Hands-on review of Sigil 0.6.0, free EPUB editor

Hands-on review of Sigil 0.6.0, free EPUB editor

The new version of Sigil, a free EPUB editor by John Schember et al., is a significant improvement over the past releases. You'll find authoring ebooks with Sigil quite an enjoyable task, and here is why.

First of all, as an avid user of my own Sigil builds from Git I have to admit that my judging is slightly biased towards less excitement. I got all the new features one by one, but you are getting them all at once, in an instant.

Even so, I'm pretty excited, because John Schember, Grant Drake and Dave Heiland delivered, with a D.

Sigil 0.6.0

What's in v0.6.0?

  • extensive workflow and user interface improvements;
  • an index editor and generator;
  • inline TOC generator;
  • reusable code snippets and search/replace presets;
  • clipboard history;
  • advanced document statistics and cleanup of unused iages and styles;
  • easy linking to CSS files for XHTML documents;
  • built-in Webkit's code inspector instead of the Split view;
  • internationalization improvements and new interface translations;
  • all around better performance.

This couldn't be all done in 8 months by mere 3 developers, could it? Why, it could and it was done.

For all the details on improvements and fixes I suggest you read the ChangeLog. For more hands-on experience download Sigil 0.6.0 and read below.

Interface and workflow changes

If you asked me to summarize v0.6.0, I'd eventually come up with something like "Less stupid work that should have been done by computers from the very beginning".

Here is one example. When you need to link to a particular part of a document, you don't need to manually type in the anchor's code and a link anymore:

  1. Go to the location where the anchor should be.
  2. Click a button to add an ID.
  3. Type the ID.
  4. Go to the point in text where the link should be.
  5. Click a button, pick your ID from the list.

The updated toolbars also have subscript and superscript, RTL/LTR switches, text case toggles, special character insertion and more.

In fact, many things you had to use a "real HTML editor" for in the past are now perfectly handled by Sigil, out of box.

And speaking of workflow, Clips and Saved Searches are among the most useful new features.

With Clips you can build your own custom library of useful code snippets, group them and then share, if needed.

Clips in Sigil

Note that just like with Saved Searches, most useful commands are in the context (right-click) menu. Speaking of which, you can use right-click menu in Book view to insert entries from Clips.

Inserting clips in code view in Sigil

Saved Searches will be a time-saver for pretty much everybody who needs to process texts submitted in another file format. If you've seen a typical Word document produced by a newbie, you've seen it all:

  • empty paragraphs for paragraph breaks;
  • hyphens instead of em dashes;
  • total lack of non-breaking spaces;
  • anything else that makes you just lie down and cry.

The good news is that Saved Searches dialog comes with a bunch of useful predefined presets like removing trailing spaces, and it supports regular expressions.

Saved Searches in Sigil

If you need an inline table of contents, Sigil is now capable of creating a chapter file for that and then filling it with the TOC data.

Inline TOC generator in Sigil

Be warned, however, that the inline TOC builder doesn't analyze chapter files in their current state and instead relies on toc.ncx. If you change the text of headings or add more chapters, you will have to first regenerate the TOC file (via sidebar or menu) and only then re-run the "Create HTML Table of Contents" menu command.

For proofreaders Sigil now features a "Next misspelled word" command with a handy Ctrl+Shift+V shortcut for it.

Next misspelled word in Sigil

The former Split View is now gone. Instead Sigil now has a Preview View mode which combines Book View mode (WYSIWYG editing) and Webkit's code inspector.

Webkit inspector in Sigil

Quality of WYSISWYG editing

In the past editing text in the Book view wasn't quite recommended. Sigil tended to mix div and p elements, so after a while you would end up with a text that looked more or less reasonable, but was a complete failure in terms of markup.

I'm happy to say that these days are in the past. I've yet to see a single serious escrew-up for a typical text, but then again I don't do any kind of fancy work with the code like custom IDs or classes. WYSIWYG mode has proven to be safe enough for me.

On the other hand, the way groups are built and marked-up in the index definitely needs an improvement. If you want a group name to look differently, you need to create your own CSS rule and enclose each group's text into a span with the relevant class.

