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[Groff] troff syntax and useability

From: Rob Scovell
Subject: [Groff] troff syntax and useability
Date: Wed, 28 Aug 2002 00:36:44 +1200

I am going to ask a radical question here. This is not because I want to stir a fight between purists and pragmatists. It is a genuine question. I also do not want to denigrate what you guys are doing.

troff syntax is horribly terse. The macros are better, but not that much better, IMHO. I am not a regular troff user but I like what it does and would like to use it more than I do for the almost total control it gives you over layout.

I am assuming the syntax is as terse as it is because it was initially developed in the days when disk space was precious. Why can't it be made easier or more obvious? I am no stranger to terse code -- just peek at some of my perl code. I am also confident with postscript code. However, if I pick up troff, use it for something, then put it down again, when I come back to use it the next time I find I have to re-learn a lot of stuff.
 This does not happen with other languages.

If my aim is to produce postscript, why should I have to start with something that is more difficult than postscript?

Debugging is hellish.

Admittedly, the requests and macros make sense *after* you've learned them -- but not before and the appearance on the page of terse, two-letter 'commands' makes learning troff too much of a memory test.

I would prefer to spend more time and risk more RSI typing out meaningful requests and macros that would make the debugging task easier.

Another consideration is that a human editor or author wouldn't want to go anywhere near troff code as it stands. They would be less reluctant if it were clear what the typesetting code meant, even if they were under strict instructions not to monkey with it, as the codes would give them clear visual cues when editing the text.

I want to use troff to typeset -- not for the intellectual challenge of learning troff nor for the sake of Unix ritual purity.

But the worst problem is this -- it's not much *fun*.


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