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Evolution of a 100% Free Software-Based Publisher 210

Posted by ScuttleMonkey
from the cutting-a-trail dept.
NewsForge (also owned by VA) has a quick and interesting look at the evolution of a 100% free software-based Italian publisher. From the article: "Today, Sovilla acknowledges that choosing a 100% free software workflow complicated his working life. He also notes, however, that a great part of his troubles came from an early start, at a time when programs such as Scribus weren't mature enough yet. Today, he says, the situation has improved considerably, and publishers who are willing to experiment with an alternative software platform can, and should, try it without fear."
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Evolution of a 100% Free Software-Based Publisher

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  • Not surprising (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Free Bird (160885) on Sunday May 07, 2006 @03:58PM (#15282145)
    Many of publisher's important tools, like TeX, are free software, so I'm not surprised you can build a complete workflow around them, although there will of course always be hurdles to take.
    • Re:Not surprising (Score:3, Insightful)

      by connorbd (151811)
      Uh, how many mainstream publishers openly use TeX (or *roff for that matter) for anything but technical books and papers? Most of them don't even talk about what they use for typesetting to begin with, and if they do they might mention the fonts they use.
      • by evought (709897) <evoughtNO@SPAMpobox.com> on Sunday May 07, 2006 @05:42PM (#15282414) Homepage Journal
        Addison Wesley for one. The American Mathematical Society for another. It is still used for technical content, though DocBook is making inroads, too. Its clean separation of content and layout makes it ideal in many places where frequent layout changes are made and conventional DTP applications are nightmares. Since LaTeX directly generates typesetting formats (e.g. Postscript, DVI), it is not much harder for them.

        I know that Andy Hunt and Dave Thomas have used LaTeX for every one of their books. They have some home-grown macros to make compiling and checking the example code automatic. This just cannot be done with Word or FrameMaker and is critical for eliminating copy errors.

        For papers or books where the content is quite complex
        • I hope, when you are talking about separation of content and layout, you are talking about DocBook, not TeX. TeX is clearly focused on layout.

          Even DocBook doesn't have completely clean model, but it's much further along the path than TeX.

          • He said LaTeX, not TeX. LaTeX is somewhat better than TeX in that regard.
          • by evought (709897)
            I am specifically talking about LaTeX, which is built on top of TeX. Styles can be written in TeX while content is written in LaTeX. It is fairly easy to develop custom styles in LaTeX which express whatever your domain concepts are (e.g.: \method, \formula) while leaving the formatting and layout issues to the layout specialist.

            It is also very easy to separate LaTeX documents into chunks which can be written/editted and version controled separatly. When combined into the master document, it is simple to up
        • You misread me. For technical purposes, yes -- *roff, TeX, DocBook, etc. are great, and widely used. I'm talking about something like a cookbook, an art book, or even just a novel. If I were to go get a job at, say, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich or Workman Publishing, they would probably want to know what I know about Quark or InDesign. I don't see them asking me how proficient I am in LaTeX or troff.
          • True, those technologies are widely used at the margins of publishing. They take on specialized tasks, but there are many specialized tasks (Music, math, chemistry, computers & tech, reproduction of old manuscripts, multi-lingual texts, etc.)

            HBJ does a good deal of textbook publishing where I would be suprised if they did not make use of markup-based formatters at some level, but I take your point.

            The other thing of course which inevitably happens is that as soon as fast as Open Source tools stabilize t
      • Not a lot...

        I imagine if the true numbers were known, it would be pretty amazing how much is still being done with Quark 4.5 on OS9.

