Plain not Rich Text

TextThing is different to most familiar text tools: it works in plain text rather than rich text. Which is important. Its simplicity allows it to do stuff other tools can't (and this includes Microsoft 365, Google Docs and even Dropbox Paper).

Rich text contains information, hidden from the user, that describes the nature of the characters, paragraphs and pages in a document. It allows us to choose the likes of fonts, line spacings and margin widths; and it's designed to allow us to create nice-looking printed documents. It's what we have been used to for years.

Plain text contains only characters. It looks quite dull when printed. But it is possible, using a convention of special characters, to introduce simple formatting. These characters can then be interpreted by display or publishing software using a "style sheet". For example, a style sheet may interpret "**"s either side of a word - like "**this**" - to mean "format as bold" - like this.

Mark-up languages and their niftiness

Such conventions are called mark-up languages. HTML - "Hyper-text Markup Language" - is one of these, albeit a sophisticated one. But there are simpler ones - for example those like "Markdown" that can be used by mortals - which TextThing is based on.

This shows difference between marked up plain text and formatted rich text...

Marked up plain text

Marked up plain text

Formatted rich text

Formatted rich text

Increasingly, text for the web is being written using marked-up plain text. This is because:

  • format can be controlled precisely
  • conformity can be maintained across many pages written by different authors
  • the same text can be produced in many formats just by applying a different style sheet (even to create printed documents)
  • it is simple

Wikipedia is an example. It has its own mark-up language. It would otherwise be impossible to maintain consistency across the encyclopedia's millions of pages.

The problem in organisations...

In organisations, collaborative writing and subsequent approval of text for publication involves different tools, different formats and awkward transitions between them. Perhaps word processors for authoring; email, document management systems and meetings for collaboration; email for getting sign-off; and content management systems for publication. These transitions waste time, fray patience and, ultimately, cost money.

...and what can be done about it

Since most of what we write nowadays is read on a screen, it makes little sense to continue doing things this way. It may be a wrench to give up editing in rich text, but plain text is the future.

TextThing offers a better way to get there.

 

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