I am scanning the 1986 manual of HDCF/3 (5748-XX9), the Hebrew version of IBM's Document Composition Facility (DCF).

When Googling to find about the software, I see that IBM still sells this software. I am curious - what applications this software has today? Are there still legacy documents that are updated, generated and published using this software?


  • 7
    DCF/AFP are not only still used but quite active developed. There are not only zillions of existing documents, but new as well. It's a well integrated system ranging from SCRIPT as inline documentation tool all the way to generating HTML pages and PDF documents. The very web page you're linking to is most likely made using exactly these tools. Why should any user switch away? Or IBM stop developing? Maintained software doesn't get outdated, just because it's around for a long time. (Which also means, that asking about today's use of today's software is not really on topic for RC.SE.)
    – Raffzahn
    Aug 24, 2022 at 11:47

1 Answer 1


Text formatters in this general style, often known as "runoff programs" after the original one at MIT, are in no way obsolete. Modern computers can run WYSIWYG editors, such as word processors and desktop-publishing systems, and those are used by most people, but runoff programs are very useful for long and complex documents with structured formatting.

For example, consider the documentation for a reasonably complicated programming API. The formatting is standardised for data types, data structures, objects, functions and so on. Using explicit mark-up, usually via macros in a runoff-style language, allows that standardised formatting to be applied far more easily and reliably than setting styles by hand in a WYSIWYG program.

Changing the definitions of those macros allows you to output the same basic text in very different ways. You could generate a printed manual, or a set of HTML files for on-line help, from the same source file. You can do mass edits on the document with text-processing tools like awk, python or perl. Using a runoff system isn't appropriate for all documentation tasks, but it's excellent for the really industrial-scale ones.

  • Great answer. In many ways, such systems also provide functionality that's not simply there for WYSIWYG editors, such as functioning version control that is scalable for more than a handful of editors, as well as ability to adapt to different media (even for printed media, it can be tedious to produce proper printouts for US and A4 paper sizes in wysiwyg editors from the same document).
    – tuomas
    Aug 25, 2022 at 18:29
  • Wasn't runoff a Bell Labs program, later extended into roff?
    – fuz
    Aug 25, 2022 at 20:02
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    @fuz: The name became generic very early. The oldest "runoff" I know of was released in 1964, for MIT''s CTSS operating system. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/TYPSET_and_RUNOFF Aug 25, 2022 at 21:10
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    OpenVMS’s extensive documentation is all generated using their version of runoff and macros. You can see this when comparing printed and online documentation: they’re exactly the same.
    – RonJohn
    Aug 31, 2022 at 4:57

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