Guest: Current Alternatives to Word Processing

During my investigation of ways to back off resource hogs for getting work done, it’s already been noted repeatedly there is no console word processor, and precious few GUI apps are quick and light. For example, Lyx pops up quickly, and works quickly. It’s also as close to WYSIWYG as is really necessary. Yet it requires a huge TeTeX engine behind it for printing. The download for TeTeX is stupendous for dialup users, which is still the number one means of Internet connection world-wide. This also means taking up a large chunk of small harddrives. Saying “lightweight” means light all the way around. Besides, while it’s fonts are the best in the world for printed product, there is no option I know of for making use of the native character mode in any printer.

Variations on groff come closer, but with no word processor frontend as yet. There is nroff, which is quite primitive, and fairly simple as markup languages go. The output is fairly generic and most printers deal with it well. It’s fancier cousin troff is a bit more printer-specific, and the user must select from one of several old printer drivers. Just as Lyx is a GUI frontend for TeX, there could easily be a GUI frontend for roff. That was done once, long ago, with the Andrew Project at Carengie-Mellon. The project was discontinued long ago, and is hardly usable. Even the Linux binaries will scarcely run on anything newer than a distro with a 2.2-series kernel. The more common groff is merely a front for turning the markup into a postscript graphical page and printing via ghostscript. Thus, we lose the speed and simplicity of character-mode printing.

If I must use graphical printing, there is already a much easier path. The markup language known as HTML is more commonly known, and is far more versatile than TeX and roff. It’s obvious use is for the webpage you read now, but through the magic of Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) it’s possible to make a webpage display on-screen one way, and print another. Broad formatting options for a printer-friendly product can be linked in the HTML page to a print.css. All that is required to print is a graphical browser, and most will reliably render the print.css formatting in the print preview function. As electronic document standards advance into XML, there is even a more direct route with a specific document type for printer formatting. To some degree, OpenOffice implements just this sort of thing. However, anyone who has sampled this program knows it plants a huge resource footprint on your system.

This still leaves us with no word processor for character mode printing on the mass of daisy-wheel and dot-matrix printers still in use all over the world. The closest we came from the GUI was with WordPerfect 8 for Linux. WP8 used the old collection of printer drivers from WP5 and WP6, which offered excellent options for character mode printing, using the fonts hard-wired in the printer. Small enough to run on older machines, it sadly requires older run-time libraries now obsolete and regarded as insecure. There is no current offering that comes close. Perhaps if we can voice an audible demand for such a thing, there may be more interest in accommodating those who can’t afford the latest and greatest computer hardware.

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