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Re: Groff vs Heirloom troff (was Re: Quick question: how to do .index in

From: Steve Izma
Subject: Re: Groff vs Heirloom troff (was Re: Quick question: how to do .index in groff?)
Date: Fri, 31 Jul 2020 18:02:35 -0400
User-agent: Mutt/1.10.1 (2018-07-13)

On Fri, Jul 31, 2020 at 08:52:59PM +0200, Pierre-Jean Fichet wrote:
> Subject: Re: Groff vs Heirloom troff (was Re: Quick question: how to do
>  .index in groff?)
> Larry Kollar <> wrote:
> > I’m using neatroff for printed fiction,...
> > (including font features like small caps and extended
> > ligatures) and paragraph- at-once justification. Still, I
> > chafe at its low resolution (1/720in vs Groff’s 1/72000in),
> > because some microtypography requires a bit more than 1/10pt
> > precision. The macro set I use tries to accommodate either one.
> As a simple curiosity, to help me improve my typographic eye, could
> you please explain me in which situation you need a higher resolution?

For almost everything I typeset, especially books and
newsletter-type publications, I always at least a few places
where I need to use track kerning on a paragraph in order to get
good word spacing and to shorten or lengthen paragraphs in order
to avoid widows (the last line of a paragraph starting a column
of text). When I adjust the kerning (or mortising, if necessary)
in values of one-hundredth or one-thousandth of a point, it can
make a difference in whether a word fits on a line or is broken
or pushed to the next line, thereby making the paragraph too
long. I avoid trying to adjust only part of a paragraph because
that can drastically affect the "colour" (i.e., density) of the

That said, I've never been convinced that paragraph-at-a-time
justification makes a difference to the work I need to do for
getting good word fits and even colour to the page.
Over a period of about ten years starting in the late 1990s,
I typeset about 20 books using LaTeX (probably about 15,000 pages
altogether, the proceedings from various computer conferences)
and I found that the TeX paragraph-at-a-time justification had to
be scrutinized and adjusted just as much as my groff work. The
trade-off to getting better word spacing was that often TeX just
failed and overset lines. When it oversets a line you either have
to catch the stderr messages warning about that (among much other
noise) or look closely at the right margin to find often very
small amounts of protrusions into the margin. I much prefer
groff's process because I know it will never overset and bad
spacing catches my eye very easily.

Maybe this isn't a good argument against using the Knuth-Plass
algorithm for justification, and maybe I just never found the
correct way to solve my problems in TeX, but I would like to
caution people who think that the implementation of that
algorithm in groff is going to lessen the effort that goes into
high-quality typography.

I should also point out that I think the TeX community is a
wonderful group of people. I attended their annual conference a
few years ago when it occurred in Toronto and had a really good
time. Collaborating and exchanging typographical ideas with them
would be of great benefit to both of our communities.

        -- Steve

Steve Izma
Home: 35 Locust St., Kitchener, Ontario, Canada  N2H 1W6
E-mail:  phone: 519-745-1313
cell (text only; not frequently checked): 519-998-2684

I have always felt the necessity to verify what to many seemed a
simple multiplication table.
        -- Ilya Ehrenburg (Soviet author and critic; he's not
           talking about mathematics)

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