Subject: Re: Cygnus and proprietary software
From: Michael Stutz <stutz@dsl.org>
Date: Thu, 1 Jan 1998 14:09:13 -0500 (EST)

On Fri, 26 Dec 1997, Joel N. Weber II wrote:

> I think there are a lot of people who want a word processor, but there
> are no truely competent people who can write a good word processor and
> are willing to get the job done.  Writing a word processor is apparently
> not something that attracts competent hackers.  I'm not saying that it isn't
> possible for a competent hacker to want to work on a word processor; I'm just
> saying that as far as I can tell it has not happened yet.

I have always thought it was a good thing that a free Word clone does not
exist. I think that devoting energy to such a project would be going
backwards. (And there _are_ several attempts at building a free word
processor, listed at <http://www.hex.net/~cbbrowne/wp-3.html#ss3.2>). 

There is a difference between an application and a task; applications are
arbitrary, while tasks are not. This is an important distinction. The
question should not be whether or not GNU/Linux has a word processor, but
whether or not a user can, say, produce a professional-looking, typeset
business letter.

It turns out that with a GNU/Linux system, one can -- and the output is
better than that of a "word processor."

GNU/Linux users are fortunate enough to have the TeX typesetting system at
their disposal, probably one _the_ most robust (and bug-free) systems of its
kind ever to be devised. Like UNIX, TeX is a work of structural integrity --
it is built to last, was invented long ago (with no indication of
obsolescence in the near future).

At the time when Captain Crunch invented the first word processing program,
typesetting systems were generally not home devices; most people went to a
print shop to have typeset work done. Word processors tried to fill this gap
for some things, and they were a great improvement on using a typewriter for
your work, but the quality was (and still is) lacking when compared to a
"real" typeset document -- such as one created with hot type, any of several
specialized, proprietary typesetting systems (Datalogics comes to mind), and
TeX. "Word processing" is an obsolete concept, and is destined to be a
technological footnote in the same way that TV typewriters have.

My feeling on the matter is that the time spent working on a free "word
processor" would be better spent creating tutorials, templates, macros,
fonts and other additions to the TeX system, anything to make its operation
easier for the user.

(And learning TeX can be daunting, but it doesn't have to be that way. The
only decent TeX tutorial I have ever read, Michael Doob's _A Gentle
Introduction to TeX_, makes learning and using TeX a pleasure. Other books
-- even popular ones, such as _A LaTeX Companion_ and Lamport's own books --
have been described on netnews as being like "VCR manuals." The TeX FAQ
seems outdated and/or incomplete, and none of these books are available on
the net -- they all go for upwards of US$50.)

To this end, LyX is one of the most exciting free software works I've seen
lately. It's not appropriate for typesetting all LaTeX documents, but it
could make learning and using LaTeX much easier for a lot of folks.

Other useful additions could be a standard set of LaTeX templates for
correspondence, articles, reports and whatnot, in read-only files and with a
graphical preview of the various styles (by view the supplied DVI or PS
output of these files). Another thing that would be nice are more free
fonts, and a way to easily preview them. (Come to think of it, there is no
Font-HOWTO for GNU/Linux systems. This would be useful.)

On Sat, 27 Dec 1997, Brian Bartholomew wrote:

> I do have some ideas about a "word processor":

> Build a system for typesetting any size or shape of graphical marks, not
> just letters.  Build a system to make complex layered effects like
> you see on commercial art, not just opaque black letters on opaque
> white paper.

I like your idea, and it seems like it would be well suited to the problem
of typesetting Oriental languages. And as it turns out, a Japanese team is
working on just that -- the GNU Yellow Vector Editor,
<http://bandits.aist-nara.ac.jp/~masata-y/gyve/gyve.html>. This looks like
another one of those exciting-but-still-vaporware free software projects
(such as Mnemonic and Audiotheque) that would really change the game if they
ever get past the alpha stage. 

m

Michael Stutz  .  http://dsl.org/m/  .  copyright disclaimer etc
stutz@dsl.org  :  finger for pgp     :  http://dsl.org/copyleft/