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TEI-L  October 2004

TEI-L October 2004

Subject:

Re: MS Word and XML (eventually...)

From:

Peter Flynn <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

Peter Flynn <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Mon, 11 Oct 2004 10:32:54 +0100

Content-Type:

text/plain

Parts/Attachments:

Parts/Attachments

text/plain (108 lines)

On Sat, 2004-10-09 at 14:04, Michael Beddow wrote:
> In other words, if it's still Friday where you are when you read this,

It's Monday morning now, so the effects of the G&Ts have largely worn
off...

You quote Syd:
> > I will take this opportunity to point out that MS Word is a lot worse
> > than just plain text
[...]
> However, there are all sorts of reasons why other people might want or need
> either to do MS Word->TEI conversions on legacy data

Word-to-XML I deal with fairly regularly, and probably like most people
here I long ago settled on saving the file as TXT, and using Emacs
macros to do the job by hand. For the particular user involved, the
biblio bit of the DTD is simplistic (think simplified <bibl> but without
the PCDATA) with only a dozen subelements, for which I have trained F1
to F12 to stick tags around whatever I highlight, leaving all extraneous
spacing and punctuation to be cleaned up by another macro afterwards.
This now goes surprising fast, and is more accurate than any set of
heuristics I have been able to find or invent, but it is still manual
labour, and is charged accordingly.

> To avoid a disastrous, but persistent misunderstanding: MS Word will never
> be a suitable application for direct authoring of TEI conformant documents,
> and I don't believe it ever could be, even in future incarnations and/or
> with any amount of clever customisation. There is a wide gulf set between
> the internals of WYSIWIG word-processors and the sort of editor capable of
> handling complex "docucentric" XML of the kind that all but the lightest of
> TEI-lite markup entails. Chalk and Cheese. Sophisticated XML editors can,
> with some difficulty and more or less awkwardness, be made to look enough
> like WSYWIG WP systems to fool the casual onlooker; but the reverse process
> is in my view neither feasible nor desirable.

That is pretty much the problem in a nutshell, although there are some
"solutions" (as the marketing folk like to call them).

> 1) Before you scoff on, be sure you have looked long and hard at the XML
> (so-called WordprocessingML) implemented specifically in Word 2003.

More important, however, is the ability of Word-11 to act as a real XML
editor, using an arbitrary Schema. Currently this still does not handle
structures of the complexity of DocBook or TEI (actually it's a year
since I tested it, so they may have fixed it now), but creating a subset
for biblio work is not hard.

But that still won't work for the WP/WYSIAYFWG end-user. XML-mode in
Word is an XML editor, with cute little graphical tags fore and aft,
attributes, PIs, comments, and all the error messages we have come to
know and love from synchronous parsers. It is still forbiddingly hard
for anyone unversed in markup to use it: I see almost weekly requests
on c.t.x for help along the lines of "the company has decided to put
everything into XML, so we've created some schemas/dtds and now we need
to employ an infinite number of monkeys to type up or convert the
text...what editor should we use...oh, and it must be Word-like and
create faultless XML with no user knowledge..." etc etc ad infinitum.

While it remains cheaper to stuff it all into Word, and have someone
in India or the Pacific Rim convert it to XML, again and again at each
stage in the document cycle, companies and projects will continue to
regard Word as the only authoring environment, whether it's WordML or
just .doc format. There has been very little research published on the
nature of the editing interface to structured documents, and especially
not on the usability of the interfaces, or the psychology behind why
users approach structured editing with certain {pre|mis}conceptions,
so understanding the dynamics behind software choice, levels of usage,
and quality of result is rather complex. Many people in the markup
field have just about given up on the idea of ever getting an editor
for their users/customers/clients that does the job in an acceptable
manner (part of the reason it's my PhD topic).

> So what can, and indeed
> should be sensibly said here is that Word 2003 XML is nothing like the sort
> of XML we need to write, interchange and use. But it's none the worse for
> that, not even as a tool for a TEI-based project, provided we realise what
> sort of XML it is, why it is as it is, and how we can, if we so wish, put
> its features to good use as the basis for the controlled creation by Word
> users of files destined for robust and reliable upconversion into TEI
> markup.

I'm afraid I do still seriously question the productivity of using the
kind of ANY model implemented by WordML as a tool for deliberately
creating an intermediate format for the ultimate target of TEI. At a
relatively simple level it will of course work, just as using named
styles and DynaTag works fine for the heading-and-paragraph document
model. But the WYSIAYFWG interaction model is based on allowing the
users to type anything, anywhere, at any time, in any style they want;
and more importantly, on not recording any information about why or how
the text got where it was put, either by heuristics or direct querying.

In fact, I have had better results from saving Word as LaTeX from
within AbiWord, and then doing a bunch of repeat-replaces. All these
tools and techniques solve the one-off problem to a greater or lesser
degree, but none of them even start to tackle the repetitive or cyclical
problem of a constant stream of production documents or the need to
send a document back into the pipeline for re-editing and reconversion.

But what Michael says is very important: we do still have to deal with
the bulk of documents created in Word, and using an XML format is
possibly better in many cases than using no markup at all. It is also
probably instructive to consider the moves the EC made to suggest that
Sun submit the OpenOffice XML formats to the ISO as potential standards.
If there is formal backing for this, then we do have at least one more
fixed point in the multiverse to use as a fulcrum.

///Peter

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