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On WYSIWYG editors and document markup languages

Hi again!

So, with a new blog, I suppose that there is a lot to learn. The thing that I learnt with the first two posts was that the compose window of this particular blog in a WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get) editor. As soon as I understood this, I switched to the plain HTML editor.

Why do I do this? What is the harm in WYSIWYG?

The simple answer is that document markup languages like HTML or LaTeX define the structure of the document which is invariant of how it is rendered. The document may be printed on A4 paper, or posted on the web, or viewed as a PDF file. Moreover, if anyone wants the headings to be in a different font, or a different size, the style may be changed, but the document structure remains the same. The main difference between WYSIWYG editors and markup languages is the separation of document content from the formatting.

Take the example of a website that I have created. The website uses HTML for markup and CSS for style. Now, if I want to change the layout of the website, say, move the navigation links to the top of the page, as a navigation bar, instead of on the right side, I can simply change the CSS, and I have the required change in my website. Simple, isn’t it?

On the other hand, consider a website created using (say) MS Front Page (I apologise for not mentioning any recent editor, but I have not used WYSIWYG for websites in the past eight years). In case of an editor like that, a large part of the document will have to be changed, and in many cases, the changes in formatting will not be easy.

As another example, consider a book on programming. You write a book with a lot of code. Now, you send the book to a publisher, who does not like the font that you used for formatting the code. So, what does he do if he wishes to change the formatting?

If you had used a WYSIWYG editor like MS Word, or OpenOffice.org Writer, then he would have to painstakingly find out all instances of code in your document, and change the font for all of them. That is a lot of effort for a large book! Instead, if you had used LaTeX, the code would have come in a certain environment, and by changing the rendering settings for the environment, the publisher could easily change the formatting with minimal loss of time.

This is of course true if and only if you use the markup correctly. I recall that a friend used to use the <h2> </h2> tag in HTML everytime he wanted to make something bold and large. And another used ~.~.~.~ for ellipses in LaTeX.

So, give TeX a try, use it instead of MS Word (I wonder how many use OpenOffice.org) the next time you have to submit that project report. Let me assure you that the final result shall be so wonderful that you shall surely find yourself addicted to TeX.

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