Electronic Publishing on the QL
As Editor of the QL Hacker's Journal, compiler of the Z88 Source Book
and SuperBasic Source Book, and general collector of QL documentation,
I have long been thinking about electronic publishing on the QL.
My professional career has been in Computer Support. This has given
me access to the Internet for 11 years and the Web for 5 years, including
exposure on how electronic publishing has expanded over the
years and how the various technologies are used to implement it.
I find the neatest feature of electronic publishing to be the ease and
low cost of creating and distributing information electronically. A person
sitting on a desert island with a computer and Internet connection
can create and distribute a document worldwide, with very little cost. The
logistics of creating, printing, and distibuting has virtually dissappeard.
Only the cost of creation is the important factor.
As much as the QL has been in the backwaters of the computing world, the
concept of electronic publishing on the QL is just as valid as on any
other platform. Due to the shrinking user community, electronic publishing
is more important now than ever before. The user community is getting less
and less able to support the cost of producing hard copy.
A key part of electronic publishing is to decide on a common electronic
format to use. The format is broken in to a file format and a viewer
of that format. Once a document is created in a particular format
there must be a viewer to display the document. In the "real" computer
world, the prodominent publishing formats are: Text, Adobe Acrobat
(PDF), PostScript, and HTML.
In deciding on a particular format we have to determine which formats are the
best for creation and viewing on the QL.
Before going to far, I wanted to bring up the topic of HyperText.
Traditional text files only have one path to follow when reading them.
You start at the beginning and read through to the end. In paper
documents, they may have a reference to a different section. You may
see something like "For more details see Section 7", or something like
this, and you can skip ahead to that seciont. This is a link from one
part of the document to another. HyperText is a electronic way of
building these links. In a HyperText document an electronic link is
made between the reference and the section. In a HyperText document is
you saw a reference to another section of the document, you would just
click on it and go straight to the other section. Another term for
HyperText is browsable. Browsable means that you can browse through a
document or documents, making jumps at the different reference points.
In this article I'll cover the various File formats, the associated Viewers,
and the advantages and disadvantages of each format.
The Text File (AKA ASCII text, Plain Text) is the lowest common denominator
for a file format. A Text File created on a computer can be displayed on
almost any other computer. It is the oldest format, and still remains a
popular one, primarily due to its simplicity and its universality.
There are many text editors and word processors that can be used to
create text files. Even though word processors do not save their documents
in text format, there is usually a way to export or get a text file out of
a word processor. Most text editors are not really designed for document
creating and do not have any word wrap features, except for MicroEmacs, so
you will have to mind the margins yourself.
Besides text editors, most word processors can read in text files and
display them. There are also a number of text file viewers. Unfortunately
they the name "Viewer" seems to be very popular.
Viewer - A PE text file viewer written by ....
Viewer - By Dilwyn Jones. Besides having it's own File format, it does
display text files.
- Easy to Create
Any text editor and word processor can be used to create a text file.
Given the number of different text editors on the QL, one is bound to fit
- Universaly Viewable
An ASCII text file can be read by 99% of the computers in the world.
If there are any non-ASCII characters (those above 127), such as
non-English characters or special graphic characters, then different
computers will have different problems. In the MS-DOS world, it was
popular to embedd IBM graphics characters in text files to get a better
look. This make displaying these files on non-MS-DOS systems rather
- Many Native QL Viewers
Besides using text editors or word processors, there are other
text viewers available on the QL.
- Limited Formating
There is only so much you can do in formating with a text file.
You can't have different fonts (bold, underline) or different font
sizes (large, small).
- Not Easty to Reformat
Unless you have a text editor that supports word wrap, importing a text
file in to a word processor to edit and reformat, can be a fair bit of work.
There is no way to create any hyperlinks in a text file.
- Text-only "graphics"
Since a text file is only text and does not allow any graphics,
drawing pictures is done only with text characters. Creating these
text "graphics" can be time consuming and they can take up a bit of
Quill and it's _DOC format has become the standard word processer and
document format for the QL. Because Quill came with every QL, every
QLer should be able to handle a _DOC file.
Besides using Quill, there are some Quill _DOC file viewers available.
DocView is a PE program that displays a _DOC file. This saves the time
necessary to execute Quill or Xchange. A PE viewer for Quill documents
has been written by Pal Monstand and Arvid Borretzen called, DocView 1.0.
- Easy to Create
We all know how to use Quill and create documents. Even for those
that might not be familiar with Quill, it is easy to use and easy to
- Universal in QL community
Everbody should have a copy of Quill in one form or another. Xchange
is now freely available.
- Editable format
No conversion is necessary to edit the document. Reformating
is is very simple. Also supports formating such as bold, underlining,
left and right justification, page numbering, and so on.
- Unknown in Non-QL Community
Unless they have the PC version of Quill, non-QLers will not be
able to handle _DOC files.
There is no way to build any hyperlinks in Quill.
- No Graphics
Quill does not support embbeded graphics.
