scribus in Constant 2015

er, she is currently
developing a master’s program on F/LOSS art & design.


While in the background participants of the Libre Graphics
Meeting 2007 start saying goodbye to each other, Andreas
Vox makes time to sit down with us to talk about Scribus,
the Open Source application for professional page layout.
The software is significant not only to it’s users that do design with it, but also because Scribus helps us think about
links between software, Free Culture and design. Andreas
is a mathematician with an interest in system dynamics,
who lives and works in Lübeck, Germany. Together with
Franz Schmid, Petr Vanek (subik), Riku Leino (Tsoots),
Oleksandr Moskalenko (malex), Craig Bradney (MrB), Jean
Ghali and Peter Linnel (mrdocs) he forms the core Scribus
developer team. He has been working on Scribus since
2003 and is currently responsible for redesigning the internal workings of its text layout system.
This weekend Peter Linnel presented amongst many other new Scribus features 1 ,
‘The Color Wheel’, which at the click of a button visualises documents the way
they would be perceived by a colour blind person. Can you explain how such a
feature entered into Scribus? Did you for example speak to accessibility experts?

I don’t think we did. The code was implemented by subik 2 , a developer
from the Czech Republic. As far as I know, he saw a feature somewhere else
or he found an article about how to do this kin

to apply to the whole canvas.

Petr Vanek


It is quite special to offer such a precise preview of different perspectives in your
software. Do you think it it is particular to Scribus to pay attention to these kind
of things?

Yeah, sure. Well, the interesting thing is ... in Scribus we are not depending
on money and time like other proprietary packages. We can ask ourselves:
Is this useful? Would I have fun implementing it? Am I interested in seeing
how it works? So if there is something we would like to see, we implement
it and look at it. And because we have a good contact with our user base,
we can also pick up good ideas from them.
There clearly is a strong connection between Scribus and the world of prepress
and print. So, for us as users, it is an almost hallucinating experience that while
on one side the software is very well developed when it comes to .pdf export for
example, I would say even more developed than in other appl

e to do just this certain thing, it will happen. And if it
is something boring or something else ... it will probably not happen. One
way to balance this, is to keep in touch with real users, and to listen to
the problems they have. At least for the Scribus team, if we see people
complaining a lot about a certain feature missing ... we will at some point
say: come on, let’s do something about it. We would implement a solution and
when we get thanks from them and make them happy, that is always nice.

Can you tell us a bit more about the reasons for putting all this work into
developing Scribus, because a layout application is quite a complex monster with
all the elements that need to work together ... Why is it important you find, to
develop Scribus?

I think the ideas behind it are beautiful in my mind


I use to joke about the special mental state you need to become a Scribus
developer ... and one part of it is probably megalomania! It is kind of mountain climbing. We just want to do it, to prove it can be done. That must
have been also true for Franz Schmid, our founder, because at that time,
when he started, it was very

uarkXpress, and we are playing
the top league of page layout applications ... we’re kind of in a competition
with them. It is like climbing a mountain and than seeing the next, higher
mountain from the top.

In what way is it important to you that Scribus is Free Software?

Well ... it would not work with closed software. Open software allows you to
get other people that also are interested in working on the project involved,
so you can work together. With closed software you usually have to pay

. In Germany they studied what motivates Open Source
developers, and they usually list: ‘fun’; they want to do something more
challenging than at work, and some social stuff is mentioned as well. Of
course it is not money.
One of the reasons the Scribus project seems so important to us, is that it might
draw in other kinds of users, and open up the world of professional publishing to
people who can otherwise not afford proprietary packages. Do you think Scribus
will change the way publishing works? Does that motivate you, when you work
on it?

I think the success of Open Source projects will also change the way people
use software. But I do not think it is possible to foresee or plan, in what
way this will change. We see right now that Scribus is adopted by all kinds
of idealists, who think that is interesting, lets try how far we can go, and
do it like that. There are other users that really just do not have the money
to pay for a professional page layout application such as very small newspapers associations, sports groups, church groups. They use Scribus because
otherwise they would have used a pirated copy of some other software, or

another application which is not up to that task, such as a normal word processor. Or otherwise they would have used a deficient application like MS
Publisher to do it. I think what Scribus will change, is that more people
will be exposed to page layout, and that is a good thing, I think.

In another interview with the Scribus team 4 , Craig Bradney speaks about the
fact that the software is often compared with its proprietary competition. He
brings up the ‘Scribus way of doing things’. What do you think is ‘The Scribus

I don’t think Craig meant it that way. Our goal is to produce good output,
and make that easy for users. If we are in doubt, we think for example:
InDesign does this in quite an OK way, so we try to do it in a similar way;
we do not have a

to move slowly, and have to find our ways and
move through valleys and that sometimes also limits us. I can say: I want it
this way but then it is not possible now, it might be on the roadmap, but we
might have to do other things first.

