From: Andrew Dunbar (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Date: Sat Sep 21 2002 - 02:28:53 EDT
I've been thinking about the awful situation with RTF
for a couple of weeks.
RTF is important because it's the standard interchange
Almost all word processors can import and export it.
This is sometimes sufficient reason for us not to
support the native file format of a program.
GUI elements support it. The textarea or similar
control on Windows uses RTF. I'm pretty sure GTK has
something similar and QT and Mac might.
RTF is the standard format for formatted text on the
clipboards of various OSs, window managers, etc.
Without good RTF clipboard support, the clipboard is
only useful for plain text.
But there is a major problem - Nobody supports the
RTF is a "standard" but nobody implements the
MS Word might be considered the "defacto standard" but
it's different from the true standard in many
aspects. An RTF importer which supports the standard
will not import MS Word RTF well.
AbiWord loads MS Word RTF quite well, missings
MS WordPad is installed on every Windows machine by
default and has been for a very long time. It reads
MS Word .doc files and reads and writes RTF. For
every Windows machine without MS Word installed, this
is the standard .doc and RTF software.
But WordPad's RTF is different to both the standard
and to Word's RTF.
AbiWord has signifigant problems, especially with
lists, both importing and exporting MS WordPad RTF.
Mac OS X has also embraced RTF. The standard Mac text
editor has been upgraded from the OS 9 days and now
supports full Unicode and its default save format is
But the OS X text editor creates drastically different
RTF from all of the standard, MS Word, and MS WordPad.
For rvery Mac with OS X installed, this is the
editor. The OS X version of RTF has been called
and I bet it is. Yet MS Word and MS WordPad has no
problems with any OS X RTF file I can find.
AbiWord cannot load OS X RTF at all.
OpenOffice also supports a broken version of RTF.
At least in this case, being open source, there is
reasonable hope that it can be fixed if people want it
We cannot currently load OpenOffice RTF.
OpenOffice has recently decided to lower the priority
of RTF support in favour of better Word .doc support.
This is not going to help document interchange between
open source word processors, and it's definitely going
to make clipboard support weaker.
I don't know the status of RTF with other open source
editors such as KWord.
If AbiWord has such problems with all of these very
common flavours of RTF, what hope do we have importing
the many various flavours output by minor and exotic
word processors such as those developed for specific
What the open source community needs is a standard
RTF library much like exists for various image file
formats, and even more like our own Wv.
Such an RTFlib must be designed with a robust parser
able to cope with the worst of known RTF attrocities
and be at least as forgiving as MS Word's RTF
Its output should be the most useful compromise
adhering to the standard, and satisfying MS Word.
AbiWord, OpenOffice, KWord, and whoever else could
contribute to it instead of duplicating the effort
by reinventing the wheel each time and risking the
introduction of one more variety of RTF which only
works with one or two programs.
I'd start this immediately myself but as you know I
have no job, no money, no computer, and no internet
yet - so I'm probably not the best person.
But if somebody on this list knows the best ways to
get the ear of OpenOffice, and which other open source
projects would benefit from this.
I guess finding the maintainers of current existing
RTF importers, exporters, and converters would be a
good place to start.
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