[TUHS] [Groff] It is time to modernise "groff"

Jon Steinhart jon at fourwinds.com
Tue Sep 5 04:28:03 AEST 2017

Doug McIlroy writes:
> >  troff has a substantial history.  Significant
> changes in troff could invalidate most of the old documents leaving troff
> with no usage base, and a poor tool at rendering all of the troff documents
> out there.
> As a living example, I have troff files from as far back as 1975 that
> still work, and perhaps some even older that have lost their dates due
> to careless copying.  The only incompatibility with groff is easy to
> fix: inserting a space before the arguments of a troff request. The
> few other incompatibilities I've encouuntered have been graciously
> corrected by groff maintainers. You get no such help for old Word files.
> doug

Ah, troff.  It was my introduction to UNIX.  I was working in 2C-217 and
there was a PDP-11/45 across the hall running UNIX Version III.  I used
it to write the documentation for the GLANCE-G software.

I still use troff for my work.  I charge clients a word-penalty if they
want docs in that format because it's so much harder to use.  One of the
main reasons that I like troff is that I find that having to think about
formatting while writing interferes with my writing process.  Also, I can
seldom get word to make a table come out the way that I want like I can
with tbl.  And not being an artist, I can't drawing figures without pic.
One of the unsung great things about pic is the way that one can create
a scaffold of invisible objects behind a drawing so that pieces can be
moved and scaled easily.

My current big annoyance is that my publisher has a word/adobe process and
won't accept troff.  I have hacked together a script that converts my macros
into openoffice XML which gets me most of the way there.  Part of what it
does is export all of the tables and figures to separate files, runs them
through, converts them to PDF and then to SVG which is the only non-bitmap
form that can be imported.

The groff folks did a great job of maintaining compatibility.  My wish list
for changes is pretty small.  It would be nice to have some additional
features in pic.  And it would be good to be able to use any Unicode character.
And, it would be cool to have an option for two-dimensional page formatting
optimization ala TeX.


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