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A bibliography manager for *n*x: JabRef September 16, 2008

Posted by claudio in Uncategorized.
Tags: , , , , ,

PhDI have been pretty busy lately (that’s why I haven’t posted a lot). I started writing a PhD dissertation. In order to sort the hundreds of books, articles and original sources I had a quick look at free and open source bibliography applications for *n*x. I was sure I would need to write my own (a light-weight db and a java swing interface) to get the fields I need and have strong search capabilities (SQL). Luckily, I was wrong.

After half an hour, only three candidates were strong enough to survive my tests: pybliographer (Gtk+), tellico (QT) and JabRef (java). In short, pybibliographer was a little cumbersome to edit entries and searching was lacking in both pybliographer and tellico. Also, tellico is QT and thus ugly as hell (not as important, but not pleasant to work with).

By contrast, JabRef has a very clean interface and the search is fine for my needs (regular expressions). You can even change the look and make it look it like a GTk+ application. Anyway, I am giving JabRef a serious test run (using my real data) and I will post and update later to see if it is as good as the first impression it gives.

To change the look to gtk, just go to Options-Preferences-Advanced and put com.sun.java.swing.plaf.gtk.GTKLookAndFeel for “Use other Look and Feel”:

Default Look

Default Look

Gtk+ Look

Gtk+ Look

UPDATE: Sadly, JabRef has some problems while running with then OpenJDK version on Ubuntu. To fix the problems, add this to your .profile in your home directory:

export JAVA_HOME

(If needed, install sun jre with “sudo apt-get install sun-java6-jre”)


1. claudio - September 23, 2008

An interesting reaction here: http://www.periapsis.org/archives/2008/09/21/ugly_qt.html

I didn’t mean to offend the projects mentioned. Remember, those project here were the *best* I found. And however my comment sounds harsh, it’s more of a compliment.

About tellico and qt: I know java swing isn’t the prettiest toolkit around, but with some work you can get a pretty clean interface.
Qt applications have something bloated I can’t really put the finger on (font rendering? spaces between widgets?), that keeps me away from KDE/Qt. This is the case for KDE apps and other free and commercial application (e.g. skype).

This said, I have been a happy KDE user for years (the Gnome 1.x days, talking about ugly) before I went back to Gnome. Still today, when a qt application is clearly superior, I will use over the gtk+ alternative (I used K3b for years before there was a real Gtk+ alternative and I use VirtualBox for my virtualization needs).

Anyway, still roadtesting JabRef, so me ending with Tellico is a real possibility. An ugly possibility, but a possibility I really wouldn’t mind:).


2. Robby - October 21, 2008

Hi Claudio,

No offense taken at all! I was mostly amused, immersed as I am in the KDE/Qt environment.:) I have to use java apps at work, and inevitably I cringe everytime I do.

I think there’s a Qt theme that mimics the current gtk+ style, too. But in any case, no worries, I’m well aware of different people and different tastes!

That said, if you do end up with Tellico and have any questions or improvement comments, please feel free to let me know!

3. Stephan Sokolow - February 9, 2009

Odd. I always felt that it was GTK+ that felt bloated and Qt that felt lean. In fact, to get my Firefox comfortable, I had to use Stylish to squeeze out some of the GTK+ padding.

4. Cristiano - August 19, 2009

THANK YOU for that tip on making the swing style copy the gtk+ one. JanRef was awfully ugly here when I didn’t know how to change that option.

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