Becoming the master of your e-books

There are several new features in Sigil that go beyond merely improving your workflow. They help you better understand what's up with your documents.

The new Reports dialog is one of them. It provides a very handy overview of length (in words) and amount of misspelled words for each chapter file, how large your images are (both in KB and pixels), which elements each chapter files uses and in which CSS files those elements are described, and so on.

Reports in Sigil

While at that, Sigil now also makes it possible to remove unused images, CSS files. See the bottom of the Tools menu for that.

Removing unused CSS styles in Sigil

It will also reformat the contents of the CSS files for you, in case you prefer single-line selectors over multiline ones, or vice versa.

And here's another time-saver: you don't have to manually add the code for linking to a CSS file anymore. Just select all your HTML files in the sidebar (click on the first, press Shift, click on the last), right-click, select "Link Stylesheets", pick the CSS files to link to. Bang.

Linking stylesheets in Sigil

And because the dialog lists CSS files that your HTML files already link to, you can easily unlink a stylesheet exactly the same way.

Index editor

In case you've no idea what an index is, it's a section of a book that lists terms along with pages where those terms show up. It's quite useful for documents like all kinds of reference books, textbooks and so on.

I'll keep a detailed explanation of creating indexes for a tutorial, but you'll be glad to know that you can make quite complex indexes with Sigil:

  • You can make groups, e.g. for an alphabet-based index.
  • You can use regular expressions for matching the text.
  • You can merge synonyms into a single index entry.

The primary tool here is the Index Editor:

Index Editor in Sigil

It's where you define the matching text, the final index entry (if it should be written differently) and hierarchy.

Localization

Sigil 0.6.0 is (at least partially) available in 23 languages. New translations are: Galician, Indonesian, Central Khmer, Korean, Romanian, and Uighur.

Additionally far more UI elements were made translatable, including advanced metadata fields. Internationalization was also improved, e.g. in several user-visible cases plural forms are handled properly.

Overall impression

Upon picking the project John Schember analyzed the diversity of ebooks authoring workflows and deliberately defined Sigil as a tool for power users rather than self-publishers or professionals working for large-scale companies.

At this point it would be fair to say that Sigil is moving in that very direction at the speed of sound. The newly released version makes it easy to produce good-looking ebooks in EPUB, especially if you care to come up with a sensible workflow that, among other things, involves writing your own stylesheets and reusing them.

In my opinion, attention to details is what ultimately defines software as applicable for professional use. The amount of work that went into polishing Sigil during this development cycle is a sure sign of professional attitude.

I could think of many further workflow improvements, like moving all inline CSS rules in all XHTML files to a new or existing CSS file, or managing book templates. But truth to be told, Sigil is getting there anyway.

One thing that the self-publishers among you probably won't like is that Sigil won't create MOBI files for you. Which is a bit of a bugger especially since internally EPUB is quite similar to MOBI. On the other hand, creating a MOBI file out of an EPUB is a quite manageable task.

There are still open entries in Sigil's todo list, including EPUB v3 support and a plug-in architecture, so there's plenty of room for further excitement. The present of ebooks authoring with free software is already looking rather good, and there's more to come.

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7 Comments

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  1. Does it support to create tables? One can create a listing of tables but in order to do that, one should be able to create tables first ;)
    It’s possible via HTML, but somehow not via the GUI :(

  2. Nope, no tables yet.

  3. There is also an PPA for (U)buntu users:

    https://launchpad.net/~rgibert/+archive/ebook

    or for a git-version (testing only): :D

    https://launchpad.net/~sunab/+archive/sigil-git

  4. Does this software package have easy integration for uploading to kindle?

  5. Alexandre Prokoudine 10 April 2013 at 10:01 am

    Brian, Kindle doesn’t support EPUB files :) iPad and Nook do. No such integration , though.

  6. I tried Sigil, it would be great only for one drawback, which for me, rule sit out completely. I found that it if it doesn’t like the html code you put in, it decides to change it without warning or giving you any options. This has caused me major problems as I only discovered this after I had already done a lot of work on a file which unbeknownst to me Sigil had already made major detrimental changes.

  7. Sigil is really a good software. But it’s hard to install it for Ubuntu users except for the testing only verion.

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