It’s Not a What?
Gutenberg doesn’t suck as an editor because it’s not an editor. Or maybe I should say that it does in fact suck as an editor, but that’s to be expected because it’s not an editor? But that’s such a mouthful…
Does saying Gutenberg’s not an editor sound strange to you? It did to me! Realizations often come to me in intertwined pairs, and it’s going to take me a moment before I can explain myself. The reason has to do with edlin, which was a text editor for the old DOS, and PageMaker, the spiritual predecessor of Abobe InDesign.
What’s edlin? What’s DOS? Page what? What do they have to do with Gutenberg? I promise it’ll all make sense. Then I’ll give you some ideas on how to get the most out of Gutenberg — by writing out of Gutenberg!
Old Habits Die Hard… Or Don’t Die at All!
I first used IBM PC DOS 2.01 in 1986 or thereabouts. Yes, I know many of you weren’t born then. But back before you carried a powerful microcomputer in your back pocket, computers came in large beige boxes. There are two critical things you need to know about IBM PC DOS:
- There was no graphical interface
- A typical IBM PC at the time maxed out at 640K of RAM — that’s kilobytes of RAM
Your profile on Twitter probably has more data than that.
There was no way see what a document would look like when you printed it, in part because there really wasn’t a way to print anything other than ugly text! Even if you could print it, you couldn’t create a very big document. Computers just weren’t that powerful.
I didn’t use edlin to write a novel, of course. But I did use PFS:Write to write a novel! Too bad it wasn’t very good. The novel, I mean. Okay, it was terrible…
I loved learning about PCs, so I learned edlin. You can see the commands in the Wikipedia article, but here’s the core idea: Edlin is a line editor. You have to think carefully about each line you write. That “think” detracts from the attention I could give to what I was writing. I had to develop a process by which I’d devote some of my thought to the mechanics of writing and some to the content. I had to focus more on how I wrote compared to what I wrote.
That gave me a key insight into understanding the true nature of Gutenberg. In other words, I serious when I say that Gutenberg Doesn’t Suck as an Editor.
No, Gutenberg Isn’t Edlin!
Gutenberg isn’t edlin. It’s much more sophisticated than that! But it’s actually less an editor than edlin. Why? Because edlin was designed to edit files.
I don’t think Gutenberg was designed to edit posts. At least, I see little evidence for it.
I contend that Gutenberg isn’t an editor. As evidence I present all of the posts from a diverse community of bloggers who hated Gutenberg — some to the point of opting to stop blogging rather than be forced to use Gutenberg.
Sound like the reaction an editor would provoke to you?
I started using Gutenberg, and I didn’t think much about the process of switching. When I dropped Thrive Architect, I picked up Gutenberg. In my mind, I was just swapping one editor for another. But people’s violent reaction made me stop and think. Am I using Gutenberg because I have to? Or because I want to? Do I love it? Is it an editor I embrace?
I’ve been using Gutenberg as an editor, because it was the default. Do I love it? Is it helping me get work done? Well…
Then I remembered edlin. The same mindset I used to manage writing batch files is edlin is the same mindset I’m using to write in Gutenberg. I spend more time thinking about how to write something as what I want to write.
That’s no way to write creatively! At least not for people were weren’t stupid enough to cut teeth on edlin!
An editor should get out of your way and let you pour stuff on the page. An editor should offer precisely zero friction between your thoughts, the keyboard, and the document.
It should not force you to relearn the interface between most every release. It should not impose a non-intuitive object model (blocks) on writers who think in documents.
Gutenberg is just not an editor.
Okay. So what the heck is it?
Gutenberg is a Post Construction Tool
Experience with another program helped me understand exactly what Gutenberg is. That software was PageMaker. I ran it on an IBM PC AT with exactly 640K of RAM. I still miss the battle-tank keyboard on those computers!
PageMaker was, at the time, a revelation. I’d been used to using PFS:Write at home or IBM DisplayWrite 4 at work. Those were document-oriented tools that helped me write, well, documents. Since I’d used typewriters to write before, they were amazing to me. I could easily edit text without retying pages. That’s pretty much an assumed today, but it wasn’t always so. You young ‘uns don’t realize how great you have it!
Yes, I have a VMware virtual machine running MS DOS. Yes, this screen shot, and the one before of PFS:Write, are from that virtual machine. I don’t use these programs anymore, but I like to remember where I’ve been.
PageMaker would let me take individual documents and lay them out into print form. DisplayWrite 4 (DW4) and its brethren could print, sure. But try laying out a magazine or a newspaper with them, and you would learn a new definition of frustration! PageMaker let me take documents and lay them out for presentation. Easily. Quickly. Because that’s what it was designed to do.
Just like Gutenberg.
So, I honestly think that Gutenberg doesn’t suck as an editor. I also don’t think it’s an editor!
So Now What?
Oh, WordPerfect, how I miss you. Gaze on the spartan elegance of the document editor! Though, come to think of it, pressing SHIFT-F7 to save might not be the most intuitive way ever to save a document…
Gutenberg doesn’t suck as an editor. I hope I’ve made the case why: It’s because I don’t think Gutenberg is an editor. If you’re like me and learned to dedicate part of your mind to managing the stupid intricacies of arbitrary applications while the other parts of your mind remain free to create, then this distinction might not help.
If, however, you’re a more normal human being, then I think I might have good news. There is a way that Gutenberg can be a productive part of your blog posting workflow. It’s just not using it as the editor!
In my next Blog Shop Talk post, I’ll talk about three popular editors and how they might help make blogging fun again. Honestly, it troubles me that so many of you have expressed so much frustration at Gutenberg. I want you to enjoy blogging! And before you think “Awww, that’s nice,” I feel compelled to be honest: If you hate writing, you’ll write less, and I’ll have fewer posts to enjoy!
Have you used another word processor with Gutenberg? Please feel free to share your experience in the comments!