        This is of course changing thanks to Indesign, but old versions of quark are still being used..
      • Re:Not surprising (Score:3, Informative)

        by shreevatsa (845645)
        Publishers using (La)TeX include Elsevier, Addison-Wesley, Bartlett Press, Springer Verlag, Prentice Hall, and the American Mathematical Society. And this was in 1992 [ucl.ac.be].
        Many of them even provide their own style packages (noticed that all Springer's books look alike?); see http://www.tug.org/interest.html#publishers [tug.org].
  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday May 07, 2006 @04:00PM (#15282148)
    I hear they don't provide source code for their books. The use some proprietary language called "Italian."
    • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday May 07, 2006 @04:19PM (#15282195)
      Italian is an OO version of Latin and you can overload most methods in Italian by waving your hands about wildly.
      • Actually... (Score:5, Funny)

        by WilliamSChips (793741) <full.infinity@nOSpAm.gmail.com> on Sunday May 07, 2006 @04:45PM (#15282257) Journal
        Latin is open source as well, it has many forks such as Spanish, French, and Italian, and even has parts of its code present in English. Latin included many innovative features, such as the ablative case. You could do almost *anything* with that. A pity all the modern languages find ablative "too hard for newbies" and no longer include it.
        • Real people learn Latin.

          (Actually, no. Crazy people learn latin. Trust me, I was one of them.)
          • by kfg (145172)
            Real people learn Latin.

            Well, yeah, they learn it because the PHTWs (Pointy Haired Toga Wearers) require it, but real men code in Phoenician, or maybe Classical Attic Greek if they want to feel "cutting edge."

            There are still a few long haired, bearded, sandal wearing Cuneiform coders, but Jesus, they should get with the times. Modern hardware makes that short of dirty business pointless.

            KFG
            • Actually I think Jesus' language of choice was Aramaic, although he could probably handle some Latin as well when the PHTW needed him to.
        • Latin is actually pretty closed-source, though some of its derivatives are more open. Italian and Spanish particularly. French, not so much.
        • by njh (24312)
          I always found the ablative case a bit wearing.
        • by menace3society (768451) on Sunday May 07, 2006 @07:27PM (#15282685)
          Feh, I have more cases than you've had years of schooling.

          -- Finnish
        • Bah. It's just this sort of nonsense you expect from Latin fanboys. The ablative case was hardly a Latin innovation ... even Sanskrit had an ablative case! And as for modern languages using it, there's always Finnish. Includes a case for whatever you might remotely think you need. Hungarian too.

          Not to mention that in every other language you can simulate its effects by the use of prepositions, postpositions, other cases etc. So really you loose nothing at all by not having it.
        • Latin isn't really open-source; there's an open specification, but the widely-used reference implementation (The Holy See's Vatican 2.0) is property of the Catholic Church.
        • Latin included many innovative features, such as the ablative case.
          Well lets not get carried away here...
        • by Fizzl (209397)
          Sanoisin suoralta kädeltä että tämä ei pidä paikkaansa. ;)
    • evolution of a 100% free software-based Italian publisher.

      The use some proprietary language called "Italian."


      I think italian is a small price to pay, considering that this must be the first example of a fully functional publisher based in software, and Free Software at that! AI of this magnitude is revolutionary, not evolutionary.
  • by badran (973386) on Sunday May 07, 2006 @04:01PM (#15282155)
    Well today this is not a big deal... as you have almost all the tools that you may need OSed, but 10 years back it wasnt so dandy...
  • by johnthorensen (539527) on Sunday May 07, 2006 @04:09PM (#15282170)
    He also notes, however, that a great part of his troubles came from an early start, at a time when programs such as Scribus weren't mature enough yet.

    This comment shows a little wishful thinking, IMO. I recently tried Scribus, and it's nowhere near mature. This is typical of a lot of open-source software I think; might work good enough for light 'hobbyist' use but nowhere close for real professional work. Probably because it's hobbyists writing the stuff for the most part.

    Another good example is Sodipodi/Inkscape. Lots of potential there, but I only used it for about an hour before I 'hit the wall' so to speak and became frustrated with its lack of capability.

    Not a dig on open-source, just an observation...
    • by unavailable (781386) on Sunday May 07, 2006 @04:34PM (#15282231) Homepage
      Next time you try out an opensource app and find its features below your standards, go compose a detailed wishlist, with proper argumentation and detailed description for every missing feature.

      Nobody is asking for patches, but some feedback from professionals is always appreciated. Implementation hints are also welcomed, even if you are not a programmer.
    • Some questions:

      Did you use the latest version ?

