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Re: [Groff] The future redux

From: Eric S. Raymond
Subject: Re: [Groff] The future redux
Date: Wed, 26 Feb 2014 00:29:07 -0500
User-agent: Mutt/1.5.21 (2010-09-15)

James K. Lowden <address@hidden>:
> > man pages don't really need expressive typography.  
> Man pages are constrained by xterm.  A better display system would
> invite tables, graphs, equations, and links.  

Yes, but we don't have that.  If and when we do, it seems certain at
this point to be founded on some descendant of HTML5, increasing the
importance of rendering for the Web rather than decreasing it.
> > That is, I don't see any reason why a combination of stylesheets with
> > in-document processing instructions to declare local exceptions
> How are "local exceptions" different in kind from dropping in a bit of
> raw troff?  

They achieve similar purposes.  But the way PIs are designed tends to mean
that rendering of the document degrades less if you ignore them.

> > In actual fact the stylesheet-based engines are not quite that good
> > yet.
> Despite two decades of development.  To me, any technology that fails
> to meet its own objective in that much time has demonstrated it never
> will.  That doesn't make the technology useless; it means the objective
> is probably not attainable.  

Don't overinterpret what I said.  The stylesheet-based engines *are*
good enough that I have been able to use them to produce books with
decent typographic and layout quality (and I mean decent compared to
classic troff).  You have to get pretty deep into microadjustments
before they no longer cover what you want to do.

Now that there is a reasonably feature-complete renderer for XML-FO even the
minor limitations I remember might be gone.  I'd have to do another book
to be sure.

> But do you seriously think every presentation choice can be mapped to a
> semantic one?

My experience is that when you can't do that, you have failed to think through
what you are doing sufficiently well, and sooner or later that failure will
come back to haunt you.  At least, that's true in the kind of writing I do.  

>                 Is there a markup language that doesn't admit
> straight-up bold and italic?

Yes.  XML-DocBook.  I don't miss it, either, because what I really want is
<emphasis>, <citetitle>, and several different semantic things like <varname>
and <errorcode> that get mapped to bold at presentation level.

>                   Doesn't the use of a stylesheet language
> inherently constrain presentation?  

I haven't found it to be a problem.  But even if I had, I'd have accepted
whatever constraints were required to play on the Web rather than being
confined to moldering paper.

Younger hackers of today are used to reading tests on computers and
cellphones and tablets with variable sizes and resolutions of
displays. I guarantee you that the notion of marking up documents as
though they would always be rendered on dead tress at a fixed page
size seems even sillier to them than it does to me.
                <a href="";>Eric S. Raymond</a>

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