When we use Scribus, we actually thought we were experiencing ‘The Scribus
Way’ through how it differences from other layout packages. First of all, in
Scribus there is a lot more attention for everything that happens after the layout
is done, i.e. export, error checking etc. and second, working with the text editor
is clearly the preferred way of doing layout. For us it links the software to a more

f doing design: a strictly phased process where a designer starts with
writing typographic instructions which are carried out by a typesetter, after which
the designer pastes everything into the mock-up. In short: it seems easier to do a
magazine in Scribus, than a poster. Do you recognize that image?
That is an interesting thought, I have never seen it that way before. My
background is that I did do a newspaper, magazine for a student group, and
we were using PageMaker, and of course that influenced me


familiar with, and I don’t think we really have poster designers or graphic
artists in the team. On the other hand ... we do ask our users what they
think should be possible with Scribus and if a functionality is not there, we
ask them to put in a bug report so we do not forget it and some time later
we will pick it up and implement it. Especially the possibility to edit from
the canvas, this will approve in the upcoming versions.
Some things we just copied from other applications. I think Franz 5 had no
previous experience with PageMaker, so when I came to Scribus, and saw
how it handled text chains, I was totally dismayed and made some changes
right away because I really wanted it to work the way it works in PageMaker,
that is really nice. So, previous experience and copying from another applications was one part of the development. Another thing is just technical
problems. Scribus is at the moment internally not that well designed, so we
first have to rewrite a lot of code to be able to reach some elements. The
coding structure for drawing and layout was really cumbersome inside and
it was difficult to improve. We worked with

ure back into the code to understand how it works.
There is still a lot of work to be done, and we hope we can reach a state
where we can implement new stuff more easily.
It is interesting how the 2.500 lines of code are really tangible when you use
Scribus old-style, even without actually seeing them. When Peter Linnel was
explaining how to make the application comply to the conservative standards of
the printing business, he used this term ‘self-defensive code’ ...
At Scribus we have a value that a file should never break in a print shop.
Any bug report we receive in this area, is treated with first priority.

We can speak from experience, that this is really true! But this robustness shifts
out of sight when you use the

software through the backdoor. From self-defence to the heart of the

It is not really self-defence ... programmers and software developers sometimes use the expression: ‘a user should not shoot himself in the foot’.



Scribus will not protect you from ugly layout, if that would be possible at
all! Although I do sometimes take deliberate decisions to try and do it ...
for example that for as long as I am around, I will not make an option to
do ‘automatic letter spacing’, because I think it is just ugly. If you do it
manually, that is your responsibility; I just do not feel like making anything
like that work automatically. What we have no problems with, is to prevent
you from making invalid output. If Scribus thinks a certain font is not OK,
and it might break on one or two types of printers ... this is reason enough
for us to make sure this font is not used. The font is not even used partially,
it is gone. That is the kind of self-defence Peter Linnel wa

could not search in a .pdf. 6
I think you can do that now, but there are still limitations; it is on the
roadmap to improve over time, to even add an option to output a web oriented .pdf and a print oriented .pdf ... but it is an important value in Scribus
is to get the output right. To prevent people to really shoot themselves in
the foot.

Our last question is about the relation between the content that is layed out
in Scribus, and the fact that it is an Open Source project. Just as an example,
Microsoft Word will come out with an option to make it easy to save a document
with a Creative Commons License 7 . Would this, or not, be an interesting option
to add to Scribus? Would you be interested in making that connection, between
software and content?
It could well be we would copy that, if it is not already been patented by
Microsoft! To me it sounds a bit like a marketing trick ... because it is such
an easy function to do. But, if someone from Creative Commons would ask
for this function, I think someone would implement it for Scribus in a short
time, and I think we would actually like it. Maybe we would generalize it a
little, so that for example you could also add other licenses too. We already
have support for some meta data, and in the future we might put some more
function in

or example also for fonts.

because the fonts get outlined and/or reencoded


About the relation between content and Open Source software in general
... there are some groups who are using Scribus I politically do not really
identify with. Or more or less not at all. If I meet those people on the IRC
chat, I try to be very neutral, but I of course have my own thoughts in the
back of my head.

Do you think using a tool like Scribus produces a certain kind of use?

No. Preferences for work tools and political preference are really orthogonal,
and we have both. For example when you have some right wing people they
could also enjoy using Scribus and socialist groups as well. It is probably the
best for Scribus to keep that stuff out of it. I am not even sure about the
political conviction of the other developers. Usually we get along very well,
but we don’t talk about those kinds of things very much. In that sense I
don’t think that using Scribus will influence what is happening with it.
As a tool, because it makes creating good page layouts much easier, it will
probably change the landscape because a lot of people get exposed to page
layout and they learn and teach other people; and I think

eloping it at the beginning, or I’m developing
it, whatever ... I’ll say it the royal way, is an academic thing. But I think
that ... doesn’t have to stop there and ...