      Define "immature" ?

      What is your professional qualifications to make such a judgement ?

      I will just point some relevant links:

      The "hobbyists" - NOT: The Scribus Team bios [scribus.net]. There are a handful of people who are involved with Scribus who have extensive experience in publishing, pre-press and image engineering among others.

      Capabilities: Scribus Specs [scribus.net]

      (In the users words) Success Stories: http://wiki.scribus.net/index.php/Success_stories [scribus.net]

      Made wi [scribus.net]

      • by johnthorensen (539527) on Sunday May 07, 2006 @06:08PM (#15282484)
        Some questions:

        Did you use the latest version ?

        Yes. Note that I used the word "recently" to describe when I tried it out. I tried Scribus 1.3.3.1 on both Windows and Linux.


        Define "immature" ?
        Not having many features that most professionals take for granted. Palette windows that don't resize correctly and other goofy UI bugs. Lack of solid, professionally written documentation. No text box margins. Broken PDF exporter. Broken PostScript importer. Opening even moderately-sized documents takes forever. Would you like me to continue?

        Scribus is admittedly usable for some projects but it's not yet qualified to be a mission-critical application. I certainly wouldn't stake MY job on it.


        What is your professional qualifications to make such a judgement ?
        Besides knowing how to conjugate the verb "to be" you mean? How about 10 years as a graphic designer? That enough for you??? That sort of accusatory question really grates on me, and doesn't exactly invite me to come over to Scribus.

        Incidentally, the Scribus bios make my point nicely. I see a lot of things like "DTP/IT Consultant", "pre-press and software engineer", et cetera but I don't see much in the way of experienced designers. Scribus is what you get when engineers try to design software; typical of most open-source applications.
    • Another good example is Sodipodi/Inkscape. Lots of potential there, but I only used it for about an hour before I 'hit the wall' so to speak and became frustrated with its lack of capability.

      The fact that you put inkscape and sodipodi in the same class indicates you haven't looked for a very long time. I know a quite a few people who use Inkscape professionally (my work, for example), and some base their business on it and do well. What is this wall you speak of?
    • Inkscape works pretty well for my books [lightandmatter.com]. I've had a few problems here and there, but nothing I couldn't work around. The main remaining problems in my experience seem to be with rendering certain things to PostScript (gradients and dashed lines), but I can get around that problem by rendering the figures that use those features as bitmaps.

      Haven't used Scribus, but pdftex is very solid, and has worked great for me, although there is admittedly a very steep learning curve if you need to write your own class

  • by Arker (91948) on Sunday May 07, 2006 @04:13PM (#15282178) Homepage

    It would have been nice if the article had given some information on the advantages a 100% free software solution gave him. Obviously the article is on NewsForge and aimed mostly at folks that already know, but I'm picturing someone from the 'mainstream' reading this and coming away baffled - why did he put himself through all this trouble for no gain?

    Of course there are tremendous gains there, the article just focuses on the problems, assuming the readers already know the advantages. They may not be so obvious to some readers, however.

    • by gEvil (beta) (945888) on Sunday May 07, 2006 @04:26PM (#15282210)
      Looking at the book that's available for download, the entire "layout/desktop publishing" aspect of it is incredibly pedestrian. He essentially set it to full justification and that's about it. No adjustments were made with regard to hyphenation. Page numbering is centered and there is no gutter. What he's done is some word processing on a 4.5x8 inch page.
      • by pnot (96038) on Sunday May 07, 2006 @05:41PM (#15282409)
        Yes, it's hideous. He's used OpenOffice.org as a typesetting tool. The quotes aren't even sexed . A great shame that he decided to use a word processing package for typesetting, when there are excellent open source typesetting packages out there (TeX, Groff, and Basser Lout, for example). This kind of approach really isn't going to make many inroads into the publishing industry: the results look godawful.

