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Tom wrote:

As for why bother to try other Office Suites or other programs there
are many possible reasons;


My reason for trying other programs is my obsessive search for software perfection. My "thing" is word processing, and ever since I abandoned DOS (and my PC-Write) in favor of Windows, I have searched for the perfect word processor. Of course, it doesn't exist, and in recent months, it has occurred to me that word processing is a much different operation than it was 20 years ago.

In the past, nearly every document we wrote was going to be printed, usually on some letter-sized paper (U.S. letter, or A4). We prepared our documents for the printer, and, our word processors were designed around this publication model. As Anne often calls them, computers were little more than glorified electronic typewriters. Word processors open up with a WYSIWYG screen, showing a letter-sized piece of paper. We have a typewriter style ribbon at the top of the screen, on which we can set margins and tab stops, just like I can do on my early 20th Century Underwood. And, yet, today, many, if not most documents prepared on word processors will never see a piece of paper. Between the Internet, and e-books, documents are now being read onscreen. Here in the U.S., most Federal Courts require lawyers to file their documents electronically, and even thought they are now read on a computer screen, they are still formatted for 8.5 x 11 inch paper using fonts designed for paper printing rather than the computer screen.

Now, when I'm preparing a document, I first ask myself, "where will this be read?" I'm now finding myself using markdown editors (ReText, WriteMonkey) more and more. They provide a simple way of editing text, without concern for paper formatting, using "markdown" codes, such as # for a heading, *italics*, **boldface**, etc. Documents are saved as pure text files, alleviating any concern about file formats. They are then compiled, in which the markdown codes are replaced with HTML codes, perfect for displaying onscreen or in an e-reader. Character and paragraph formatting is governed by Cascading Style Sheets. Print formatting is governed by the browser used to view the document. Users can then concentrate on the content and logical organization of their document, much in the same way LaTeX separates logical formatting from visual formatting.

The markdown codes reduce the need to fiddle around with paragraph styles in individual documents (yes, CSSs can be used in the same way as paragraph styles). While I love the power and formatting consistency provided by paragraph styles, I have, over the years, literally spent *hours* creating and editing my styles. And, then, (as Kracked-P has noted), when I send my document to a colleague who doesn't understand my style structure (or the concept of styles in the first place), everything gets messed up.

I think it's time to look at word processing from a new model. Rather than continuing to mimic the typewriter in document creation, I think it's time we found ways to create documents for a wide range of reading options -- paper, computer screen, e-book, iPhone, etc. Then, find ways to allow writers to concentrate on the content of their writing, keeping the word processor itself out of the way.


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