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a2ps and printing in a mixed O/S environment in schools

From: Nelson H. F. Beebe
Subject: a2ps and printing in a mixed O/S environment in schools
Date: Mon, 10 Jan 2005 08:30:23 -0700 (MST)

Benoît Gagnon asks about supporting printing in a fixed Windows /
MacOS / GNU/Linux environment for school teachers in Québec.

Desktop software on MacOS and Windows talks to a
printer-software-layer that supports a wide variety of printers,
converting word-processor and spreadsheet screen views to whatever
format the printer supports, even if it means just a simple, but big,

I suspect that the best solution in your mixed low-budget environment
is to ask people to save files in a wordprocessor format that at least
the regional printing office can support.  This is likely to be one of
the older versions of Microsoft Office, or possibly, Word Perfect.
StarOffice's native format is gzipped XML, but the others won't handle

Because desktop software datafile formats are not defined by open and
public specifications, but instead, in some cases, are quite secret
and proprietary, and incompatibility changed with each new product
version, each company has to reverse engineer its competitors'
formats.  The result is that the conversion is rarely error free, and
the document appearance is likely to be changed.  That is one of many
reasons that in parts of university academia (mathematics, physics,
computer science), we have long standardized on TeX and LaTeX, which
are completely portable across platforms, and have been for two

This of course doesn't resolve the issue of using a2ps to turn
ordinary text files into PostScript.  While it may well be possible to
build a Windows version of a2ps, it won't help those many users who
don't have ghostscript installed.  You might be able to package them
together in an easily-installable Windows distribution, but
inexperienced users are still likely to have problems, and are
unlikely to understand the technology well enough to be able to solve
their difficulties.  They just want to click on a print button to get
output, and they don't realize the enormous complexity that lies
underneath that simple action.

One solution that I think would make good sense for your environment
is for the regional printing department to run GNU/Linux as the base
O/S, with VMware providing a base for other operating systems, in
your, case, Microsoft Windows.  That way, a single system can provide
both O/Ses simultaneously without the need to reboot.  That regional
system can certainly have OpenOffice.org installed (free), along with
the commercial Microsoft Office, Corel WordPerfect, Lotus 1-2-3,
Deneba Canvas, ... desktop products needed to be able to handle the
files sent by their remote users.

>From a posting of mine a few weeks ago on another list:

>> ...
>> The VMWare Workstation package lists for about $190 (down from $350 a
>> year ago) at the vendor Web site
>>         http://www.vmware.com/products/desktop/ws_features.html
>> but third-party sellers have it for as low as $132:
>>         http://www.streetprices.com/x/search.cgi?query=VMware
>> You can get a limited-time evaluation copy from VMware to try out if
>> you like, but we have no hesitation in giving this product a very
>> strong recommendation.  It is simply superb: just buy it!  This is
>> definitely one software company worth supporting.
>> ...

- Nelson H. F. Beebe                    Tel: +1 801 581 5254                  -
- University of Utah                    FAX: +1 801 581 4148                  -
- Department of Mathematics, 110 LCB    Internet e-mail: address@hidden  -
- 155 S 1400 E RM 233                       address@hidden  address@hidden -
- Salt Lake City, UT 84112-0090, USA    URL: http://www.math.utah.edu/~beebe  -

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