Paul F. Schaffner wrote:
> American, not Israeli, though there was an Israeli version.
My mistake then. It is just that lengthy technical exchanges I had to engage
in with the developers, nearly 20 years ago now, to extricate a colleague
who was having big problems (with Biblical Hebrew texts, admittedly) were
conducted entirely with people in Tel Aviv, whom I took to be the authors.
> And there's nothing more ephemeral or proprietary than a
> Microsoft format!
In my, possibly highly ideolectic, understanding of what "ephemeral" means,
Microsoft is the one and only commercial provider of word processing
products whose internal formats have *not* so far proven to be ephemeral.
Yes, the formats are proprietary; and until Office 2003 (but not since then)
they were also closed (the two are not the same thing, an important
distinction which seems to escape a lot of people).
But I can take a Word for DOS file from 1982, some of which I still have on
my hard disk (long since salvaged from 5.25. inch media, since there was
some point in doing so) pick it up in the File Open dialogue box of Word
2003 and have the nearly 25-year-old document, with no special intervention
on my part, come straight up with every single feature intact. Word 2003
will even locate and apply a DOS Word 2 style sheet (of which more in a
moment). (Admittedly I would have had to get the Word for
DOS format handler -- free -- from Microsoft support, had I first licensed
Word in its 2003 incarnation, rather than installing it via a seamless
update sequence from earlier versions, because this is hardly a feature that
a lot of customers nowadays want to find installed by default). Then I save
as current Word format, and it's off to Open Office and other Free Software
for the rest of the operations.
Over the past quarter century, I have spent very many hours assisting
desperate "format orphans" abandoned by the people who sold them
(commercially or metaphorically) some niche package or other, including, in
days when my hand was somewhat steadier and my eyes sharper, soldering
together add-on Western Digital boards to allow IBM PC clones to read old
formats (like the Osborne CP/M) which the NEC floppy controllers in the IBMs
couldn't handle even at magnetic flux transition level. So I think I know
more than I ever wanted to about what "ephemeral" really means in this area.
In a few days time, we shall go public with the complete on-line run of the
Anglo-Norman Dictionary, thirty-odd thousand more or less complex entries,
all now in TEI-XML, rendered on the fly into HTML; and some of
those entries started out from Word 2 for DOS format on their substantially
automated transition towards TEI-XML . There were all sorts of problems en
route; but there would have been a great deal many more had Microsoft not
consistently ensured backward compatibility (at read level at least) of each
iteration of Word with all its predecessors. Had the AND editors in the mid
1980s (some of whom were subject to a pretty hard sell from local NB
enthusiasts), not heeded my pleas not to commit to Nota Bene, despite its
apparently superior capabilities for scholarly work, the task of converting
their presentational formatting to structural markup would have proved
immeasurably greater. Microsoft has enough genuine heinous offences on its
record without adding spurious ones, simply on the principle of "Timeo
Rubrimontanienses et dona ferentes".
> > None of the specific skills relevant to using it have any application
> > at all to modern text editing or XML document authoring
> I disagree completely. NB, at least in its DOS version with which I
> am most familiar, was very good preparation for editing marked-up
Then we might as well say that learning Ventura Publisher was a great
propaedeutic to XML authorship, though that is not an effect I can claim to
have observed in the field. None of the NB users who brought their woes to
their friendly neighbourhood Chair of German after campus support for NB was
abruptly dropped when its main advocate left for another university ever
made any use of (or had any understanding of) the internal markup system
used by NB, and they certainly never learned anything I could discern from
or through it about more generally applicable principles of text encoding. I
see now Peter F. has now added further info here that I had obviously
suppressed through self-protective amnesia.
As for separation of text and markup, precisely that that was the great (and
at that time in the office user market, unique) strength of Word for Dos up
to V3, which, before NB came on the scene, already had full-blown
stylesheets, far more conceptually and practically powerful than the toy
"document templates" that under pressure from marketing influences,
Microsoft then backported into DOS Word 5 and the first Word for Windows
from its Mac version, where they were in due course to become such a
splendid virus vector on every campus and in many businesses on the planet.
The trouble was, users in those days -- especially scholarly ones -- simply
weren't prepared to learn about separation of content and markup. They
thought remembering not to press return at the end of every line was a
disconcertingly revolutionary departure from What They Were Comfortable
With. Having formatted a document using a Word stylesheet, they then altered
the stylesheet when creating a different document with different layout
requirements (instead of creating a new sheet for a new document type as per
the manual). Then shock horror! They loaded in older documents previously
associated with that, now modified, stylesheet and discovered that their
formatting had changed.
Instead of seizing the opportunity to learn from this experience about an
important and powerful abstraction, they, all too often in unison with their
"expert" advisers, cried Bug!! Bug!! Damn these computers!! Stupid
Microsoft!! Back to WordStar!! where at least your formatting stays where
you put it overnight, even if you do have to add those accents in ballpoint
But as my sixtieth year draws closer, I have to accept that people never
learn. Or at least, not in Places of Learning they don't. That's why they
are such dangerous locations for intelligent young people to linger in at an