Don’t let expensive software stifle your church’s mission

I can’t speak to everything Donner Lohnes, a member of Unitarian Universalists of Puerto Rico, mentions in his comment — and do read it if you you are a seminarian or care about new churches in the UUA — but I can address one thing he notes:

We can’t afford the $200 for Pagemaker and don’t even have Word.

You needn’t have to. Even for those use Microsoft Windows (and to a lesser degree, Mac OS X) as an operating system, you can still use mature and highly functional open-source software. This is software that is free to modify, and all of these cases free to own. (If you have poor bandwidth, it is often worth the few dollars to buy a CD from any number of entrepreneurs. eBay is a good place to find them.)

I’ve used open-source software on Linux for about three years now, and have found options to suit my needs. I’m so bold as to think everyone could benefit from the most popular office suite and graphics manipulation programs: OpenOffice.org and The GIMP (GNU Image Manipulation Program). OpenOffice.org comes pre-installed with the high-quality Vera family of Bitstream fonts, which this leading type foundry released under a liberal license. (Wikipedia page on Bitstream Vera)
For building websites, you could use nVu (“in vue”). In place of Pagemaker, I’d recommend the desktop publishing application Scribus but this is more than all congregations need. Newsletter templates in OpenOffice.org might do, and the open-source model should inspire churches that use it to make their templates available. (I’ve got an on-again, off-again project to integrate a church liturgical calendar with a order of service merge, but the new OpenOffice.org database application and mail merge wizards keep stumping me.) PDFCreator (see omnibus discs below) makes PDFs from any program you can print from. (OpenOffice.org has this feature built in.)

And everyone already has the Firefox browser already, right?

The WinLibre disc (151 MB; this Wikipedia page for an easy software listing) and TheOpenCD (675 MB; Wikipedia page) are omnibus open-source software discs for Windows. Again, if you have broadband or know someone who does, just download and burn your own disc.

Author: Scott Wells

Scott Wells, 46, is a Universalist Christian minister doing Universalist theology and church administration hacks in Washington, D.C.

2 thoughts on “Don’t let expensive software stifle your church’s mission”

  1. I really think a basic word processor will do everything a small to medium sized church needs in terms of documents. In the Mac world, many Macs come with AppleWorks installed. Speaking from experience, it’s possible to do excellent-looking church publications using the very basice word processor included in AppleWorks. A good design sense is more important than expensive software.

    If you’re a techie, though, don’t forget TeX (pronounced “tekh”), free typesetting software that has a large following. TeX has been around since 1980, and produces *excellent* results (better than PageMaker). Do a Web search for “TeX” to find one of the many download sites (or see the Wikipedia entry on TeX for links to such sites). I have to be honest — I tried to learn TeX and found it was more complicated than I cared to deal with — at the same time, there are lots ot TeX users, and I had an easy time finding someone to show me how to use it.

    By the way, for basic Web sites, it’s possible to hand-code the site and get good results. I got a kid’s book on making Web sites (for free at a yard sale), and learned how to hand-code from that. I also learned how to hand-code Web sites by looking at the source for Web sites I liked (go to “View > Source”, or something similar, in your Web browser). Interestingly, CSS was designed to allow pretty good design on the printed page as well as in a Web browser. The standard reference book on CSS was typeset exclusively with CSS; and the W3C Web site has a decent discussion on printing with CSS. It’s something I plan to look in to myself RSN.

  2. Let me underscore what Dan said: good design will go farther than advanced software. And even if you have advanced software, it is good to know how to tweek it to get the results you want, whether that be the newsletter or some HTML tags to get the site looking good.

    I’ve tried TeX/LaTeX and various front ends. I love the look of it, but it is so unlike other software that it would be wildly impracticle for any church except one where the newsletter editor is a mathematics or physical science grad student. (Those fields use TeX widely.)

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