Quarter Life Crisis

The world according to Sven-S. Porst

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There's a true moan on the sad state of computer typography over at Textism.

The main point is that – even today – computer typography remains utterly unsophisticated. Even the most advanced program, i.e. InDesign has just about caught up with TeX – a program that's been around for 20 years (or 25, if you want to stretch history a bit). This comment of course refers to InDesign's so-called paragraph composer that, just like TeX, determines the place for line-breaks and hyphenation taking into account the whole paragraph rather than treating each line on its own. Ironically it is this feature that breaks the WYSIWYG workflow as the paragraph can change earlier linebreaks as you type – but then you aren't supposed to type in your layout application, are you?

Sadly I've not been doing any layout for a couple of years and thus have only seen a InDesign in use once and don't know anything newer that XPress 3.3 or Pagemaker 6.

Of those, contrary to the commentary in Textism, I always preferred Pagemaker as I found it much easier to use and less 'boxed'. Admittedly it took me 20 minutes to figure out how to get any text into Pagemaker the first time around – but once you get the hang of it it's so natural you start wondering why other applications don't work that way.

Later, Don't be a square scene from Pulp Fictionduring my civil service, I worked with XPress for a year. And while I never liked its concept with all those frames, in XPress – they always reminded me of that Don't be a square scene in Pulp Fiction – I was always impressed with its speed. We always used it for pretty simple things, though – at most two colours and mainly text. And there were other annoyances such as XPress' notorious failure to deal gracefully with the specialties of German hyphenation.

An example for this are German words containing ck, e.g. Drucker which is hyphenated Druk-ker – something requiring a slightly less trivial algorithm than programmers may be happy with. I've heard you can buy solutions for this problem, but sometimes I still see similar hyphenation problems in magazines – always suspecting XPress (and careless proof-reading) of being the culprit.

And while I'm at the topic of hyphenation, let me mention that since my recent rant on the hyphenation of 'Topology' I've come across a more detailed dictionary. It was apparently American and in fact stated Topol-ogy as correct hyphenation, so TeX may just have been right, considering that its default hyphenation pattern is for American English.

April 9, 2003, 1:20

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