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File Associations in Linux

Putting Linux to Work

The truth can now be told—Linux users fall into two contented, but sharply divided groups. The classicists (the left-brained guys) love the command line, use compiled languages to program, and mark-up languages like TeX/LaTeX for their typesetting. Like Mel the mythical programmer, the only mouse they would consent to drag is the one that dropped dead. The romantics (the right-brained) on the other hand, love their GUI, think the keyboard to be vulgarly digital, and see visions of Larry Wall and the KDE team when particularly blessed. A right-brained romantic once told me that StarOffice was the best thing to happen to Linux since the invention of the X Window system.

There’s no doubt that Yoshifumi Nishida, the creator of MagicPoint—an X-based presentation tool, is firmly left-brained. MagicPoint, according to its author, " designed to make simple presentations easy, and complicated presentations possible". This is no hype. MagicPoint is truly a Good Thing (TM), for the left-brained that is.

You can install MagicPoint from the CD. For this, go to Cd/mnt/cdrom/pcq/goodies/officeapps

From here, install with rpm -ivh magic*.rpm.

Then go to /usr/doc/magicpoint*, go into the samples directory and run
mgp filename.mgp. The .mgp files are pure text, so feel free to experiment. It feels primitive at first, but you can really do some magic with this.

To use MagicPoint, you need to create a "script" of your presentation, using a simple mark-up language. MagicPoint reads this script (a text file) to format and schedule your presentation. Apart from formatting your presentation (with mark-ups like "%xfont times-roman" to specify the font, "%fore colour" for the foreground colour and "%large" and "%right", to set the size and placement), simple mark-up elements are also used to create standard features in a presentation. If you want to pause, just add "%pause" to your script, (the space-bar resumes when you’re ready); if you want text running in from different directions, add "%lcutin" and "%rcutin". A simple "%page" clears the screen and displays the next page of your presentation. MagicPoint even allows you to create automated presentations that execute your script with pre-encoded pauses.

What makes MagicPoint stand equally tall alongside WYSIWYG presentation managers, however, is what the author coyly refers to as "special-effects". You can embed the output of a running X-application right inside your slide. Imagine running "xeyes" (just add "%xsystem xeyes -geometry 20x20+0+0" to your script) at the corner of a slide and moving your mouse as you elaborate a particularly boring point in your presentation. Or running "xmpegplay beethovens5th" in your fifteenth slide to wake up a post-prandial audience (Don’t panic. The sound stops when you change the slide).

MagicPoint can also display the output of a shell command with the "%filter " feature—indispensable for a talk on programming. Yet another nifty feature is its ability to jot on your slides at presentation time. Press "x" to convert your mouse cursor into a pen. Pressing "x" again toggles this feature and "l" erases whatever you drew without disturbing the original slide underneath. So, the next time you give your talk on "Combative Field Placings in One Day Internationals", you know which tool to use. The fact that MagicPoint uses standard X resources like aliased font-names and colors is a strong point in its favor. In addition, it allows you to use a true type font server (like xfstt) if standard X-fonts aren’t good enough for you. I routinely use the superb true type versions of Donald Knuth’s Computer Modern Roman in presentations that include a lot of TeX typeset mathematical formulae.

The cons of MagicPoint are the cons that supposedly dog all left-brained software. Each time you need to make small changes to your presentation, you have to get to the script and edit it (You can restart from any page though). With a right-brained WYSIWYG presentation manager, you can always block the projector lens with your ample frame as you quickly repair that spelling gaffe of yours. For the ambi-cerebral (All you Lyx users out there, that means you!), there’s one more con—PowerPoint file compatibility is still lacking. You can convert MagicPoint scripts to HTML and Postscript though. With imaginative color schemes (gradient colors are possible with "%bgrad slope initialcolor finalcolor") and MagicPoint’s "special-effects", you can generate some very impressive presentations.

So go ahead and use MagicPoint if you’re left-brained. And if you’re right-brained, go grab a seat in the audience. You won’t be disappointed.

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