Archive of UserLand's first discussion group, started October 5, 1998.

Re: Why do artists have their own software companies?

Author:Ralph Hempel
Posted:4/20/2000; 6:35:53 PM
Topic:Why do artists have their own software companies?
Msg #:16480 (In response to 16459)
Prev/Next:16479 / 16481

It's not so much about why artists have their "own" software, it's more about the life cycle of writing from the creator to the press ready output...

Here's my 2 cents on tools for writing and Microsoft. This opinion was formed after reading stuff by Joel Spolsky (nice gem you've helped polish up) and trying to write a book - you know, the paper kind.

A long time ago (especially on Internet time) Byte magazine ran a special edition on editors. This is back in the early 80's. One of the interesting things that came out of it was the idea of "software imprinting" or the baby-duck syndrome.

In a nutshell, it says that most programmers, writers, etc get "imprinted" on the first software tool they use. This is why you get Linux/Win/Mac wars, and even more heated emacs/vi battles.

In the course of collaborating with 3 other authors on a book, we found that Microsoft Word was a common base for writing, reviewing, and updating the chapters. I'm not saying it is the best tool, but its everywhere, and almost everyone knows how to use it.

Since I love the idea of outlining, I tried to do write using Frontier. It worked very well, allowing me to focus on _content_ and then pump out generic HTML that anyone could read in their browser.

The problem gets way muddier when we have to submit copy to the press. What format are the graphics in? How will they arrange tables? How do they go from a machine-readable Word file to press?

The answers may shock you. They laboriously re-enter the tables from printouts, they convert the RTF into a different format for the typesetter (probably nroff or some archaic tool). Graphics are often re-done too. This is incredibly inefficient and a waste of time.

Here's a free idea for Userland. Consult with the press houses and figure out what they would really like writers to submit for copy. Consult with writers that really don't think Word is any good for writing. Then design filters for Frontier so that we can convert basic content into press-ready files.

Better yet, provide a collaborative writing environment over the web. I don't mean sharing Word files either. Word is barely usable for documents with significant content. It's OK for 50 page design docs, but not a 400 page book. Here's what we need....

1. A tool that makes writers happy on the front end. 2. A tool that makes the editors and reviewers happy in the middle. 3. A tool that lets you publish to the web 4. A tool that makes the press guys happy on the back end.

So far, Frontier is great at 1 and 3. It looks like Manilla is sorta there for 2. If we can just get an app to do 4 from our favorite outliner, we'll all be happy campers!


Ralph Hempel - P.Eng


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