet needed, though I'm sure you could use one if you thought it'd be easier.
  2. Easier analysis of conflicted revisions.  I use Dropbox to sync a lot of my documents.  A lot of times I'll leave Notecase Pro open on one PC and then edit the same document on another PC.  This means there's now two documents edited at the same time (because I turn autosave on) on two different PCs.  This will cause Dropbox to rename one of them as a conflicted document and let me sort out which to keep and which to discard.  If I changed a handful of nodes in both versions, I can't easily tell what is changed between the two.  Well Dropbox marks single files as conflicted, which in my new folder-based method means it will mark single documents as conflicted.  That makes it a lot easier for me to investigate what's been changed and what hasn't.  See Limitation #2 to see the negative side of this.
  3. I can sync my outliner folder with Dropbox, which means I can view these notes in my phone's browser or edit them with any plain text editor.  There's still some code in each document to sift through, but if you have a text editor that has line wrapping and respects proper line spacing you'll have no problems.  I use Leafpad on my N900, works great.

And the limitations:

  1. Files are listed alphabetically by name, so if I want one file to always be on top of the list I have to preface it with numbers.  I'm currently ordering them like this:  '01-ThisFile.html', '02-AnotherFile.html', and so on.  For similar projects I actually have a method where the actual text of the project is always '#00', general notes and ideas in progress are in '#01', timelines are always '#02', etc.
  2. All the notes and documents are contained in one folder, as opposed to one file.  Copying files on a computer as a general rule takes much longer for smaller files than it does for larger files, as in one 100MB file copies a lot faster than a folder holding thousands of small files totaling 100MB.  That means a large Notecase Pro file would probably copy faster than all it's nodes saved as separate files would.  See Benefit #2 to see the positive side of this.
  3. Folders are not nodes.  Most outliners have a hierarchy, and each node can have subnodes.  Generally, the parent nodes can themselves hold text. So if I had a node titled "Recipes" with a bunch of subnodes all containing recipes, the parent node, 'Recipes' could itself have a note in it, fir instance listing more recipes that I need to find.  In Komposer there are no nodes and subnodes, only folders and files.  Only files can contain text, not folders.  It's an easier problem to visualize if you've used a two-pane outliner before.  It's not even a big deal, just something to consider as you organize things.
The only cross-platform and open source program I can find that works for me is KompoZer, with one exception I'll go into in a minute.  KompoZer, as I said earlier, crashes occasionally.  It has a few bugs.  The last version was released over a year ago. Some people might not want to base their workflow around this particular program.  It's cool, there is another option. Well, there will be.

One of the developers (maybe more?) of KompoZer has been working on a new piece of software called BlueGriffon.  It uses the most recent rendering engine from Firefox (version 4 as of this writing).  It does a lot of other really cool stuff.  I mean a lot of cool stuff.  It has a built-in svg editor, for example.  It will save your open tabs when you close it so you can easily resume your work later.  It has a plugin (you have to buy it) that keeps a running word count for you.  It does spell checking as you type, red underlining and all.

It also has some plugins you can buy, with more to come I'm sure.  If you buy their plugin pack before version 1.0, you get access to all of their future plugins for free for life.  They're on version 9.1, so it won't be long before version 1.0 comes out.

There's just one problem right now, and it's that they don't currently have a "Site Manager".  What KompoZer calls a site manager BlueGriffon calls a "Project Manager", and the project manager won't be released until BlueGriffon reaches version 1.0.  I think you'll also have to pay for it--as you will most other plugins.  All I can say is, if you have high hopes for this application, drop the $43 on the addon pack before version 1.0 comes out.

That's pretty much it.  KompoZer as an outliner for now, hopefully BlueGriffon 1.0 as an outliner if the Project Manager meets my reasonable expectations.

Til then,


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