Mostly this is a bit of a gripe. If a company is trying to sell me their product, it would be really great if they didn’t act like my choice not to use either the computer or software they want me to is the problem. We’ve all had, I assume, the experience of being told by a website that we can’t access all the functions because we aren’t running say IE or FireFox or whatever other browser they’re demanding. I’m not complaining about little websites either. My bank does this, United Airlines did and goodness knows how many other companies. As Paul said, why not just put a running banner at the bottom of each page saying “I am a crap web programmer who can’t be bothered to make this site fully functional”?
So where is this rant going? My university is encouraging students (especially graduate students) to switch from other computer-based bibliographic software to a web-based service provided by RefWorks. Even though I’ve hated EndNote for years (it’s ugly, clunky and has a steep learning curve) I’ve resisted because RefWorks charges $100 a year for their service. While it would be free while I was affiliated with my current university, I didn’t want to deal with having to either change or be charged once I leave. So I stuck with EndNote, ugly though it may be.
Last week I heard from our librarian that we should consider changing because RefWorks had started an alumni program which would allow those of us who use the service now to continue using it for free as long as our university had a subscription. This renewed my interest so I started investigating the service more closely. I could import my reference libraries — great. The interface is pretty nice (though it’s got some ugly, clunky features as well — maybe there’s no helping that with reference software). But I couldn’t figure out how to insert citations while writing. Neither could the librarian, so we checked with RefWorks who directed us to something they call “write and cite.” Great — it works pretty much like EndNote’s “insert citation” feature.
Except that unlike EndNote, on RefWorks the citation feature only works with Microsoft Word. Not so great then.
Like a number of other people in my field, I don’t write in MSWord, I write using Pages (part of iWork) and convert to Word or pdf if needed. Word has a number of bugs when doing footnotes (it randomly pushes them onto the next page and forcing them back is a lot of work) and my research writing is heavily footnote dependent. For that reason, Pages is way more suited to my academic writing needs. RefWorks, despite literature comparing themselves favorably to EndNote, doesn’t support the insert citation / write and cite function in anything other than Word.
They wrote that they believe iWork (and OpenOffice) users are too small in number for them to develop for. There’s no work around other than inserting the citations manually, something which rather defeats the purpose of using citation software in the first place. The librarian that gave me the bad news said this news about iWork and OpenOffice would be considered when the university is discussing renewing our subscription — for which they pay in excess of $10,000 a year — that students and faculty shouldn’t be forced to use a specific word processor to use a university-provided subscription service.
It seems EndNote wins by default. Bah. What a waste of time.