(-: Geekerie, logiciel libre et vilain gauchisme

Simple markup languages to format text

One of the most boring task I know is to format a text in modern word processor — read: a program where you can change the police of some text with a graphical user interface. Some of those programs are Microsoft Word, OpenOffice Writer, or Journler. The main goal of this last program is not to be a word processor, and it is very well made to organize a bit the daily notes, but it is one of the most painful program I know to format some text.

The main drawback, if we exclude the poorly made user interface (the journler case), is the lack of global way to format things — make all the same elements look the same. Writer and Word are providing some style support, but it’s still very easy to not use them, and, thanks to the WYSIAYG paradigm, not even know it has not been used until someone try to change the style. Any collaborative work on such documents quickly become a real nightmare.

The only nice alternative I know is the formating with a markup language: the text is combined with some elements (of text) dedicated to the formating (or to more descriptive things). The marked text is then processed to produce a nice formatted text in the user preferred format.

The markup syntax can be extremely simple, and made to be human readable, as in markdown (used on this blog) or asciidoc, or much complex as in Latex. Because those methods are fully based on text, they are very easily usable in a collaborative work with the help of any version control system. With all of them, there is never anything hidden. With the simplest of them, writing a nice formated text is as simple as writing an email, with a way nicer visual result.