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Re: [Groff] Mission statement, second draft

From: Eric S. Raymond
Subject: Re: [Groff] Mission statement, second draft
Date: Tue, 18 Mar 2014 18:13:11 -0400
User-agent: Mutt/1.5.21 (2010-09-15)

Peter Schaffter <address@hidden>:
> Ignorance about groff as a complete typesetting system is
> practically pandemic.  After five editions, O'Reilly's _Running
> Linux_ still demonstrates groff usage with a tutorial on writing
> manpages.  And recently, I came upon this parenthetical comment at
> the Simon Fraser University site:
>  "(I have a weirdly retrotech idea that we could do typesetting with
>    groff.  For regular prose, groff is every bit as powerful as TeX,
>    while being about one tenth the size and complexity.)"
> If groff is as powerful as TeX while being one tenth the size,
> why on earth does the author dismiss it out-of-hand as weirdly
> retrotech?  

That's not a mystery to me.  If it stays one to you, we have a problem; 
you can't plan to do anything effective against that perception if
you don't understand it.

Here are several reasons groff gets written off as "weirdly retrotech":

* The [nt]roff markup design has a lot of tells that it was designed
for very old machines that were ridiculously underpowered even by the
standards of, oh, 1990, let alone today.  Line-by-line formatting,
short request names, limited number of font positions, no color
support, a hole where embedded image support ought to be, things like
that.  Don't counter that groff fixed some of these things; that would
be missing the point, which is that the core design screams "legacy!"

* Sheer calendar age - a lot of people not sophisticated enough to spot
those tells know it was written 40 years ago.

* Strange, irregular, archaic-seeming markup design compared to XML or
even TeX.  Brian Kernignan called it "rebarbative" in *1979*.

* Weak support for HTML output, no support for ePub.  People on this
list may think it's just fine that groff is so printer-oriented, but I
promise you nobody else who was out of diapers by 1996 shares *that*
quaint opinion.

To put it more directly, groff seems like retrotech because it *is*
retrotech. This creates a bit of a problem in trying to convince
anyone otherwise.
                <a href="";>Eric S. Raymond</a>

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