DJ Viewer Format
Dilwyn Jones (DJ) has written a viewer that supports hyperlinks and PE
PIC images. Called Viewer, it does more than just view text file. Besides
hyperlinks and PIC images, the Viewer has commands for finding text,
extracting a block of text, merging text files, and printing the text. The
screen size is configurable along with the colors used.
- Could be Universal in QL Community
DJ's Viewer is freeware and freely distributable. To save data space,
the Viewer need not be part of the document distribution, but available
seperately to those that do not yet have it.
DJ's Viewer does support hyperlinks. The links are only to other
files and shows the file name. This makes the document look a little
cluttered, but with creative file naming, this limitation can be worked
DJ's Viewer supports PE PIC images. The images do not show up as part
of the document, but hyperlinks are made to them, where they are displayed
by themselves. This means that the Viewer can either display text or PIC
images, but not both at the same time.
- Easy to Create
There is very little to the Viewer format. It is a regular text file
with some embedded commands for the hyperlinks. It only takes a few minutes
to learn the embedded commands.
- Native QL Viewer
This means that it is relatively fast. Ported software usually suffers
speed problems from not being written specifically for the QL. The Viewer is
quick and a relatively small executable (about 63K)
- Unknown in Non-QL Community
This format is not used outside of the QL community, including the
PE PIC image format. The text of the document can be read on other
computers, but the hyperlinks will not work. There are tools available
to convert the image files to more portable formats.
HyperText Meta Language (HTML) is a text file format with embedded
formating commands. It is the format used by web browsers. It was
derived from SGML. As HTML has grown over the years, different
versions of the language have been created. HTML have gone from
HTML 1.0, HTML+, HTML 2.0 and HTML 3.0. Each version is an extension
of the previous version and are backwards compatible. If you create
a file in HTML 1.0, a browser that supports HTML 3.0 will be able
to read it.
Lynx is a text-only web browser. It was originaly created for Unix users
that only had access to simple text terminals. Two versions have been
ported to the QL, one that views only local files and one that does
connect to the World-Wide-Web via uQLx and the underlying network on the
computer the emulator is running on.
- Known Outside QL Community
HTML is a standard format and is used outside the QL community. As more
of the World comes to the Web, HTML is becoming more used.
HTML was expressively designed to handle hyperlinks and browsable
documents. Links can be made in the same document or to other documents.
- Supports Graphics
Lynx supports graphics by calling another application to show them.
- Non-Native QL Viewer
Lynx is a very large application (600K executable). It takes a bit
to start up and. It requires a fair amount of memory and CPU.
- Difficult to Create
Because HTML is a language, it takes some time to learn it. There are
no HTML editors for the QL, so we are forced to actually learn the language.
There are two other HTML browsers avaialable for the QL. A couple of versions
of QMOSAIC were released. There were really beta released and a lot of the
features were not implemented or had problems. For some reason, development
of QMOSAIC was stopped. ProWess comes with a HTML browser that supports
multiple fonts. This is probably the best looking browser available for the
QL, but it does require ProWess. In the future this browser may be more
There are a number of tools available to assist in creating HTML documents
on the QL:
- Quill to HTML
This is a printer driver that outputs HTML command tags instead of
printer commands. The document is created in Quill and the printed via
the driver to disk. It only supports a limited set of HTML. This would
be a good tool to start the document. It can be refinded by hand or by
using another tool.
This is a PE application that will run "on top" of any word processor or
text editor. It pops up on command, the user selects the HTML tag that they
want, and it is placed in the document where the cursor is located. This saves
the user the time and trouble of memorizing the HTML tags. The user will still
need to know exactly what tag they will need.
MicroEmacs HTML Macros
This is a collection of macros for MicroEmacs that place HTML tags in
a document. This is a fairly sophisticated set of macros that can query
for information needed, has a preset layout for frames (including how to
handle browsers that don't support frames) and tables, and includes a short
menu system for creating pages. If you already know how to use MicroEmacs
then this is the tool to use. The HTML code generated by the macros is
fairly complex and looks professional. If you need additional commands or
tags supported, adding them is fairly easy, using the existing macros as
examples. If you are new to MicroEmacs and
are serious about creating web pages, it might be worth it to learn
MicroEmacs for these macros.
Choosing the Right Format and Viewer
When choosing a particular format and viewer there are a number of different
items you must consider.
Audience is who you expect to read the document. If you want the share
the document with people outside of the QL community, then you must choose a
format that will be useable to them. If your audience is only the QL community
then you don't have to worry about using a portable format.
- Graphics a key part of document
If graphics will be a key part of the document, then you should choose a
format that will support the graphics you need.
- Level of Effort
If you are just going to type up a quick document, they you may not
want to spend a lot of time making it look real nice. If you are creating
a definitive document that will be around a while, then it may be worth it
to spend some time making the final document look it's best.
When I compiled the Z88 Source Book, I chose to use a Text File format,
primarily because it did not have any graphics and I wanted a universal
format. In doing the SuperBasic Source Book, I will make it available
as a Text File and as a Quill Document. Being a Quill document, the
end user will be able to print it without working about where the page
breaks will lie. If I have the time, I would like to do a DJ Viewer
version, for those that are interested in reading and browsing the
document on the screen.
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