        By way of comparison, I have before me a copy of sed & awk (Dougherty & Robbins, O'Reilly Press, 2nd ed., 1997). It tells me that "Text was prepared in SGML using the DocBook 2.1 DTD. The print version of this book was created by translating the SGML source into a set of gtroff macros using a filter developed at ORA by Norman Walsh. Steve Talbott designed and wrote the underlying macro set on the basis of the GNU troff -gs macros; Lenny Muellner adapted them to SGML and implemented the book design. The GNU groff text formatter version 1.09 was used to generate PostScript output."

        And that was NINE YEARS ago (though the first edition was in 1990, and I'm guessing it was typeset similarly). If nine years' progress in publishing with free software consists of replacing that stack (and its beautiful output) with OOo, something is very wrong.
        • Yes, it's hideous. He's used OpenOffice.org as a typesetting tool.

          Agreed, this is not an advertisement for doing typography in FOSS. OOo: import text, export to PDF; simple, effective; ugly. TFA says he tried using Scribus, but gave it up for OOo as it was too hard. I was hoping for an article about someone using Scribus in the real world.

          One thing the proprietary DTP publishers are doing is opening up their APIs to allow users to add new functions -- Adobe's InDesign notably. Not free, but you get the

      • If you mean:

        http://www.nonluoghi.net/Bicicrazia/bici.pdf [nonluoghi.net]

        It seems to've been done in OpenOffice.

        That said, it's unfortunate that Scribus hasn't followed InDesign and made use of TeX's H&J algorithm.

        For those who're curious, I've a similar .pdf up in the TeX Showcase, Okakura Kajuzo's _The Book of Tea_ which shows how nicely TeX can a compose page.

        http://members.aol.com/willadams/portfolio/typogra phy/thebookoftea.pdf [aol.com]

        Serif used to be done in TeX and _The Free Software Magazine_ is, as is of course TUGboat
        • That example (The Book of Tea) is among the nicest LaTeX-made publications I've ever seen. I don't suppose the TeX source is available to it anywhere, is it?

          I don't think making it available would increase the risk of plagiarism any, since it's already in PDF form; I'm just curious how it was done.
      • Something that you could do in TeX in about 20 minutes for the first book, and 5 seconds each from then on.
    • It would have been nice if the article had given some information on the advantages a 100% free software solution gave him...why did he put himself through all this trouble for no gain?

      I think it's hinted at in "Sovilla couldn't find any other publisher who was already working in the same way. Even the most militant and progressive ones were firmly fixed on proprietary software."

      The goal here is being "militant and progressive". I don't think he's even claiming there's any pragmatic advantage to it.

  • by Jeff DeMaagd (2015) on Sunday May 07, 2006 @04:15PM (#15282185) Homepage Journal
    Even the OSS advocate/comic writer Illiad admitted to not using GIMP and he had an amusing little comic last week or so explaining some of his reasons. Commercial software isn't necessarily evil, it is a different development method. If the tools fit, use them. If you can use OSS, then good for you! Not everyone can do that, and I think it is good that OSS advocates admit what the stumbling blocks are. The hurdles show where the developers can improve the software.
    • Image editing is one area where proprietary software doesn't suck...
      There are standardised image formats, regardless of what software you use. Proprietary image editing software doesn't keep you locked in to it's own formats, so publishers of such software have to compete on product quality rather than relying on you being forced to keep buying their latest versions.
      • That's because MS missed the boat on image editing software. I still don't think they have a good graphics program. At this point, it would be hard for them to break into this area, especially if they used proprietary formats. However, if they would have focused on this 15 years ago, like they did with word processors and operating systems, then we'd probably see their version have proprietary formats with vendor lock in.
      • Proprietary image editing software doesn't keep you locked in to it's own formats, so publishers of such software have to compete on product quality rather than relying on you being forced to keep buying their latest versions.

        True story: my company (a large telecoms) still uses Office 2000. We appear to manage to have avoided being forced to upgrade.
    • by Anonymous Coward
      Might as well post a non-karma whoring link to the actual comic [userfriendly.org].
    • UF is a great comic, but I'm not sure if illiad knows that Gimp has a CMYK plugin. the site claims its only rudimentary support, but it is a start.
      http://www.blackfiveservices.co.uk/separate.shtml [blackfiveservices.co.uk]
    • Even the OSS advocate/comic writer Illiad admitted to not using GIMP and he had an amusing little comic last week or so explaining some of his reasons. Commercial software isn't necessarily evil

      You don't get it, many (of course not all) *nix geeks can't differentiate the meaning of commercial and evil, even if they try real hard for real long.

