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Re: [Groff] Typesetting Software

From: Tadziu Hoffmann
Subject: Re: [Groff] Typesetting Software
Date: Wed, 3 Jun 2009 20:57:32 +0200
User-agent: Mutt/1.5.17 (2007-11-01)

One thing that hasn't been mentioned yet: creating
nontrivial tables with tbl+roff is *much* easier than
with LaTeX (in part thanks to tbl's "n" (numeric) format

> groff is a single pass formatter, LaTeX is multi-pass.

Not sure what you mean by this, but groff and TeX are
pretty much the same in this regard.  Both are single-pass
formatters, in the sense that the programs do only one pass
over the document when executed, and both require multiple
invocations to enable forward references at all.  However,
macro packages differ in strategy and ease of use regarding
the resolution of references.

> things like forward page references ("cf. section 5,
> page 10") are easy in LaTeX whereas in groff you have to
> intervene (forcing multiple passes and using some tricks)

LaTeX also uses multiple passes (you just call the program
twice; however, while you're editing/compiling/viewing,
you normally have the references from a previous run already
available, so unless you make major changes during one cycle,
one pass is usually sufficient).  Furthermore, there is no
reason not to implement the same strategy that LaTeX uses
in your groff macro package, giving you the same ease of use
that LaTeX users enjoy.

> Formatting directives in LaTeX are much more verbose. If
> you really have to type all that stuff (instead of using
> editor shortcuts or what else) it gets in the way a bit.

I don't think this is really an issue.  I find that when
working on a document, only 10% of the time is actually taken
up by text entry, 90% consists of editing already-entered text
(and shifting stuff around etc.), and most of this editing
regards the text proper, not the formatting.  Thus I would
say that learning to use your text editor efficiently will
benefit you much more than saving a couple of keystrokes
on a markup tag.

> I believe a standard LaTeX install amounts to a few
> hundred MB, groff comes in at maybe 10-20 MB (?) or
> something like that.

This also isn't an issue.  Those hundred megabytes also give
you lots more functionality, and you don't have to do a full
install if you don't need it.  Also, it's irrelevant when
you consider that a modern operating system installation uses
several gigabytes.  (Windows, anyone?  Or should we say,
"DOS is much better than Windows because it fits onto a
single floppy disk.")

> using 'pdflatex' on the other hand allows  to keep
> everything as pdf. that's nicer.

PDF sucks.  It's not programmable, and mostly impossible to
write and edit by hand.

> there is a third candidate: 'lout' (there is a wikipedia
> entry), which has quite some nice ideas, but it seems
> to have at least some sub-optimal settings regarding
> hyphenation thresholds which frequently squeezes too
> much text in a line according to my taste.

I'm glad you mention lout.  I've always wanted to try it
out, but I haven't yet been able to force myself to actually
do it.  I think it's rather unfortunate that we don't have
more experimental text-formatters which implement new ideas
(provided new ideas exist at all).  Sure, you'll be mostly
reinventing the wheel, but what's wrong with that?  People
waste lots of time implementing much less useful programs.

Perhaps after writing a groff macro package, maybe I should
write my own text formatter...

> last  not  least: groff can produce reasonably formatting
> of ASCII documents.

Yes, this is a feature where *roff probably is without rival.

(Unfortunately, it seems to have gone out of fashion to
produce quality documentation in "man" format (the main
use of this feature), so it currently isn't even used to
its full potential.)

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