Word Processing for Hopeless Luddites

Hello, everyone! I’ve been away for some months, and I wish I had more time to come back and participate fully in 'Doper society.

But all y’all are one of the greatest knowledge-base resources I’ve ever known, and I need some advice.

My b.i.l. just wrote his first novel (yay!) But it’s in pencil on lined paper. How do we get it into digital form?

He’s a TOTAL luddite. The poor sod doesn’t have any computer at all, and, even if he were to buy the cheapest laptop/chromebook/whatever, he would refuse to have any internet connection. This means he might buy a very basic machine…but couldn’t download a word processing app!

I suggested he go to the library and spend an hour a day there, typing it in, saving the data on a memory stick. He said no. (Privacy paranoia! His files might be stolen/copied/viewed by the NSA, etc.)

What’s the best approach for a hopeless Luddite to type in a novel and save it to a memory stick? Can you get cheap stripped-down laptops that come pre-loaded with even something as primitive as MS Wordpad? What strategy can you recommend?

(Me, personally, I’m on the internet and have Office 365. I don’t live close enough to my b.i.l. for him to come here and type things in. And if he did – he’d demand that I unplug from my ISP while he worked. He’s both a Luddite and also terribly afraid of THEM)

Love ya guys, and miss ya guys!

You can buy a desktop computer, keyboard, and mouse for $20 - $30 at a thrift store and install linux mint (or whatever Linux distro you want) for free. Linux comes in 32bit and 64bit versions so you can use it on pretty old stuff. I usually find working laptops for between $20 - $40, but often they don’t have the battery charger. I’ve done this sort of thing lots of times. If you want to get real fancy, you can Dban the hard drive for a clean install.
Dban is also free. I use Rufus portable to make bootable ISO files on a thumb drive.

Mint uses the Libre Office suite - it is very similar and also compatable with microsoft office products.

For a cheap stripped down computer, look into a chromebook and put OpenOffice on it. That’s probably about as cheap as you can get.

But, can he type? If he can’t he might want to bite the bullet and pay someone to do it. FWIW, many people (well, at least me) don’t read what I’m typing. I type fast and ended up typing a lot of people’s papers in college. The question I always got afterwards was if I liked it/thought it was written well. People were always surprised when I said that I (honestly) didn’t even know what it was about. I just type what I see and don’t really process it.*

Does he have a publisher yet? If he does, perhaps he can give them the manuscript and let them type it. There’s a chance they some interns that can knock it out in a few hours.
*Well, there was that one time, when I caught a huge grammatical error. I had to go up to a friend and say "ya know, the very first word of the first sentence of the first paper you’re turning in as a college student really can’t be “and”’.

Is a luddite going to have any idea at all what to do with Linux? I’m a ‘computer guy’, but don’t know the first thing about it. Plus, if he has any questions about the computer he’ll have a much harder time getting help with it.

If he’s that much of a Luddite, why not type it out on a typewriter and make a bunch of copies? After all, that method worked for Faulkner, Hemingway, etc. etc ad infinitum …

This is me talking out of my ass, saying things that I suspect are true but I haven’t even tried to verify:

Any computer made in the last thirty years is going to have some sort of word processing, or at least text editing, software on it, either that it came with originally or that the original owner bought and installed.

There are lots of computers out there that still work but are considered obsolete, so you can probably get one for free or at least very cheap.

Get one, don’t connect it to the internet, and just use whatever software already installed to type up the novel.

Most computers use microsoft and that is proprietary - so expecting to get an old computer that you can just plug in and turn on and have access to all that is unrealistic. Thus the need to install Linux.

Trinopus could do it for him and then he’s good to go. It is super easy. Even I was able to do it without much trouble.

What would prevent you from having access to everything the original owner had access to?

(Legally, is the license tied to the computer or its owner? And practically, how would it know that someone new was using it?)

He could look for an older secondhand machine that has MS office on discs (get an old Dell business model from when they supplied the discs for reinstallation). Otherwise you could download openoffice/libreoffice for him.
As for linux vs windows, linux distributions these days are very easy to figure out. My suggestion for a “luddite” is puppy linux, it has all of the basics, including a basic word processing app. You can load it from a disc or usb (it runs in ram). It’s pretty straightforward. An older version will run on hardware that fell off the ark. There’s a young bloke who makes videos of his mum trying out new OSes, OSfirsttimer is his youtube name, there’s a video of his mum looking at puppy that gives an idea of how straightforward it is. You’d need to download a version you decide on and burn it to disc/usb for him. You don’t need the latest, any old version would do, as long as it works on the hardware you dig up.
If he can’t type, there is Dragon Naturally Speaking (and other voice-recognition software) that can “type” what you speak, but you need to train it to understand what you are saying (it had huge problems understanding my “strine”, you have to “tell it” what you are actually saying when it “misunderstands” and it’s a bit “thick” sometimes).

