The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 15.0101  Wednesday, 14 January 2004

From:           Gabriel Egan <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
Date:           Tuesday, 13 Jan 2004 13:44:31 -0800
Subject: 15.0088 Important Changes to the World Shakespeare
Comment:        Re: SHK 15.0088 Important Changes to the World Shakespeare

Chris Kelsey raised an important point about formats:

 >. . . when we publish electronically we publish not
 >just in the language for the reader but the electronic
 >language (which will exist only as long as its producer
 >deems it profitable or computer systems read it)

Languages in general exist only so long as groups of users maintain and
pass on their ability to understand them. In the case of electronic
languages, however, there are certain secrets. The 'language' in which a
Microsoft Word document is written, in the sense of the relationship
between what the user types and what the machine stores as noughts and
ones, is known to very few people. Microsoft considers it a trade secret
and will share it only with manufacturers of software that complements
its own products. Microsoft has in the past changed this language and
will undoubtedly do so in the future. Microsoft claims that it always
maintains 'backward compatibility' so that old documents can be read by
new versions of the software, but this claim is false. (I have an old
document that I read with an old copy of Word kept solely to illustrate
this point; newer versions of Word garble it.)

Fortunately, there are alternatives. Millions of users understand the
Hypertext Markup Language (HTML) and there are thousands of software
packages that can read and write it. If the user does not like a
particular editing tool she can change it for another she prefers. There
is so much text already in HTML that the world is more likely to lose
some of its smaller spoken languages such as Irish and Welsh than it is
to lose its collective knowledge of HTML. In almost all documents and
hardware, underneath the HTML lies another language: the American
Standard Code for Information Interchange (ASCII). Nearly every computer
on the planet uses this 'language' (indeed you see it mentioned at the
top of recent SHAKSPER postings, for some reason) and there really isn't
a need to worry that computer manufacturers will stop using it.

In _Shakespeare and the Book_ David Scott Kastan counts amongst the
demerits of electronic text the sad fact that many of us can't read our
own electronic documents that we made in the late 1980s and early 1990s
(p. 131). Hardware failure aside, this only happens if we lock ourselves
into proprietary formats such as Microsoft Word and thereby give up
control of our documents.

Don't do that. Store your stuff in an open and free format such as HTML.
Future generations of readers and writers will thank you for it.

Gabriel Egan

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