Why I Don't Use a Word Processor (2)

Before I begin to explain in some detail why I don't use a word processor to write my books, I should probably interject a post about what I do use instead.

The basic information can be found in the colophon of any of my books, but it's probably a good idea to describe the software and the process here in a bit more detail.

I use two programs to generate the PDFs that are used to print my books: VEDIT PLUS and pdfTeX (the covers use a third program, Scribus).

The Basic Idea


A word processor tries to be the universal answer to the problem of creating documents. In particular, it conflates two processes that are fundamentally distinct: the creation of content and the layout of that content on the page. I will go into some detail in a later post why this is not the good idea that it might seem to be, but for now all I need to say is that instead of using a single program to perform these tasks, I use two very different programs, each dedicated to performing just one. I use VEDIT PLUS for the job of actually writing, and pdfTeX for the job of creating the PDFs that I print for the purpose of editing drafts, and for producing the final PDFs that are used to print the published book.



The first task, that of actually writing the text, can be done in any reasonable editor program. There is a huge number of these programs, and which to use is mostly a matter of personal preference, although some useful features may be missing from some low-end editors.

The VEDIT PLUS program that I use (the name has undergone several changes over the years: I'm not even sure that it's not simply called "VEDIT" nowadays, although originally that referred to a version of the program with fewer features) has been around since at least the early 1980s. I have used it as my main editor for about 35 years (starting with a CP/M-86 version, I think), and still use it daily, not only for writing purposes but also for general editing of text files. Although it is a Windows program, I run it in Linux using the WINE compatibility layer that allows Windows programs to run under Linux.

There is really no good reason to use VEDIT PLUS instead of a more well-known and readily available editor such as emacs, but VEDIT PLUS does everything I need, and using the program has long been second nature to me (also, although it's not relevant to the production of books, it is the best and fastest editor I've ever used for working on large files). VEDIT PLUS is the one piece of commercial software that I have on my systems, which I suppose says something about how useful I find it.



pdfTeX is an extended version of the TeX typesetting program, and is capable of producing PDF files natively. (When I started writing, I used the original TeX program as documented in the TeXbook, and converted the output to PDF via a series of conversion programs.)

The process then is:
  1. Write text using VEDIT PLUS;
  2. Use pdfTeX to convert the text file produced by VEDIT PLUS to PDF;
  3. Print the PDF.
So that's what I use. Next time, we'll start to look in more depth at why I use these two programs rather than a single word processor program.

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