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I've returned to the world of typesetting after a long absence, and have been reading what seem to be considered the standard current works on typography (Bringhurst, "Thinking With Type", "Stop Stealing Sheep", etc.) and have been reading some recent books on book design, and I am struck by how many accounts of the transition to digital typography assume that it began with the Macintosh and PageMaker.
Bell Labs was using troff to drive a C/A/T phototypesetter in the early 1970s (to prepare patent applications; it was the excuse that they used to fund the development of the Unix operating system). When I was a summer employee at the department of Computational Science at the University of Saskatchewan in 1982, we were using troff to typeset a textbook ("An Introduction to Data Structures with Applications" by Tremblay and Sorenson). troff, in those days, had one font (a Times Roman-ish sort of thing) with italic and bold versions, in multiple sizes. But it was certainly better than using a typewriter, or even a daisy-wheel printer, and many computer science theses, as well as many computer science texts, were made using it. It appears to have been in use for book production into the early 1990s.
Donald Knuth's TeX emerged in the form we currently know in 1982 (although there have been some revisions since then). Leslie Lamport's LaTeX document processing system, built on top of TeX, appeared a few years later. LaTeX has been used to produce many books and papers in computer science, mathematics, physics, and chemistry. TeX and LaTeX are still under active development, and there are versions that do microtypography (pdfTeX) and that support Unicode and OpenType fonts (XeTeX). As far as I know, nothing else comes close to TeX for setting mathematics. All kinds of good work can be done with it (see http://www.tug.org/texshowcase).
There were other systems, too: Brian Reid's Scribe; one called SMUT, which Douglas Hofstadter used to typeset "Godel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid"; ATEX, used by newspapers; and doubtless others that I haven't heard about.
So what puzzles me is why these systems, so important in scientific work (particularly troff and TeX), don't get any mention in most accounts of typographic history. Is it a cultural thing? Are people outside of the scientific and mathematical communities simply unaware of them? Is it an issue of snobbery? Is mark-up based software, originated by a computer scientist and not a typographic insider, looked down upon or considered a joke?
I'm not trying to use this post to say that troff or TeX are better or worse than InDesign or Quark or whatever. I just wonder why they always seem to be overlooked.