[OT] debate about Free software for the ACT Government

Richard Cottrill richard_c at tpg.com.au
Thu Apr 25 19:30:07 EST 2002

I'm just going to be rude and suggest that at high school level most kids
don't/can't think in the abstract terms of a 'structure' for their document
(based on the musings of a high school English teacher I know). I certainly
don't write a structured first-draft of anything (or at least the structure
changes dramatically and quickly). The rude bit is my opinion that without
using a skill people tend to revert back to a high school level of
proficiency in things (leaving us with 'specialists'). I think 'forcing'
people to structure their documents will just create crappier documents.

It is generally true (for humans and computers) that creating structure from
disorder is difficult, but parsing a structure is easy. Hence people prefer
to read structured documents (and computers require them because they're not
so bright) but given random data, people and computers take a while to
structure them.

I seem to have wandered waaaaaay off the original topic...


> -----Original Message-----
> From: linux-admin at lists.samba.org [mailto:linux-admin at lists.samba.org]On
> Behalf Of Simon Fowler
> Sent: Thursday, April 25, 2002 8:51 AM
> To: CLUG Mailing List
> Subject: Re: debate about Free software for the ACT Government
> On Thu, Apr 25, 2002 at 01:59:58PM +1000, Alex Satrapa wrote:
> > On Thursday, April 25, 2002, at 10:43 , Simon Fowler wrote:
> > >You type stuff in, do some formatting with mouse/toolbars/etc, save,
> > >print, that kind of thing. How mnay people actually /use/ things like
> > >stylesheets in word? And how long would
> > >it take to pick up those differences when needed?
> >
> >
> > That's exactly the kind of attitude I don't want to see.  The reason
> > Word is so good is that is supports stylesheets.  My favourite
> > configuration for Word removes all the "text formatting" buttons from
> > the toolbars and leaves me with the useful things - revision, comment
> > and index buttons, and the style picker.
> >
> > HTML uses CSS now.  Latex document production uses stylesheets, Word
> > uses styles.
> >
> > I am almost overcome by violent urges everytime I see someone
> formatting
> > a Word document using "bold" and "underline" rather than setting the
> > style to "Heading 1".
> >
> Yes yes yes . . . I realise stylesheets are wonderful, but their
> existence doesn't actually change my argument: are they used
> normally, and how hard is it to pick up the differences the
> introduce between different programs?
> That's my point - if you want an 'ideal' word processing
> environment, something like LyX is probably an order of magnitude
> better than Word or any other WYSIWYG system, simply because you
> /have/ to think about the structure of the document, rather than the
> details of the layout. But the traditional word processing model
> /hasn't/ been like that, and even with people who are extremely
> experienced with word, the structure oriented model is quite
> different. It's also quite consistent between the various word
> processors that are out there - hence my assertion that switching
> between them isn't that hard.
> Switching between LyX and Word + stylesheets would probably be
> reasonably easy, because the models are similar. And again my
> argument applies.
> >
> > >It's not like a switch betwee Word and LyX, where the models behind
> > >the programs are completely different . . .
> >
> > If done properly, the models are quite similar - stick to the
> predefined
> > styles, and use stylesheet based formatting, not character formatting.
> >
> > In fact, I'd like to see at least two separate categories for
> "Microsoft
> > Word" expertise - indicating whether the person is a
> > character-formatting troll, or a stylesheet using demigod.
> >
> > The skills (or more importantly - the discipline) of the latter would
> > make them more versatile, since they can carry those concepts across to
> > HTML, XML, LaTeX and other tools.  Character-based formatting in Word
> > means you end up becoming entirely reliant upon that interface to be
> > able to produce documents.
> >
> Bingo - there's my argument again. Switching between systems that
> work on the same model is fairly simple, or at least quite doable,
> and certainly far simpler than changing between different models.
> > So perhaps part of the process of freeing oneself from the Microsoft
> > hegemony is to learn the abstract skills and disciplines such
> as knowing
> > the general structure of "a letter", and knowing how to apply
> the styles
> > (eg: Subject, Address, List Level 1) that are used in "a letter" -
> > rather than knowing that in Word, you use this specific
> template, format
> > this line to Helvetica 18pt bold, that line to 13pt Arial Round, etc.
> >
> I couldn't agree more. That's one reason I don't like word
> processors - my preference these days is either emacs and LaTeX, or
> LyX.
> So, we actually agree on the basic point (aside from the superiority
> of structure based document development): when you have the same
> model of operation between systems, it's generally quite easy to
> switch between them. So, why use Word rather than LyX? Or Word
> rather than WordPerfect? Or Word rather than StarWrite (or whatever
> they call it)? The simple answer is compatibility, and that's what
> we should be aiming at - use a standard format that a large
> selection of programs can handle, and then let people use whatever
> they like.
> In this day and age, the only real candidate is HTML, though XML may
> fit the bill given support for a particular DTD. As long as it's
> open and as many programs as possible can handle it, make it a
> standard. And /that's/ what we should be telling the politicians:
> "Decide on open standards for document formats and protocols and so
> forth, and then put things out to tender, or let people follow their
> preferences where appropriate".
> As with document preparation systems, if you get the model right
> everything else should follow fairly easily . . .
> Simon
> --
> PGP public key Id 0x144A991C, or ftp://bg77.anu.edu.au/pub/himi/himi.asc
> (crappy) Homepage: http://bg77.anu.edu.au
> doe #237 (see http://www.lemuria.org/DeCSS)
> My DeCSS mirror: ftp://bg77.anu.edu.au/pub/mirrors/css/

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