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<h1> A user should not be able to shoot himself in the foot</h1>
<p>While in the background participants of the <strong>Libre Graphics
Meeting 2007</strong> start saying goodbye to each other, Andreas Vox
makes time to sit down with us to talk about Scribus, the Open Source
application for professional page layout. The software is significant not
only to it's users that do design with it, but also because Scribus helps
us think about links between software, Free Culture and design. Andreas is
a mathematician with an interest in system dynamics, who lives and works
in L&#252;beck, Germany. Together with Franz Schmid, Petr Vanek (subik),
Riku Leino (Tsoots), Oleksandr Moskalenko (malex), Craig Bradney (MrB),
Jean Ghali and Peter Linnel (mrdocs) he forms the core Scribus developer
team. He has been working on Scribus since 2003 and is currently
responsible for redesigning the internal workings of its text layout
system.</p>
<p class="fs">This weekend Peter Linnel presented amongst many other new
Scribus features <sup><a href="#b026324c">1</a></sup>, 'The Color Wheel',
which at the click of a button visualises documents the way they would be
perceived by a colour blind person. Can you explain how such a feature
entered into Scribus? Did you for example speak to accessibility
experts?</p>
<p class="av">I don&#8217;t think we did. The code was implemented by
subik <sup><a href="#26ab0db9">2</a></sup>, a developer from the Czech
Republic. As far as I know, he saw a feature somewhere else or he found an
article about how to do this kind of stuff, and I don&#8217;t know where
he did it, but I would have to ask him. It was a logic extension of the
colour wheel functionality, because if you pick different colours, they
look different to all people. What looks like red and green to one person,
might look like grey and yellow to other persons. Later on we just
extended the code to apply to the whole canvas.</p>
<p class="fs">It is quite special to offer such a precise preview of
different perspectives in your software. Do you think it it is particular
to Scribus to pay attention to these kind of things?</p>
<p class="av">Yeah, sure. Well, the interesting thing is&#8230; in Scribus
we are not depending on money and time like other proprietary packages. We
can ask ourselves: Is this useful? Would I have fun implementing it? Am I
interested in seeing how it works? So if there is something we would like
to see, we implement it and look at it. And because we have a good contact
with our user base, we can also pick up good ideas from them.</p>
<p class="fs">There clearly is a strong connection between Scribus and the
world of prepress and print. So, for us as users, it is an almost
hallucinating experience that while on one side the software is very well
developed when it comes to .pdf export for example, I would say even more
developed than in other applications, but than still it is not possible to
undo a text edit. Could you maybe explain how such a discrepancy can
happen, to make us understand better?</p>
<p class="av">One reason is, that there are more developers working on the
project, and even if there was only one developer, he or she would have
her own interests. Remember what George Williams said about
FontForge&#8230; <sup><a href="#6d7fce9f">3</a></sup> he is not that
interested in nice Graphical User Interfaces, he just makes his own
functionality&#8230; that is what interests him. So unless someone else
comes up who compensates for this, he will stick to what he likes. I think
that is the case with all Open Source applications. Only if you have
someone interested and able to do just this certain thing, it will happen.
And if it is something boring or something else&#8230; it will probably
not happen. One way to balance this, is to keep in touch with real users,
and to listen to the problems they have. At least for the Scribus team, if
we see people complaining a lot about a certain feature missing&#8230; we
will at some point say: <em>come on, let&#8217;s do something about
it</em>. We would implement a solution and when we get thanks from them
and make them happy, that is always nice.</p>
<p class="fs">Can you tell us a bit more about the reasons for putting all
this work into developing Scribus, because a layout application is quite a
complex monster with all the elements that need to work together&#8230;
Why is it important you find, to develop Scribus?</p>
<p class="av">I use to joke about the special mental state you need to
become a Scribus developer&#8230; and one part of it is probably
megalomania! It is kind of mountain climbing. We just want to do it, to
prove it can be done. That must have been also true for Franz Schmid, our
founder, because at that time, when he started, it was very unlikely that
he would succeed. And of course once you have some feedback, you start to
think: <em>hey, I can do it&#8230; it works. People can use it, people can
print with it, do things &#8230; so why not make it even better?</em> Now
we are following InDesign and QuarkXpress, and we are playing the top
league of page layout applications &#8230; we&#8217;re kind of in a
competition with them. It is like climbing a mountain and than seeing the
next, higher mountain from the top.</p>
<p class="fs">In what way is it important to you that Scribus is Free
Software?</p>
<p class="av">Well&#8230; it would not work with closed software. Open
software allows you to get other people that also are interested in
working on the project involved, so you can work together. With closed
software you usually have to pay people; I would only work because someone