      It's part of a culture, the sign of something becoming a part of a culture is that you just follow it, you don't question it. Noone wants to argue for example if Micro
      • > You don't get it, many (of course not all) *nix geeks can't differentiate the meaning of commercial and evil, even if they try real hard.

        That's because there isn't a difference. Code that you can't change, modify, or improve is evil. Commercial software can't be changed, modified, or improved. Hence commercial and evil are one in the same.

        Here's an interesting take: http://openbsd.org/lyrics.html#39 [openbsd.org]
    • If you really want to encourage free software development, one of the best things you can do is to use it. It's not always easy to find the stumbling blocks until you actually try to use the software end-to-end. There aren't many hacker types who actually work in the publishing industry, so having a publisher who is interested in feeding back his needs to the hacking community is invaluable.

      It's even better that he was willing to play trial-and-error because that helps the software to improve to meet his
    • by Kjella (173770) on Sunday May 07, 2006 @05:09PM (#15282323) Homepage
      Commercial software isn't necessarily evil, it is a different development method.

      And most of all, it's the #1 method to get stuff developed where there's more money than "scratch an itch" developers. Granted, there's some commercial OSS developers too, but for the most part closed source is dominating in areas like:

      • Create software for newbies, where if you can develop it yourself you're pretty much disqualified from needing/wanting/liking that tool.
      • Create software for specialized user groups where there's just too few OSS developers to get a usable tool off the ground.
      • Create software that only corporations need, which are typically really dull. And as companies go, they don't like OSS because they're in a competition. If you and I both have a great office suit, great. If my company and the competing company both have an excellent logistics system, not so good.
      • Once-off applications such as games, where you pull something together, release it, people use it, then shelf it. There's some classics that "live forever" though. Another good example would be tax software.
      • Applications with serious server-side resources, such as MMORPGs.

      I don't think OSS will be able to adapt to every possible form of software development. In fact, I would be happy if it could corner the market for "basic" desktop use, so that commercial software would get written for the Linux platform. For me personally Oblivion is right now (and other games to come) a huge hook to Windows, and I don't see OSS developing anything like it any time soon.
    • by njh (24312) on Sunday May 07, 2006 @06:16PM (#15282515) Homepage
      WTF does CMYK have to do with a low resolution web comic of dubious artistic talent? It sounds more like Illiad is just looking for an excuse. I've seen some damn fine comics drawn in inkscape by real artists.
    • Evidently, he needs CMYK for gif pictures that go on a web page. Maybe someday he'll explain why he isn't funny.
    • What the hell would Illiad know about professional graphics software features? His comic looks like it's drawn in freakin' Paint using a malfunctioning 10-year-old tablet.

      I'm sorry, if it was (say) VGCats, or Penny-Arcade, or some comic that actually had some quality artwork attached to it, I might be convinced.
  • by slusich (684826) * <slusichNO@SPAMgmail.com> on Sunday May 07, 2006 @04:18PM (#15282193)
    Certain industries, certainly lend themselves better to free software use then others.
    Apart from software availability, regulatory issues prevent many companies from going to 100% free software, even if a product was available.
  • GIMP! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by christurkel (520220) on Sunday May 07, 2006 @04:47PM (#15282267) Homepage Journal
    The only exceptions were the manual checks and corrections needed to work around the absence of direct four-color management in the GIMP
    Welcome to the world of a fustrated GIMP user. How long has this been a "must have" feature that hasn't happened?
    • Re:GIMP! (Score:3, Interesting)

      by arivanov (12034)
      You will have to wait for a few more years I am afraid. Adobe holds a very good selection of patents in this area and GIMP is not going to improve anytime before they expire.
    • Re:GIMP! (Score:2, Informative)

      by daverabbitz (468967)
      OK, most everyone has missed the point here. CMYK is important because two different printers will produce different output from the same image regardless of the colour-space used. The reason to use CMYK is to have control over the individual channels so that you can correct for the difference's between printers. The same goes for monitors unless they are calibrated monitors which are uber pricey, the color will be different (different phosphors, different channel brightnesss,etc).

