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RE: .doc file concerns

From: Thornley, David
Subject: RE: .doc file concerns
Date: Tue, 26 Jun 2001 09:33:58 -0500

> -----Original Message-----
> From: Mike Castle [mailto:address@hidden
> Sent: Monday, June 25, 2001 5:40 PM
> To: address@hidden
> Subject: Re: .doc file concerns
> On Mon, Jun 25, 2001 at 02:56:34PM -0700, Anita Chacko wrote:
> > Any alternate way to handle .doc files?
> Switch from using binary only formats.  All of the items you 
> mentioned are
> problems.  Proprietary formats like Word documents, just 
> can't be handled
> well.  There is nothing you can do except not use them.
I'd be very uncomfortable about standardizing on a proprietary
format, particularly since you can't effectively standardize on
a Word format (they change).  Other people do disagree with me
on that.

> Personally, I'd recommend using LaTeX to do your 
> documentation.  We used
> that with cvs (under win32!) and it worked great.  We able to make
> meaningful merges of documentation.  People could easily, see what was
> changed (using diff).  It's cross platform (I actually did my 
> work under
> Linux).
LaTeX is an excellent product.  It's optimized for mathematics
(Knuth is a mathematician), but will handle much more.

There are at least attempts to make it comparable to a WYSIWYG
word processor.  A Google search for "LaTeX WYSIWYG" found
a lot of references to something called LyX.  (Note:  there seems
to be a lot of European activity on this, so there may be
things out there that you can use if multilingual.)

> And personally, I found it MUCH easier to use than Word (I 
> always get lost
> in word.  With TeX, I was able to focus on the content of 
> what I wanted to
> write, and worry about how to mark up the structure later).
That's iffy, but as documents become more complicated it becomes
easier to get it right with TeX rather than Word.  One big advantage
of TeX is that you can change typographic and format changes at
will.  You don't have to think, "Gee, I'd like to change how I
formatted the section headers, but it's such a lot of work to
manually change all of them, and I might miss them."

> RTF _might_ be an option, if it uses reasonable formatting in 
> the rtf doc
> (ie, not all one big long line).
> For the rest of the CVS group:  What about other word 
> processors in the
> win32/dos world?  Do any word processors use text only format 
> these days?
> (Maybe for a history lesson, what word processors in the past 
> may have used
> suitable file formats?  NotaBene?  Word Perfect?  PC/Write or 
> whatever it
> was called.  I can't believe they've always been so dense...)
You haven't been around the microcomputer revolution much, have you?
Every word processor that I've used on a microcomputer operating system,
including the ones I used before the IBM PC appeared, has had a
binary proprietary format.  I think the earliest concern was size
(the size of computer-typed text hasn't changed much since the days
of the 80K floppy), and after that nobody seemed to care about
providing a non-proprietary or text-based format.  (Presumably
now the ever-changing Word format is seen as a cash cow by

Remember, proprietary formats are not generally for your benefit,
but for the company's.  The cultures of MS Windows and Unix are
considerably different, the former being much more dominated by
companies.  Since the company assumes that you will continue to
use their product, and continue updating, it is convenient for them
to use binary formats, enforces their assumptions, and has no
downside with large numbers of upset customers.

The same is the case for the compilers I've used: project information is
usually kept in some sort of proprietary binary format, rather than as
a Makefile.  I'm not going to recommend Make as a generally useful
interface, but it does have advantages of portability and readability.

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