The Raspberry Pi is a very small and portable computer, not to mention very cheap to buy. If you are a writer, wouldn’t it be great if you could set up and write somewhere that’s not your home desk without having to spend hundreds to purchase and lug around a heavy laptop or a decent-sized tablet?
In this article we describe the basic software and hardware you will need to turn your Pi into an easily portable desktop word processing machine plus a few ideas on how to take it to the next level.
Make Your Basic Pi
First you need to turn your RasPi into a mini desktop computer. You’ll need a keyboard and a mouse; wireless would be best. A mini keyboard and mouse which runs on a single dongle would be best, especially if you have an older Pi with only two USB sockets. You will want to keep one socket free for a USB drive to have something to save your word processing files to. Make the keyboard as small as you can, but try to have full-sized keys so you can type.
Then you need to add Raspbian OS to the Pi. Get fresh a SD card (any size will do, as you will be saving files elsewhere rather than on the system drive), and using your favourite SD burner software, take the image you will find here and burn it to the drive.
Also in your bag you will need an HDMI cable. You will need access to a TV or monitor for a display and a power adapter, too, obviously. If wherever you want to write is indoors, then these two things will be easy to find.
That’s the hardware and OS you will need, but what about the actual writing software?
While it would be great to use Google Docs on the Pi, the browsers on the RasPi are not really up to the task. That’s putting it mildly; they are rubbish, actually, and barely able to load a web page successfully most of the time. Even Chromium, the RasPi version of the Google browser, is not current enough to run Google Docs on a Pi.
So you have to look elsewhere for your writing software, and something installed on the Pi is preferable to something web-based. You may be in a place which has a TV set and power but not much in the way of Internet access, like a cabin in the woods with a generator, so it’s a good idea to keep all your data in the Pi or at least on a USB stick.
The writing software you need is called LibreOffice. To install the LibreOffice Writer, type the following into a command line:
sudo apt-get update sudo apt-get install libreoffice-writer
That should kick off the install process which might take a while. Go get a cup of tea. When it asks you if you want to continue, type “Y” for yes. When the installation is finished, you will be returned to the command line. Type:
to open the GUI, and you will find LibreOffice on the Office submenu.
If you’ve ever used a word processor before, the interface should be self-explanatory. You can write, cut, copy, paste and print. You can even change the fonts, although being freeware, the fonts are all open source like the ones you get on Google Docs.
Taking It to the Next Level
Obviously, this is a solution that relies on you having access to some kind of monitor that you don’t have to tote around with you. But how can you go truly portable?
The thing is that having a word processor on the RasPi and being able to save your documents to a stick means you don’t need the Internet to write. It’s nice to have it, but you don’t NEED it. You also don’t need a big HDMI monitor; you can make do with a small HDMI monitor. There are plenty of small HDMI monitors around; those widely available 10” reversing cam monitors spring to mind.
The only thing tethering you to a desk is power, and you can solve that with a battery pack, provided you can find one strong enough to power the Pi and the screen. The minimum you need for the Pi is 5V and 2 Amps. You’ll probably find the monitor needs about the same. Powering a screen from a battery pack is possible but not without some electronics knowledge; you can’t run both from the same supply without a bit of soldering.
One solution to go power lead-free is to find a battery-powered monitor. But be warned; battery life is lower the bigger the screen. Try a black and white screen or even one of those small 3.5 inch screens which sit on top of a RasPi case.
If you have any experience writing on the RasPi, please share your thoughts in the comments below.