If the following works logistically for you, then I suggest it:

  1. You personally buy a cheap old computer.

  2. You take it home, connect it to the web, and install on it [whatever works for you and him].

  3. You disconnect it, deliver it to him in working order, and show him how to do the bare minimum - because that’s all he’s going to do anyway.

Computers sold by the big manufacturers used to come with discs, so you can wipe everything and bring it back to “freshly installed” when you sell it. Then most of them stopped supplying discs, but they still have a “recovery partition” that lets you copy back the original installation and bringing it back to “factory condition”.
The licenses on these computers are tied to the computer. If somebody went to a shop and bought a retail licence, then that licence is theirs to move off the computer, but they’d need to have done that before selling it (ie they’d sell it with no operating system).

I suggested getting a Dell. If you can get an old business laptop with discs, you’re good to go. If the seller didn’t reset/reinstall, OP can do it. The OEM (original equipment manufacturer) discs on old machines would install without drama. They “knew” if it was a Dell or an Acer/whatever and just restored to a new state.

Any computer that has a Microsoft or Apple operating system on it has a basic text editor already installed.

It might be called TextEdit or NotePad or WordPad or MSWrite, but it’s there. It’s free, and it’s simple to use.

You don’t have to install or download anything. Just save it as a plain text file or rich text file and anyone will be able to use it with whatever word processors they’re using.

I am not a hopeless Luddite but I do worry about stuff going into the Cloud. So my work computer has Windows XP, MS Word 2000, and a bunch of other very old software, and it is not connected to the Internet, ever.

You do have to arrange to have backups, especially if your computer using very old software is also a very old computer. USB drives, etc. This computer is so old that it has a 3.5 floppy drive built in, but I usually put backups on USB drives.

A lot of new software needs to check in with the internet occasionally or it won’t work, but not all of it, and certainly old versions of word processing software like MS Word or Word Perfect don’t need to. You need to get on the internet to get something like Scrivener, but you don’t need to be on the internet to use it.

Rich text is probably not compatible, and not useful for a novel manuscript anyway.

Plain text is better in every way, for this task. Including the fact that there’s less there for a Luddite to mess up.

There’s lots of good distros out there, but I lean towards Mint because it seems to have the most extensive support. In this case, I think it would be more likely that you find compatible drivers for things such as Dragon with a more commonly used distro. But it may or may not be an issue with the other ones you mentioned, I am not familiar with them at all, I’ve only used LUbuntu and Mint. Lubuntu is pretty light weight and word well with the old 32bit machine I have.

Actually Trinopus I could give you an old working computer with Linux on it for free if you want - you would have to pay shipping though if you are outside the DMV area. My wife really wants me to get rid of a couple. I tried, I gave one to a coworker but then I somehow, through no fault of my own, aquired more, and now I again have an excessive number of computers.

I’m thinking more of a couple other issues when you have an old computer, especially if you get one from a thrift store. One is the hard drive has been wiped - that is pretty common. The other is password protection. Installing a Linux OS solves those problems. If you happen to acquired an old computer and don’t have any of those issues then all the better - in this bare bones situation, one is as good as the other as long as it works.

If he’s hoping to sell his novel, then it’s not just a matter of typing it up. He’ll need to have it formatted in a way that conforms to industry standards. If he wants to format it for e-readers, that’s got a different formatting requirement.

He might be better off getting a tool like Scrivener, which has built in formating and export guides.

As for computer - any off the shelf Windows 10 machine will work just fine for him. Shouldn’t cost more than $500. (It’s back to school time, so it will likely cost considerably less.)

… and “formatted to industry standards” is probably a surprisingly weird-looking format, to the uninitiated. Making it look on your screen like you want the finished product to look, is almost always wrong.

The OP mentioned distance being an issue with him doing the typing/helping.

Also, regarding downloading word processing software. Someone could simply download OpenOffice Writer to a jump drive or burn it to a CD and send that to him (assuming you can download the program directly and not just an ‘installer’).
Otherwise, as was stated, someone else can get it all set up, then disconnect it from the internet before giving it to him.

I don’t know anything about Linux so I can I can’t speak to that, but I’d suggest not attempting to type an entire novel on Notepad. A proper word processor will be much easier to work with.