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XHTML Challenge: Mozilla Seamonkey Composer is not suitable for writing academic papers


I have written a few posts about trying to write HTML, peferably XHTML, with various word processing tools. Today was reminded of the Mozilla Seamonkey project by this post about open source alternatives to proprietary software packages. (Some things on the list are sensible, but suggesting that 'DocBook' might be a replacement for FrameMaker is a stretch. DocBook aint a software package it's a lifestyle.)

Remember Netscape Navigator, which came with email and an editor and all bundled together? That's what Seamonkey is. I grabbed a copy of Seamonkey for the Ubuntu Linux machine I'm using at the moment and tried out the Composer application.

How would one go writing an academic paper with it?

Some technical stuff follows, but the conclusion is in the title of this post.

The first thing I looked at is how I might mark up a quote. There's no obvious way to get a blockquote element. If you hit the indent button, then it does produces code like this:

<h1>Here's a heading</h1>And the first paragraph.<br><br><div style="margin-left: 40px;">Now this is a quote<br>More quote.<br></div>More text.<br>

This is garbage. There are no paragraphs, only line breaks <br> and instead of a blockquote element we have the semantically null margin-left: 40px; what I want from my editor is what the ICE toolbar for OpenOffice.org and Microsoft Word delivers, if I indent (demote) an ordinary paragraph it gives me a quote, hit the same button when I'm on a heading and it will give me a lower-level heading (ie h1 -> h2).

And the list editing is like most other HTML editors I have looked at recently, unintuitive and wrong.

Take this for example. The lists are not nested correctly (the ol should be inside the first li). And what's that br doing at the end of my second bullet item?

<ul> <li>Bullet</li>`` <ol> <li>Numbered</li> <li>Numbered</li> </ol> <li>Bullet<br> </li></ul>

This editor doesn't think hard enough about what you might mean. It is easy to produce all sorts of terrible markup. IIf you click the toolbar buttons in the wrong order then you can produce very wrong code. Why should it be different if I change to numbered list format then indent (which is what I did in the above example), rather than indent then change to numbered list format (below)?

<ul> ... <li>Bullet</li></ul><ol style="margin-left: 40px;"> <li>Numbered</li> <li>Numbered</li></ol><ul> <li>Bullet<br></li></ul>

What I meant was this, but I have yet to see an HTML editor that can do this properly (note, I don't look at HTML editors much, I tend to specialize in complaining about word processors.):

<ul> ... <li>Bullet <ol> <li>Numbered</li> <li>Numbered</li> </ol> </li> <li>Bullet</li></ul>

So, the bottom line is that even thought Mozilla Seamonkey composer comes with a button to fire the document off to a validation service it would be useless for writing a paper, even before we get to the issue of how you might make a PDF version, or deal with your bibliography.