[NTG-context] State of documentation of ConTeXt?

Mojca Miklavec mojca.miklavec.lists at gmail.com
Tue Jul 15 16:42:25 CEST 2014

On Tue, Jul 15, 2014 at 11:59 AM, Gerben Wierda wrote:
> I like ConTeXt (still do, I liked its approach when I first encountered it).
> But the project is more the ongoing private tinkering of a small in-crowd
> (that communicates with some followers).
> ConTeXt is managed a bit like a small group of researchers sharing a couple
> of complex and undocumented models/programs and tinkering with them as they
> go along. It’s an activity without formal design, but with a lot of
> trial-and-error/testing.
> Given that status (and the fact that it has had that status for over a
> decennium), I don’t expect it to ever become a serious product that is
> (semi-)professionally managed. I prefer content over management every day,
> but something like this needs some minimal management. That requires both
> time (=money) and capabilities. Besides, the tinkering researchers may not
> be inclined to do that, they want to tinker.

Basically all the development in ConTeXt is voluntarily. Pro bono.
Besides "tinkering", Hans still needs to earn some money from
somewhere. I find it amazing how much time he already spends doing
good things for the community. But he's not omnipotent.

If there is interest from some commercial company to fund the project
enough to allow some people to work full-time on documentation
(including paying Hans to allow him to spend more time on the
project), I'm sure that it could be done.

> BTW, you can’t be serious asking the users to provide the documentation, can
> you?

There are many excellent books out there written by "writers", not the
authors of software.

(I didn't even get a manual for Windows or OS X where the companies
make big money. Certain things or tricks can only be done when hackers
find a way to do X without anyone documenting feature X. And the last
phone I bought also came without any documentation whatsoever.)

There are more than enough *users* of ConTeXt capable of coming up
with proper documentation (depending on the definition of user of
course, but one could count Taco and Wolfgang as users and they are
certainly not the only ones knowing ConTeXt from inside out). But
there's of course always a question of motivation (combined with time
and money of course).

ConTeXt comes with full source code, so users can easily study the
source code. The project could easily employ two people to work full
time just to keep up with the pace of development (once they would
catch up). Ohloh estimates that it took more than 300 person-years to
write the source code for example ;) Sure, the estimate is problematic
because ConTeXt includes the complete Unicode as well as all
hyphenation patterns which simply count as lines. But it's still an
enormous project.

Oven once you remove the hyphenation patterns and char-def.lua, there
are still 36 MB remaining. The pgf project has a 1200 page manual for
less that 5 MB of source code. LaTeX has a gazillion of manuals and if
you don't know what package you should be looking for, it's not really

I agree that it would be awesome if there was complete documentation
available + maybe three manuals/tutorials from beginner to master, but
you cannot expect it from Hans to do all the work on his own.


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