      Anyhow the reason CMYK is
  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday May 07, 2006 @05:14PM (#15282334)
    Stop the presses!!!!

    Come on, give me a break. This is a one man show publishing pamphlets that he calls books.

    When O'Reilly goes 100% OSS, I'll be impressed and interested. When Doubleday goes 100% OSS I'll be flabbergasted. This one man show? Yawn!!!!
  • Intelligent Design of a 100% free Software-Based Publisher.

    What?
  • by layer3switch (783864) on Sunday May 07, 2006 @06:14PM (#15282502)
    "After some experiments with Lives, Cinelerra, and MainActor on SUSE, he is now using Kino and Audacity for audio and video editing."

    So far, I have not seen any comprehensive Desktop publishing tools on GNU/Linux so far. Majority of them are web server plugins/cgi/perl/php/java/python/etc. And by using a browser to do publishing, many useful functions are limited in many way.

    Same as for non-linear video editing tools for GNU/Linux, a limiting hurdle is the Desktop itself. Native Gnome apps runs unstable under KDE and KDE apps do not even run well in Gnome. It's painful for me to say it, but Cinelerra for Fedora Core with KDE just sucks and unstable, same goes for MainActor and Lives. Even Hydrogen can't sustain stably after few minutes of usage. This forces me to choose one Desktop over other just because of just one useful tool.

    I am not sure if anyone is having such painful experience, but few good advice on Cinelerra and Hydrogen on Fedora Core is welcome.
    • "I am not sure if anyone is having such painful experience, but few good advice on Cinelerra and Hydrogen on Fedora Core is welcome."

      An alternative to consider would be Blender to 2.42 when it comes out. With the addition of ffmpeg for greater input and output flexibility, and its improved memory handling for video it is now a fairly capable video editor (see documentation on the sequencer).

      LetterRip
    • Is there something wrong with those apps? I have GTK apps like GAIM open for weeks on my KDE desktop. I mean sure it's somewhat disadvantageous because you have the memory requirements of both libraries, but I think that would pale next to the app-internal memory for the 3D rendering or whatever. So if these apps are unstable, then there's something wrong with that partiular app or your hardware or something, this is not just a general GNOME/KDE desktop inter-op issue like theming or something.
  • by Qbertino (265505) on Sunday May 07, 2006 @06:35PM (#15282559)
    Calling this guy a publisher is stretching it a little, imho. The website looks somewhat shoddy and homegrown.

    There are other publishers using OSS exclusively that deserve the term. For instance T3N [yeebase.com], a regular german magazin on Typo3 [typo3.org] uses the CMS Typo3 as publishing tool. They generate the digital prints by Typo3 driven PDF generation. And the bi-monthly 80 Page magazin - available at every larger Newspaper dealer - , albeight having a slightly 'technical' 2-column layout, is a full-blown professional publication, and not just some fanzine. That's what I call OSS driven publishing.

    Oh, and, btw, if your wondering why in heavens name someone would have the wacky idea to publish a magazin on Typo3 like others publish magazines on, let's say, PHP or Java, you might be interested to hear that T3N is just in it's 3rd issue and is growing *fast* and steep in print run volume. That is because in Germany _*EVERYBODY*_ uses Typo3. Everybody. Which is unfortunate for me because I'm trying to make a living in Germany doing web developement and don't like T3 that much. ... Ah, well, it's open source, so it's not that bad. Allthough I'm beginning to suspect that Typo3 is some brigdehead for a Danish Invasion of Germany of some sort. I recall we had some kind of war something like 110 years ago or so. Must be that there's still some stuff not settled yet. And Kaspar Skarhoj probably is some secrect agent of the danish crown. :-)

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