Friday, September 16, 2005

Yet more screwing over by a software developer

I've had all I can stands, and I can't stands no more. (Apologies to Popeye.)

A couple of weeks ago, I learned that Thomson Scientific is peddling yet another upgrade to EndNote, from version 8 to version 9. For those of you who don't know what EndNote is, it's reference manager software. The reason this sort of thing comes to the fore right now is because I'm presently working on a paper and a grant. I don't know how people kept track of dozens (or even hundreds) of citations and references in the era before reference manager software (say, before the early 1990's, when I first discovered this software). I remember writing up mere 15 page lab reports for Physical Chemistry in college, which generally needed around 10-20 references, and typing them up on an old-fashioned typewriter while keeping all the citations and references straight was hard enough. I don't know how I would have managed my doctoral thesis, with its eight chapters and 250+ references without EndNote, and I don't know how I would have handled my most recent grant application, which had a similar number of references.

Consequently a good reference manager is an absolute essential for a scientist or an academic physician, as it is for many other academics who need to cite other work extensively in their writing. Unfortunately, over time, having swallowed up all the competition, like Reference Manager, Thomson Scientific has become, in essence, a monopoly on this sort of software, much as Microsoft Word has become more or less a monopoly on Word processing software, particularly for the Mac. Back when I started using EndNote in the early 1990's, it was a lean, mean citation machine whose major updates were actually major updates, released at reasonable time intervals. Unfortunately, I've noticed a disturbing trend over the last 5 years or so for its developers to release more and more frequent paid "major" upgrades that really aren't "major" at all. This wouldn't be such a big deal, except that first ISIResearchSoft (which bought out EndNote from Niles Software several years ago) and then Thomson (which bought out ISIResearchSoft) have had a sneaky way of making them into de facto mandatory upgrades. In short, EndNote almost always breaks after a major upgrade of either Microsoft Word or the Mac OS. For example, a while back, when Apple released a major upgrade, EndNote broke to the point where it couldn't be used. Something like that shouldn't happen to software that doesn't hook into the system somehow and that follows Apple' developer guidelines. None of my other major applications broke with that Mac OS upgrade, so why did EndNote? When Microsoft released Office 2004, EndNote stopped working with Word 2004. So what? you say. Thomson can't control changes that Microsoft decides to make in Word. True enough. And it wouldn't have bothered me that much, except that it took Thomson five months to release a Word 2004-compatible version (EndNote v.8) with very little in the way of new features to offer other than Word 2004 compatibility (certainly the feature set wouldn't have tempted me to upgrade by themselves.). This is very odd because EndNote is a product that is intimately tied to Microsoft Word. Didn't the developers have access to beta versions of Word to use to develop EndNote 8, so that it wouldn't take them five months after the release of Word to get their product out? And of course, you had to pay for this "upgrade."

That was last October.

When I upgraded to Tiger (Mac OS X v.10.4), I did so with some trepidation, because I was afraid that EndNote would break again. I installed Tiger only on one older computer that I almost never used for serious writing. Much to my relief, it actually seemed to work OK. A little testing seemed to be OK; consequently, I applied the upgrade to my laptop and desktop computers. So far so good. What's going on here? I wondered. Thomson must be slipping.

And now, less than a year after the last "major" upgrade, Thomson is trying to soak its users again for yet another "major" upgrade. This is getting ridiculous. Scanning the feature set, all I see that might be useful is integration with Spotlight, the system-wide search function integrated into Tiger. Nice, but is it worth forking out $99 for? No way. If you're a Windows user, I can't see why on earth you'd bother with this particular upgrade, because to you its new integration with Spotlight would be irrelevant.

Even though I've been a continuous user of EndNote since the early 1990's, I think I'll pass this time around and wait for either the next version of the Mac OS or Microsoft Word to break EndNote 8 or (maybe) for EndNote 10 to be released. Even though EndNote 8 is a bit buggy, at least it works now, and I have no guarantee that EndNote 9 won't be just as buggy. It's not wise to switch reference managers in the middle of a writing project, anyway; and it's even less wise to submit to yet another attempted screwing by Thomson.

11 example(s) of insolence returned:


At 9/16/2005 11:32 AM, Anonymous Mark Paris said...

At some point it might make sense to just stop upgrading. I have found several instances of upgrades that actually degrade the product. We use a plotting program called Igor, which was originally for Macs but is now for Windows as well. We upgraded from V4 to V5 and now most of us are reinstalling V4. The newest version simply does not work as well. I think it's part of the US carmaker/Microsoft model: make changes in a product to stimulate current owners to buy new versions.

 

At 9/16/2005 1:12 PM, Anonymous Spitshine said...

As much as I like Endnote and its integration with Word, Latex and its reference managing extensions such as bibtex work just as well. OK, you'll need to access text files a little more often than you used to but you also get a document that still looks better than a Word document.

 

At 9/16/2005 4:39 PM, Blogger tgibbs said...

Like you, I've gotten fed-up with EndNote's slow, overpriced updates. If you are a Mac user, you might want to take a look at Sente. It's not yet quite as polished as EndNote, but I like its interface (clearly modeled on iTunes) better. And so far they seem to be more reasonable regarding pricing and upgrades.

 

At 9/16/2005 10:10 PM, Anonymous chaperonin60 said...

Here is the program I used for my dissertation (Dos based when I writing). It doesn't look like there is an OSX version but the webpage indicates that it will work in classic mode.

The best part about it is that it is now FREE to download and use

Papyrus
http://www.researchsoftwaredesign.com/index.html

 

At 9/16/2005 11:13 PM, Blogger Mike the Mad Biologist said...

I gave up at EndNote 6.0. It works fine, and I don't anything buggy.

 

At 9/16/2005 11:17 PM, Blogger Orac said...

That's fine if you don't use Word 2004 or if you use Word 2004 and don't mind doing manual formatting of bibliographies, but I really like the Cite While You Write feature.

 

At 9/16/2005 11:26 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

LaTeX,
BibTeX

No matter how old your file is, it will still look fine, with all of the Greek letters and equations looking normal. Try that with a 15-year old MS Word document.

And, it is still a pain to get figures in the right place with Word, LaTeX gets it right without help.

And all of the upgrades are free.
But you don't have to upgrade if you don't want to deal with it, because it won't break.

To learn to use it, get someone else's LaTeX document, cut their text out, and paste yours in. Get more sophisticated from there.

 

At 9/17/2005 12:02 PM, Blogger Greg P said...

I use LaTeX a lot. It's a bit of a test of the flexibility of your brain to learn something so different; can be a long learning curve. I ended up buying a book since the online information is not so easily browsable.

A big problem is that many journals, etc. only seem to want documents in Word or some other clumsy format. They won't even accept plain text.

 

At 9/18/2005 2:59 PM, Blogger Nekoshka said...

You could also try Boswell, although it has a steep learning curve:

http://www.boswell.com/

 

At 9/20/2005 5:19 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

You can convert LaTeX into Word or OpenOffice.org with tex4ht. Very convenient, use the sensible environment of TeX and then deliver in whatever format your editor wants.

 

At 10/10/2005 4:17 AM, Blogger Radagast said...

It might be a large shift, but LinuxJournal just pointed out that OpenOffice includes a reference manager by default. They don't talk about importing references from Endnote, but I'm sure it's possible. Just think, you could get away from both Microsoft and Thomson Scientific in one move :)

 

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