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Re: [Groff] Introduction

From: Clarke Echols
Subject: Re: [Groff] Introduction
Date: Tue, 18 Oct 2005 15:59:28 -0600

Meg McRoberts wrote:
> > You can teach them, and a lot more of them know it than you think, they
> > write man pages.

My first encounter with troff was in 1985 when I was assigned
the task of the HP-UX reference for HP-UX 5.0.  The project was
taken over by HP-Cupertino staff in 1986, then I got it back
three years later in 1989 when I handled the HP-UX Reference
for HP-UX 7.0 through 9.0 in 1992.

The thing that really taught me troff was taking the AT&T man
macros and converting them to a new, fully commented man-macros
file without breaking them.  It had some really arcane features
in the coding that took a bit of effort to figure out, but it
was immensely helpful in learning the troff system.  I could then
modify the macros to produce bleed tabs for A through Z along the
outside edge of the printed pages, add crop marks and printer
slugs across the top for the printing artwork masters, and add
other features that I wanted for a first-rate manual.  The book,
after 9.0 was moved back to Cupertino (where I was replaced by
ten full-time engineers on the project but that's another story)
in 1993.

Then came the "test" in 1996/97.  I created a macro package that
I then used to create master artwork for double-sided printed
circuit boards (cards) for a commercial product because I didn't
have access to CAD software.  I now have the ultimate test for
those who think they're troff gurus:  Can you create printed
circuit artwork using raw troff coding with your own macros? :-)

The ability of troff to do things is amazing -- especially when
you consider that it has been around for close to a third of a

I also found out that using ghostview to look at output saved
a LOT of paper. :-)

vi is still my favorite editor, and not because I wrote the
bulk of the contents of "The Ultimate Guide to the Vi and Ex
Text Editors" in 1987 (it is still being used by companies for
IT training).  It really is a very nice editor if you are
smart enough to not need one of those irritatingly useless,
"friendly" WYSIWYG screen editors that is so horribly cumbersome.

I just used vi this week to convert a Word manuscript for a
novel (historical fiction) written by a friend into a flat
ASCII file so I could typeset it using groff (I had to use
'tr' to get some of the non-ASCII characters Microsquish uses
into something the real world can handle).  We then can take the
PostScript straight to printing plates for the offset printers
with no need for photography and transfer to film.   One nice
thing about old tools that still work:  They are very solid
and dependable, unlike the "latest" Windows stuff.

Yes I know HTML, and I hand code it using vi.  No WYSIWYG for

Now I need to learn XML.  And JavaScript.  And...

As for me, Unix/Linux/etc is the *only* sensible environment for
the non-hobbyist/plaything, serious computer user.


> Older engineers know (or once knew) some *roff...  Not so much
> the younger ones.  A whole generation went through college without
> learning much of anything about Unix/Linux, sadly.  I work with
> a lot of fairly decent engineers who don't really understand why
> you should partition your disk or do your daily work under a UID
> other than root...
> This would be another advantage of a GUI front end -- it removes
> some of the fear that a head-on first meeting with groff can
> elicit.  I've seen a lot of people learn HTML because they could
> start with something like DreamWeaver and gradually move to doing
> straight HTML coding...
> Personally, I loathe GUI front-ends...  One of the great advantages
> of XML/Docbook is that one can have a single set of source documents
> and everyone can choose the authoring environment they want -- graphical
> or character, virtually any O/S platform...  So people who want to work
> on Windoze with a graphical editor can have their way without forcing
> me to work in such a loathesome environment ;-)
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