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WYSIWYG vs markup was: Re: [News] One Guy Administers...

On 2006-10-05, Roy Schestowitz <newsgroups@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxx> wrote:
> __/ [ Linonut ] on Thursday 05 October 2006 03:22 \__
>>    Word... spend more time getting Word to accept the formatting you
>>    want, instead of writing words...
> Have a look...
> This was published just a couple of days ago.
> http://www.freesoftwaremagazine.com/articles/openoffice_writer_intro
> "With WYSIWIG word processors people get interested in the final layout of
> the document too soon"
> Let's just hope people can grasp the typesetting paradigm and get some actual
> input going while letting the 'brain' of the program handle layout and
> styles (which are interchangeable). The article exemplifies this visually,
> which I think can be helpful when it comes to changing your peers' habits.

Hmm.  While I appreciate the spirit in which the linked article seems
to have been intended, I do have a couple of points of disagreement,
one minor, the other major.

The minor point is the author's reference to LaTeX in the beginning of
the article: "...with systems like LaTeX... you are required to take
care of the content first, and concentrate on the visual side later".
IMO this implies a (false) temporal ordering on the two aspects of
document preparation which in fact is precisely what markup systems
like LaTeX are trying to avoid.  The principle is that one should
attempt to the extent possible to _separate_ the content creation and
formatting aspects; if succesful, you can then work on either in
whatever order suits you, or both in tandem as you please.  (I can for
example send a draft to my boss for review of the _content_ while I
head off to CTAN to figure out how to get "subsubsubsection" (LaTeX
calls them "paragraphs", but so what) titles to be underlined the way
he wants them.)

My major disagreement is that the author seems to be making a
distinction between OOo and other WYSIWYG word processors where, again
IMO, none exists, and in doing so does a bit of a disservice to
systems like LaTeX which are truly distinct from the WYSIWYG paradigm.
The emphasis of the article is (quite properly, I agree) on the
"styles" feature of OOo, but of course MS Word also has such a
"styles" feature ("templates"? I don't use MS Word, so I don't know or
much care about the jargon, I'm just interested in the basics of the
feature here).

Of course it would be admirable if this feature came into more
widespread use, regardless of the particular word processor one
favors, and it _is_ good to see articles like this encouraging the use
of this feature (and the mentality of _separating_ form from content).
But this issue has been around longer than OOo itself, and as a LaTeX
user (call me biased but) I don't see things changing anytime soon.

Consider the author's "keywords" example at the beginning of the
article.  Now you may very well convince a WYSIWYG user that defining
(and using consistently) a separate style for "keywords" is The Right
Thing to Do.  The problem is that it is _still_ more effort than just
hitting "bold and underline" (however one does that, I'll assume here
ctrl-b ctrl-u but you get the point).  One day the user will be in
just "too big a hurry" to go through the "hassle" of defining the
keyword style.  Or maybe they _do_ force themselves to do it, and do
use that style... except for a few keywords on pages 43-46 when the
phone rang and they were trying to keep getting _some_ work done while
Bob in accounting kept droning about whatever it is he's always on
about.  (Then a change gets made to the keyword style which is _not_
carried over to the ones forgotten about.)  It's just too _easy_ to be
lazy, and the problem is the Right Way is _more_ work.

Now consider me, the laziest LaTeX user in the world.  Bold and
underline keywords, ok, fine.
"\underline{\textbf{curmudgeon}}... blah blah...
\underline{\textbf{martinet}}... geez why not just bold, why does he
want them _both_ bold and underlined... \underline{\textbf{fascist
jerk}}. Gah, that does it!"  Even if I am _not_ concerned about
"future style changes" as I should be, even if I am being a completely
self-centered lazy pig, I will _merely for my own convenience_ get fed
up by the third instance and go define a \newcommand{\keyword} (or
even \newcommand{\key} if you want to save those four characters
typing each time).  The same is true of the basic "headings" the
author was talking about; I don't care _how_ snazzy your wp's
interface is, I will have typed \section{And Another Thing} while
you're still futzing with the style menu.

In a WYSIWYG system, the Right Way is almost always _more_ effort than
the wrong way.  With a good markup system like LaTeX, the Right Way is
also the Easy Way.

Sorry this was so long, and I _do_ respect the author's attempt to
encourage separation of form and content (again, IMO that's a _good_
thing).  But if you _do_ like (or come to like) setting up style
sheets, and won't type a line of text unless you've told your word
processor exactly what style it belongs to, maybe it's time to take a
look at something like LaTeX.  You might like it even better. :)


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