Working With Files in Linux: Kludges and Solutions

linux81 Working With Files in Linux: Kludges and Solutions
Kurt Hartman asked:

A year ago, I made the best and worst mistake of my life: I messed up my GRUB boot list, and didn’t have the wherewithal to fix it. I was so frustrated, that I chose to abandon the Microsoft axis altogether. What would I do without the tools I used in Windows? I found myself relying on some very helpful roundups online. You know “The 5 best apps for this or that”, and the like.

It turns out, after you read 50 or so Linux roundups that don’t help you at all, you find one shining program( or solution )in the rough that takes care of your issues. Sometimes, you end up using a combination of programs together, with varying degrees of success. Then, you have the “kludge”. This is a programming term that basically means ” an inefficient, clumsy way to get the result you want”. I have plenty of those, and have detailed a few of my favorites below.

I’m not saying that you will see much of a difference in the programs I suggest in this roundup. Depending on how new you are to the Linux scene, you might stumble onto something you aren’t currently using. What I will offer are unique and occasionally “kludgey” solutions to get the job done.

PDF’s: These gave me a real problem when I started using Linux full-time. Don’t get me wrong, Linux has plenty of PDF readers/writers. When it came to editing them all, I hit a bit of a roadblock. I have to amend PDF’s(photo and text-based) on a regular basis. So what are the solutions I found?

- PDFedit: This is okay, provided you are satisfied with having a one-shot edit. By that, I mean that you can access the document and change it, but it does not have an “undo” function. Hopefully, they will add this feature in future. You have to close the document in order to “undo” any changes. I only use this for highlighting text based PDF’s. For image based PDF’s I choose…

- GIMP(a kludgin’ we will go): Yes, that’s right. The venerated Photoshop replacement can edit text and image-based PDF’s. There are several issues with this method, but I’ll explain how to use it, should you be so inclined. The downfall of this method is that GIMP imports the PDF, whether Image or Text based as an Image. When it exports, it exports the file independently of the original as a PDF. That being said, it is a good solution for 1-3 page docs. All you have to do is create a new layer in Gimp, cover up the old information with a color( I use white, generally) and create a new text layer to replace the old data. Then export as a .jpg or .png (I generally use .jpg, but .gif works pretty well, should you need a smaller file size.)

Here comes the fun part: Now, you have to open up the other PDF pages in GIMP, and export them as a .jpg or whatever. Then, open up OpenOffice Draw. Insert the picture into the first slide. Insert another slide, insert pic. Repeat until done. Click “Export as PDF” button. Tada. Not fun. Or you can just write a PHP script to run on your Apache server, and use the PHP/PDF library to export your files as a single PDF(if you feel froggy, jump.) I hired someone to write a short script for me, and they were among the best dollars I have ever spent.

- Scribus: This is the most mature of the editing/publishing platforms out there. I have heard great things about its ability to edit PDF’s. The only problem is, I cannot get it edit a single PDF. It tells me that my PDF’s are not in an acceptable format. Should they fix this in a later release, this would be your best shot at a editing on a great platform. It just does not work with PDF’s generated in OpenOffice, or anywhere else for that matter.

- Xournal or Gournal: Xournal is the better of the two. They are both lightweight PDF annotators/editors. They do not work well with Image based PDF’s. They do an admirable job when dealing with text based PDF’s.

Let’s move on to picture formats, and photo management systems. Man, have I ever had a problem with these. This mostly has to do with the frequent inability of Linux programs to understand layers, as they relate to Adobe based products.

The following programs allow you to view, and even batch process photos. These are the ones that will save you more time than any other.

- Phatch: The single greatest contribution to Open Source photo editing since GIMP. Phatch allows you to quickly and easily batch edit thousands of files at the time. A simple GUI makes this a snap. Resize, change file quality parameters,rename, rotate, drop shadow, etc., without ever seeing the command line.

- Inkscape: A vector editor that comes close to accurately opening .ai and layered .eps files. I say, comes close, because it picks and chooses which of these files it interprets. It’s Russian Roulette. I wouldn’t pay for a vector graphics package based on its performance, unless it gives you the file in .svg, which it interprets without a problem.

- GIMP: Okay, if you don’t know already, GIMP is the app that started it all. You can open up pretty much anything in GIMP. It just works. There are enough scripts and tutorials out there that enable you to do anything you want with an image. Its batch processing abilities are not nearly as good as Phatch, but you can add “Dave’s Batch Processor” should you feel the urge.

(For all of you who say “Well, you can use Adobe products with WINE.”, let me remind you that I am not dual-booting MS and Linux. To speak of a solution using WINE would nullify the point of this article.)

Ok, now that I am done with programs, I’d like to share with you some websites that help you convert files into usable formats. You know the ones, the primarily brilliant spawn of Microsoft that are a pain to open: .docx, .xlsx, .pub, and anything else you need decoded on the fly.

(It should be noted that current Linux versions of OpenOffice will open .docx, .xlsx, and .pptx locally. Windows versions of the program do not support these files as of yet.) These are for when you are on the go, or using a machine that isn’t owned by you. You could always carry a custom distro on your keychain, but my guess is you are not that ******** yet. If you are, you have probably discovered or coded far better solutions than I am offering.

- : This will take .rtf, .txt, .doc, .eps, .docx, .mdi, .tif, and a few other formats, and convert them into a usable, viewable PDF for you.

- Should you need the document editable in word, head over here to convert your PDF to a standard MS Word file. The only reason that you would possibly need this, is to edit tables from an .xlsx to PDF conversion. Still, a reasonably decent kludge. Yup. Adobe offers to convert your PDF to HTML for you here. You take the help where you can get it. Then you can paste the HTML into OpenOffice and save as .doc (or preferably, an .odt.) Again, not the greatest solution, but one that works.

The Linux community is doing an admirable job of making file formats accessible. Hopefully, in the near future, an open standard will overtake these proprietary formats. In the meantime, I hope some of these patched together solutions will help you get the job.

I have paperwork to do, so I’ve gotta run. The penguin shall prevail…

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