Wordstar is the first word processing system that i recall using. Archaic by todays standards and joked around by current Microsoft Word users. I still remember all the fuss about the whole WYSIWYG trend and i confess that for quite some time i have been on board with this way of writing text.

But what i eventually came to realize was just how un-efficient WYSIWYG was. This was particularly visible when using the Microsoft Office Suite, where 70% of the time was spent trying to get the formatting right. Countless hours of my life have been spent fighting tables, images, layouts and so on... Through the last decade i have made various attempts at escaping this, but for one reason or the other, i never truly succeeded..

What You See Is What You Mean

Many times i missed the simplicity of Wordstar and just writing away, with the assurance of the end result meeting my expectations. This triggered me to look for some WYSIWYM text processing system, were i could spend my time writing the actual document contents and not waste any time figuring out how it would look like.

I was aware of LaTeX, but the learning curve was steep and it seemed to be an overkill for what i wanted, so i gave LyX a try. I got used to it and the pdf output looked good, but i found myself coming back to Microsoft Word whenever i had to share or collaborate on a document, so I eventually gave up on it.

What You See Is What You Get

When Sun introduced StarOffice (later to become OpenOffice) i gave it a try. It claimed good compatibility with Microsoft Office, but whenever i received a document from someone else the formatting was always wrong, not to mention i was once more living in a WYSIWYG world... I went as far as sticking to plain ASCII for a while, but in the end I gave up and went back to Microsoft Word for most of my document processing needs. Once again i could exchange documents with everybody else, but my productivity at writing them just plumbed.

ASCII

My change from Linux to OS X and the new and shiny Apple hardware made my usage of Microsoft Office a little bit less painful during the past decade, but i never really managed to get over the fact of how difficult and troublesome writing a simple text document could be, so last year i decided to resume my quest for the perfect tool to write my documentation on.

While using LyX i was totally sold to WYSIWYM, but i also realised the solution to my problems was not on a graphical user interface, but in some sort of textual format instead, so after some though i came to the following list of requirements:

  • ASCII based - This would allow me store my documents on a version control system together with the project source code and easily track changes to them.

  • Support for multiple formats - I did not wanted to write multiple documents for having PDF, HTML or ePub output. Write once, generate any format.

  • Templates - Having some sort of template system on the toolchain, so that i could apply a corporate layout and imagery.

  • High-Quality - I wanted the output to shine! My LyX generated PDFs looked so much better than anything i could generate on Microsoft Office.

With these requirements in mind i started to look for newer alternatives and got really interested in DocBook, which seemed to fulfil all my requirements, but writing in XML was just insane... I could never adopt such a verbose and user un-friendly format for writing documentation, it completely defeated the whole purpose of increasing my productivity. Sure, there were some graphical interfaces available, but i found those hard to adapt to and it felt like my old LyX setup.

AsciiDoc

And then i found AsciiDoc! Writing in a markup language is easy and extremely fast and with a DocBook backend, i could theme my documents and generate all the different output formats that i wanted.

I eventually settled with AsciiDoctor and after some initial effort on producing nice looking corporate stylesheets for DocBook, i can now say that i am as happy as i have ever been with my document generation system.

I have been using AsciiDoctor exhaustively for more than one year now and the pain just went away!