else wants me to do it and we would not be as motivated. It is totally
different. If it was closed, it would not be fun. In Germany they studied
what motivates Open Source developers, and they usually list:
&#8216;fun&#8217;; they want to do something more challenging than at
work, and some social stuff is mentioned as well. Of course it is not
money.</p>
<p class="fs">One of the reasons the Scribus project seems so important to
us, is that it might draw in other kinds of users, and open up the world
of professional publishing to people who can otherwise not afford
proprietary packages. Do you think Scribus will change the way publishing
works? Does that motivate you, when you work on it?</p>
<p class="av">I think the success of Open Source projects will also change
the way people use software. But I do not think it is possible to foresee
or plan, in what way this will change. We see right now that Scribus is
adopted by all kinds of idealists, who think that is interesting, lets try
how far we can go, and do it like that. There are other users that really
just do not have the money to pay for a professional page layout
application such as very small newspapers associations, sports groups,
church groups. They use Scribus because otherwise they would have used a
pirated copy of some other software, or another application which is not
up to that task, such as a normal word processor. Or otherwise they would
have used a deficient application like MS Publisher to do it. I think what
Scribus will change, is that more people will be exposed to page layout,
and that is a good thing, I think.</p>
<p class="fs">In another interview with the Scribus team <sup><a
href="#48a24b70">4</a></sup>, Craig Bradney speaks about the fact that the
software is often compared with its proprietary competition. He brings up
the &#8216;Scribus way of doing things&#8217;. What do you think is
&#8216;The Scribus Way&#8217;?</p>
<p class="av">I don&#8217;t think Craig meant it that way. Our goal is to
produce good output, and make that easy for users. If we are in doubt, we
think for example: InDesign does this in quite an OK way, so we try to do
it in a similar way; we do not have any problems with that. On the other
hand&#8230; I told you a bit about climbing mountains&#8230; We cannot go
from the one top to the next one just in one step. We have to move slowly,
and have to find our ways and move through valleys and that sometimes also
limits us. I can say: <em>I want it this way</em> but then it is not
possible now, it might be on the roadmap, but we might have to do other
things first.</p>
<p class="fs">When we use Scribus, we actually thought we were
experiencing &#8216;The Scribus Way&#8217; through how it differences from
other layout packages. First of all, in Scribus there is a lot more
attention for everything that happens after the layout is done, i.e.
export, error checking etc. and second, working with the text editor is
clearly the preferred way of doing layout. For us it links the software to
a more classic ways of doing design: a strictly phased process where a
designer starts with writing typographic instructions which are carried
out by a typesetter, after which the designer pastes everything into the
mock-up. In short: it seems easier to do a magazine in Scribus, than a
poster. Do you recognize that image?</p>
<p class="av">That is an interesting thought, I have never seen it that
way before. My background is that I did do a newspaper, magazine for a
student group, and we were using PageMaker, and of course that influenced
me. In a small group that just wants to bring out a magazine, you
distribute the task of writing some articles, and usually you have only
one or two persons who are capable of using a page layout application.
They pull in the stories and make some corrections, and then do the
layout. Of course that is a work flow I am familiar with, and I
don&#8217;t think we really have poster designers or graphic artists in
the team. On the other hand &#8230; we do ask our users what they think
should be possible with Scribus and if a functionality is not there, we
ask them to put in a bug report so we do not forget it and some time later
we will pick it up and implement it. Especially the possibility to edit
from the canvas, this will approve in the upcoming versions.</p>
<p>Some things we just copied from other applications. I think Franz
<sup><a href="#1dcca233">5</a></sup> had no previous experience with
PageMaker, so when I came to Scribus, and saw how it handled text chains,
I was totally dismayed and made some changes right away because I really
wanted it to work the way it works in PageMaker, that is really nice. So,
previous experience and copying from another applications was one part of
the development. Another thing is just technical problems. Scribus is at
the moment internally not that well designed, so we first have to rewrite
a lot of code to be able to reach some elements. The coding structure for
drawing and layout was really cumbersome inside and it was difficult to
improve. We worked with 2.500 lines of code, and there were no comments in
between. So we broke it down in several elements, put some comments in and
also asked Franz: <em>why did you did this or that</em>, so we could put
some structure back into the code to understand how it works. There is
still a lot of work to be done, and we hope we can reach a state where we
can implement new stuff more easily.</p>
<p class="fs">It is interesting how the 2.500 lines of code are really
tangible when you use Scribus old-style, even without actually seeing
them. When Peter Linnel was explaining how to make the application comply
