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Document Formatting Systems

So far, we have examined the simple text-formatting tools. These are good for small, sim-

ple tasks, but what about larger jobs? One of the reasons that Unix became a popular op- erating system among technical and scientific users (aside from providing a powerful multitasking, multiuser environment for all kinds of software development) is that it of- fered tools that could be used to produce many types of documents, particularly scientific and academic publications. In fact, as the GNU documentation describes, document preparation was instrumental to the development of Unix:

The first version of UNIX was developed on a PDP-7 which was sitting around Bell Labs. In 1971 the developers wanted to get a PDP-11 for further work on the operating system. In order to justify the cost for this system, they proposed that they would implement a document formatting system for the AT&T patents division. This first formatting program was a reimplementation of McIllroy's `roff', written by J.

F. Ossanna.

Two main families of document formatters dominate the field: those descended from the original roff program, including nroff and troff, and those based on Donald Knuth’s TEX (pronounced “tek”) typesetting system. And yes, the dropped “E” in the middle is part of its name.

The name “roff” is derived from the term “run off” as in, “I’ll run off a copy for you.” The nroff program is used to format documents for output to devices that use monospaced fonts, such as character terminals and typewriter-style printers. At the time of its introduction, this included nearly all printing devices attached to computers. The later troff program formats documents for output on typesetters, devices used to pro- duce “camera-ready” type for commercial printing. Most computer printers today are able to simulate the output of typesetters. The roff family also includes some other programs that are used to prepare portions of documents. These include eqn (for mathematical equations) and tbl (for tables).

The TEX system (in stable form) first appeared in 1989 and has, to some degree, dis- placed troff as the tool of choice for typesetter output. We won’t be covering TEX here, due both to its complexity (there are entire books about it) and to the fact that it is not installed by default on most modern Linux systems.


Tip: For those interested in installing TEX, check out the texlive package which can be found in most distribution repositories, and the LyX graphical content editor.



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