Manlug meeting November 1999

20th November 1999, 14:00hrs

Ted Harding

35 Years of ****OFF!

Groff and the History of Computing, UNIX, Linux and everything


Groff is the current GNU implementation of the UNIX text formatting software 'troff'.

Without troff there would have been no UNIX; without UNIX there would be no Linux. Troff and groff span the history of our favourite system.

The origins go back further -- to RUNOFF on CTSS in 1964. UNIX was independently conceived in 1969, but "roff", the port of RUNOFF to UNIX, was the first major application to be developed; and it was what "sold" UNIX to Bell Labs.

Groff/troff is considered by many to be a dinosaur, only suitable for formatting traditional man-pages (which is why it is in the base package on Linux systems). However, this is unfair -- it is powerful flexible document preparation software which is well up to even modern Desktop Publishing demands (many of the O'Reilly computing books are typeset using groff, for instance).

The talk will survey the history and the capabilities (partly on a technical level) of groff, and contemplate its future. Along with Werner Lemberg in Dortmund, I am now one of the two new maintainers of the groff package, and we have plans ...

Of recent years, TeX and packages such as LaTeX developed on TeX have largely displaced groff/troff for scientific and technical documents, and are used even non-technical publications. TeX and groff will be compared, and reasons for this shift discussed. The comparisons do not always clearly favour TeX ...

Ted has provided a Gzipped Tar File of some of the files used in his talk.