Wednesday, November 15, 2006

ms word feature: insert ink drawing and writing

I've been on the lookout for better ways to take notes in class. For the last couple years, I've been using OpenOffice for a couple reasons. First, it has a powerful macro generation language: I can easily create new commands, so on my copy ctrl-shift-E is "insert an empty case brief into the document", and ctrl-shift-C is "open a small box where I can type a comment or question to remember later." There are a few others as well, mostly organized around the ability to take notes quickly and efficiently. Second, OpenOffice has the Navigator, a small window that knows all your headings and keeps track of them hierarchically, like an outline. Through the navigator, I can easily move, for example, a heading 2 and all the sub-headings under it to a different spot in the document, or promote a particular heading and all its sub-headings by a level. Even having a little side-window that just shows headings is useful for knowing where I am in the document.

Unfortunately, OpenOffice has some drawbacks, too. The most serious is that the 2.0 series has crashed on me in class at least three times this year, losing some notes in the process.[1] Also, its support for tablet PCs is lacking. Often the prof will draw a diagram on the board that I'd like to capture. I have ctrl-shift-D bound to a macro that pops open a small drawing canvas, but trying to use OpenOffice's clunky drawing editor is much too slow when all I really want at that point is the equivalent of a pencil and paper (but that will also scroll with the surrounding text.)

So I just discovered MS Word 2003 has a very interesting feature: Insert Ink Drawing and Text. Configure your toolbar to add the button, click it, and up pops just the sort of drawing canvas I've been needing. If I can figure out how to do some of the other things I need, like inserting an empty case brief through a keyboard command, I may end up having to switch.

[1] I've already taken Microsoft to task on this blog for losing some of my work through poor design. The only reason I've been more patient with OpenOffice is that it's a volunteer project and free software. However, I'm now in the habit of frequently hitting ctrl-S to save the document, and I'm willing to consider switching.

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