to the conservative standards of the printing business, he used this term
&#8216;self-defensive code&#8217; &#8230;</p>
<p class="av">At Scribus we have a value that a file should never break in
a print shop. Any bug report we receive in this area, is treated with
first priority.</p>
<p class="fs">We can speak from experience, that this is really true! But
this robustness shifts out of sight when you use the inbuilt script
function; then it is as if you come in to the software through the
backdoor. From self-defence to the heart of the application?</p>
<p class="av">It is not really self-defence &#8230; programmers and
software developers sometimes use the expression: &#8216;a user should not
shoot himself in the foot&#8217;. Scribus will not protect you from ugly
layout, if that would be possible at all! Although I do sometimes take
deliberate decisions to try and do it &#8230; for example that for as long
as I am around, I will not make an option to do &#8216;automatic letter
spacing&#8217;, because I think it is just ugly. If you do it manually,
that is your responsibility; I just do not feel like making anything like
that work automatically. What we have no problems with, is to prevent you
from making invalid output. If Scribus thinks a certain font is not OK,
and it might break on one or two types of printers &#8230; this is reason
enough for us to make sure this font is not used. The font is not even
used partially, it is gone. That is the kind of self-defence Peter Linnel
was talking about. It is also how we build .pdf files and PostScript. Some
ways of building PostScript take less storage, some of it would be easier
to read for humans, but we always take an approach that would be the least
problematic in a print shop. This meant for example, that you could not
search in a .pdf. <sup><a href="#9ae0ea9e">6</a></sup> I think you can do
that now, but there are still limitations; it is on the roadmap to improve
over time, to even add an option to output a web oriented .pdf and a print
oriented .pdf &#8230; but it is an important value in Scribus is to get
the output right. To prevent people to really shoot themselves in the
foot.</p>
<p class="fs">Our last question is about the relation between the content
that is layed out in Scribus, and the fact that it is an Open Source
project. Just as an example, Microsoft Word will come out with an option
to make it easy to save a document with a Creative Commons License <sup><a
href="#84bc3da1">7</a></sup>. Would this, or not, be an interesting option
to add to Scribus? Would you be interested in making that connection,
between software and content?</p>
<p class="av">It could well be we would copy that, if it is not already
been patented by Microsoft! To me it sounds a bit like a marketing trick
&#8230; because it is such an easy function to do. But, if someone from
Creative Commons would ask for this function, I think someone would
implement it for Scribus in a short time, and I think we would actually
like it. Maybe we would generalize it a little, so that for example you
could also add other licenses too. We already have support for some meta
data, and in the future we might put some more function in to support
license managing, for example also for fonts.</p>
<p>About the relation between content and Open Source software in general
&#8230; there are some groups who are using Scribus I politically do not
really identify with. Or more or less not at all. If I meet those people
on the IRC chat, I try to be very neutral, but I of course have my own
thoughts in the back of my head.</p>
<p class="fs">Do you think using a tool like Scribus produces a certain
kind of use?</p>
<p class="av">No. Preferences for work tools and political preference are
really orthogonal, and we have both. For example when you have some right
wing people they could also enjoy using Scribus and socialist groups as
well. It is probably the best for Scribus to keep that stuff out of it. I
am not even sure about the political conviction of the other developers.
Usually we get along very well, but we don&#8217;t talk about those kinds
of things very much. In that sense I don&#8217;t think that using Scribus
will influence what is happening with it.</p>
<p>As a tool, because it makes creating good page layouts much easier, it
will probably change the landscape because a lot of people get exposed to
page layout and they learn and teach other people; and I think that is
growing, and I hope it will be growing faster than if it is all left to
big players like InDesign and Quark&#8230; I think this will improve and
it will maybe also change the demands that users will make for our
application. If you do page layout, you get into a new frame of mind
&#8230; you look in a different way at publications. It is less content
oriented, but more layout oriented. You will pick something up and it will
spread. People by now have understood that it is not such a good idea to
use twelve different fonts in one text &#8230; and I think that knowledge
about better page layout will also spread.</p>
<hr/>
<ol>
<li id="b026324c">
http://wiki.scribus.net/index.php/Version_1.3.4%2B<em>-</em>New_Features
</li>
<li id="26ab0db9"> Petr Vanek </li>
<li id="6d7fce9f"> <em>I think the ideas behind it are beautiful in my
mind</em> </li>
<li id="48a24b70">
http://www.kde.me.uk/index.php?page=fosdem-interview-scribus </li>
<li id="1dcca233"> Schmid </li>
<li id="9ae0ea9e"> because the fonts get outlined and/or reencoded </li>
<li id="84bc3da1"> http://creativecommons.org/press-releases/entry/5947
</li>
</ol>
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