Using HTML, XHTML for word processing


EDIT: I just realised that the draft version (without any links) of this post was the one that was published, not the final one. It's been all fixed up.

With all the talk these days about online word processors such as Google Documents and gOffice replacing traditional client installed office suites such as, it got me thinking: do more technically inclined computers users actually need word processors at all anymore?

Think about it: if you're a web programmer or have any experience in HTML (preferably one of the XHTML varieties) and CSS you have everything you need to create a professional looking document, and as I discovered, it takes a lot less effort.

With any word processor I've ever used I've always found it to be a struggle to use the inbuilt templates and formats for headings, lists and so forth. With HTML I have complete control over what everything looks like and where everything goes, I can change the entire formatting of a document on the fly, and the resulting document (if done correctly) is a standards based file which can be read on virtually any computer with a simple web browser, and it's in a format which I know many years from now I will still be able to open and access, I can embed microformats such as hCards into my documents (very useful for letters), I can create different stylesheets for screen and print views, I can use easily edited meta tags to denote the copyright, language, date, author, keywords, owner and description of a document… the list goes on.

Now granted there could be some downsides depending on who you are. Some people might find the use of <tags /> to be cumbersome and annoying, and I certainly don't expect everyone to pick it up, but if you have the experience it can work out to be a very efficient and quick way to type something up.

And the best part of it all? You don't need a fancy word processing programme with bucket loads of features you'll never use: all you need is a lightweight text editor, and maybe a PDF exporting programme to help with creating separate, printable pages if you run a flavour of Windows.

So how do I use HTML to create documents? Argh, two rhetorical questions in the one post. This is no good. I now have a file called master.html sitting in my home directory that I use as a template for new documents; I simply copy the file, change the meta data and write up the document.

<?xml version=”1.0″ encoding=”UTF-8″?>

<html xmlns=”” xml:lang=”en-AU”>
<head profile=””>
<title>DOCUMENT NAME By Ruben Schade</title>

<meta http-equiv=”Content-Language” content=”en-AU” />
<meta http-equiv=”Content-Type” content=”text/html; charset=UTF-8″ />
<meta name=”author” content =”Ruben Schade” />
<meta name=”copyright” content=”” />
<meta name=”description” content=”DOCUMENT DESCRIPTION” />
<meta name=”owner” content=”Ruben Schade” />

<style type=”text/css” media=”all”>
body {
  font-family: Georgia, Antiqua, “Times New Roman”, Times, sans-serif;
  line-height : 1.6em;
  padding: 2em;



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Ruben Schade is a technical writer and infrastructure architect in Sydney, Australia who refers to himself in the third person. Hi!

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