The person from the General Counsel’s office called to talk about some legal/regulatory stuff we’re pulling together, and she asked how it should be delivered. I said it would eventually end up on the Web, so why didn’t they write it as a web page. She sounded uncomfortable: “I don’t know how we’d do that,” she said. At the same time, I’m hearing private gripes from our internal writing community, from the President to the marketers to the Solaris geeks, about how their writing tools stink. The state of Web authoring tools is kind of like the state of what we used to call “Word Processing” twenty years ago when I was getting into this business. If everyone’s going to write for the Web (and it looks a lot of people are going to) we need the Web equivalents of Word Perfect and Wordstar and Xywrite and Microsoft Word, and we need them right now. The Atom protocol will give them a standardized way to push the content online, and the fact that it’s all open formats will make it real hard for a monopolist to scoop out the market. So, who’s building them? [Updated: Lots of feedback!]
My brother Rob Bray reminisces about pre-word-processing days:
When I started office work in 1986, I actually got a secretary, Leila. As a student, I had typed all my own essays, I even had a sort of incipient lap-top of sorts, it would hold a whole line of text and display it on a LCD before I hit return and it printed. Consequently my handwriting had already started its horrible deterioration. Anyway, I had to give this lady (she was about 80 I thought at the time) my ramblings in long-hand (she could do dictation, but that was reserved for the President ((CEO you geeks)) and Accountant ((CFO, c'mon, it was a simpler time)) and no one else), which Leila would type up on a manual typewriter, which I would then proof in pencil, which she would then type up on our cutting edge AES system and save on a 5" floppy (if I was lucky) which I would then proof, which would then go back to the AES for weird code chopping (that sucker could, with alot of persuasion and arcana and actual hardware adjustments, print out in PROPORTIONAL SPACING!!!!) for final copy which I could then sign. I hated the process so much, it limited everything so much, and even then it was so very clear to me that there Had to Be a Better Way, and clearly Could Be.
Geof Glass says: “I think you answered your own question about a good HTML content authoring tool some time ago - it’s a standard XSLT export filter for Open Office. The OO.o tags are close to XHTML so transformation is easy (though I haven't done tables). It separates content and style - which is essential. And for non-web distribution you aren't bound by the limitations of the web (e.g. problems with paged media in existing CSS implementations).” Mark Hughes would agree.