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Text-processing for grown-ups! even if many an apparent grown-up turned very sulky when asked to use it. It ran only on mainframes, it insisted on structure, input was through a line-editor, there wasn't really a preview mode... and I took to it like a duck to water.

Who is responsible

BookMaster was a venerable product from none other than IBM. To my certain knowledge – I have the mental scars to prove it – it ran under VM and under MVS/TSO. Persistent rumour and cryptic references in newsgroups suggest there was at least briefly a PC version that included the longed-for preview mode. I never saw it when I was still using the real thing, and since then development work on BookMaster for any platform has probably ceased. Worse yet, the name has been hijacked.

Congratulations, en passant, to the documentation team. They did an excellent job of explaining the whole system, clearly sympathise with their users, and hid some much more subtle jokes than the agapanthus and the gopher in the 700+ sober pages of the Users Guide. One of my few major regrets is that I didn't half-inch a copy while I had the chance.

What they came up with

BookMaster is a structured markup language, and thus demonstrates an approach to text-processing the complete opposite of WYSIWYG: what you see bears rather little resemblance to what you might get, and there's no way those initials are ever going to roll off the tongue as easily as whizzy-wig. Both in-depth familiarity and a leap of faith are required to imagine what something like BookMaster table tagging is going to produce.

What I think

Subversive suggestions starting with But ...

... in the last few years, people have knowingly exposed themselves to tagging and mark-up. HTML source is just another markup language, though sloppier (alternatively, 'more forgiving') in many ways than BookMaster, and a lot of people rolled up their sleeves and started writing their HTML files by hand before WYSIWYG editors became available.

... XML is making steady progress despite its rigorous insistence on correctness, and with professional tools such as XML Spy available it is both harder to make mistakes and easier to correct them than it was with BookMaster. Oh, the hours I spent watching four passes' worth of run-time messages scroll past, only to hit the dreaded "RC=8 - No output produced" at the end of it all.

... many innocent people have been exposed to tagging and mark-up without realising it. I am firmly convinced that WordPerfect is at heart a markup language, though one which gained the fanatical devotion of millions (or at least wore down their resistance) by hiding its tagged heart under a WYSIWYG waistcoat. Think about it, all of you out there who've ever activated the Reveal Codes option.

What I used to dream about

What I have since discovered


Amazing. Very close to all I'd ever wanted. Quibbles? Hardly any, though I'd still like better grep. Tagging? Yes, if you insist – and in fact, the two text-based formats .mif and .mml come in very handy for specific tasks. Support? Excellent, thanks to a knowledgeable forum and a good friend who's an ACE.

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