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Re: an opinionated history of *roff macro packages (was: pdfroff in grof

From: Damian McGuckin
Subject: Re: an opinionated history of *roff macro packages (was: pdfroff in groff 1.23.0.rc3 changes compared to 1.22.4)
Date: Thu, 6 Apr 2023 17:42:14 +1000 (AEST)


On Thu, 6 Apr 2023, G. Branden Robinson wrote:

At 2023-04-05T18:13:16+0000, Micha? Kruszewski wrote:
I have once evaluated ms, mm and mom.  I have come from the Latex
world after being sick of its bloat.  I was looking for something
simple.  I know some differences between ms, mm and mom, but I do not
really understand why people did not want to cooperate to create a
single macro package and single program.

The reasons are mostly historical and organizational. Adding "me", "man", and mdoc to the above list, I'll offer a summary. Some of this is grounded on my absorption of historical documents and some is reckless speculation with a conspiratorial bent. I am a first-hand observer of practically nothing discussed here.

ms, written by Mike Lesk, came first, in Version 6 Unix (1975).


mm(7) also shares many macros in common with ms(7), and in many ways matches ms(7)'s behavior more closely than man(7) does. But it also has a _lot_ more macros. Also, both ms(7) and mm(7) come from AT&T. So why do we have both?

Doug is a first-hand ms(7) user and has been since it started in 1975 I believe so he might be able to fill in some of the blanks.

I think the original reasons for having both packages far predates the 1980 time slot about which you speak.

Again, I think Doug's memory is better placed to fill in the gaps on ms(7) and mm(7), not least because he was a lot closer to what happened and has been using ms(7) for much longer than I have used mm(7).

There is a paper on MM published at an October 1976 conference by Mashey and Smith. When I asked John Mashey for some background on this during COVID, he most kindly replied with some history and precisely mentioned why MM was created:

        Mike?s -MS was already out, but didn?t cover the various document
        formats in our Area at BTL Piscataway. Dale (Smith) & I had written
        several different local packages, then it was time to do a general
        one with parameterization to cover them all, hence the ?style
        sheet? approach that let the bulk of the text take on different
        appearances. I think the 1st version of MM was 4Q75 or 1Q76, it
        was certainly in wide use at BTL Piscataway by 2Q/3Q76, or we
        wouldn?t have talked about it in October 1976 conference.

        MM was apparently the most stressful macro package, as we often
        found nroff bugs no one else did. Joe Ossanna was thankfully very
        quick at fixing them.

At UNSW in Civil Engineering, we had our own reasons for adopting MM (with nroff and troff) in the late 70s for use by academic staff and secretaries (who manipulated documents and technical papers with ed(1)) but that is probably not relevant to this conversation.

- Damian

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