At some point at OSP we decided to try ConTeXt because we were stuck with
Scribus for page layout as the only option in Free Software. We wanted escape
that kind of stiffness of the page, or of the canvas in a way. But ConTeXt
was not the dream solution either. For us it had a lot to do, of course, with
issues of documentation ...

s. It’s just like: These are the positions
of the arguments. And it’s interesting.

So expecting writers of the program to write the manual fails?

What is the difference between your plans for ‘Subtext’ and a page layout program
like Scribus?

You mentioned ‘Subtext’ coming from a more academic publishing rather
than a design background. I think that this belies where I have come into
typesetting and my understanding of typography. Because in reality DTP
has never kind of drawn me in

hat’s partially because I’m not super comfortable with the layout mechanism

and stuff yet. And you have things like \blank in order to move down the
page. Because it has this sort of literal sense of a page and movement on
a page. Obviously Scribus has a literal idea of a page as well, but because
it’s WYSIWYG it has that benefit where you don’t have to think OK, well,
maybe it should be 1.6 ems down or maybe it should be 1.2 ems down. You
move it until it looks right. And then you can meas

e difference really and why would you choose the one or the other? Or
what would you gain from one to the other? Because it’s clear that posters are not
easily made in ConTeXt. And that it’s much easier to typeset a book in ConTeXt
than it is in Scribus, for example.

Declarative maybe ...

So, there’s hierarchy. There’s direction. There’s an assumption about structure
being good or bad.

Yeah. Boxes, Glue. 9

What is exciting in something like this is that placement is relative always.

ct ... That’s very different from picking
a brush and choosing the width of the stroke. It’s like when you initialise
a brush in code, set the brush width and then move it in a circle with a
radius of x. It’s different than taking the brush in Scribus or in whatever
WYSIWYG tool you are gonna use. There is something intrinsically different about a translation from primitives to visual effect than this kind of
metaphorical translation of an interaction between a human and a canvas ...
kind of put i

e and lay it out on smaller pieces of paper. Tiling, I guess you could
call it.
Can you talk us through the process of doing the T-shirt?


amateur bookbinder and graphic designer
artist/developer, contributing amongst others to PodofoImpose and Scribus


OK. So, you need a pattern. I had just a shirt that sort of fit and I
approximated it on a big piece of paper, to figure out what the pieces were
shaped like, and took a photograph of that. I used a perspective tool to
remove the distortion. I

isual thing you end
up with, is still the piece of paper so it is very important to find out where
that page outline actually is. The more obvious it is, the better.

Yes, I think it makes sense. For a while now, I paid more attention than
others in Scribus to these details like the shape of the button, the thickness of the
lines, what pattern do you chose for the selection, etcetera. I had a lot of feedback
from users like: I want this, this is too big and at some point you want to please
everybody and

ork in a certain way and so it is easier to just go forward.

I think people that want to use your program are probably happy with this
kind of visualisation. Because you wrote it alone, there is also a consistency across
the program. It is not like Scribus, that has parts written by a lot of people so you
can really recognize: this is Craig (Bradney), this is Andreas (Vox), this is Jean
(Ghali), this is myself. There is nothing to follow.
I remember Donald Knuth talking about TeX and he was saying that

the real world into the computer. But you are putting things from the computer
into the real world.
Can you describe again these two types of imposition, the first one being
very familiar to us. It must be the most frequently asked question on the
Scribus mailing list: How to do imposition. Even the most popular search
term on the OSP website is ‘Bookletprinting’. But what is the difference with
the plan for a 3D object? A classic imposition plan is also somehow about
turning a flat surface into a

an’t see it, if you don’t know anything about
computer programming, you have no clue on what’s going on. And also,
because it’s completely textual. And for example a .sla file, if you don’t know
about Open Source, if you don’t know about Scribus it could as well be
salad. It is clear that Git was made for text. It was the idea to show all the
information that is already there in a visual form. But an image is an image,
and type is a typeface, and it changes in a visual way. I thought it made

ou can collaborate without being aligned together.
While I think Linus Torvalds idea is very liberal and in a way a bit sad, this
idea that you can collaborate without being aligned, without going through
this permission system, is interesting. With Scribus for example, I never
collaborated on it, it’s such a pain to got through the process. It’s good and
bad. I like the idea of a community which is making a decision together, at
the same time it is so hard to enter this community that you just don

e. But the publisher doesn’t want us to put the .pdfs online. I’m quite
okay with that, because for me it’s a condition that we put the sources online. But
if you really want the .pdf then you can clone the repository and make them
yourself in Scribus. It’s just an example of not putting the .pdf, but you have
everything you need to make the .pdf yourself. For me it’s quite interesting to say
our sources are there. You can buy the book but if you want the .pdf you have
to make a small effort t

is feature or that feature, because the
features that I wanted, Adobe wasn’t planning to add them. So that’s how I
got interested in Free Software.
When I graduated I was looking for something that I could contribute in
this area. And one of the Scribus guys, Peter Linnell, made an important
post on the Scribus blog. Saying, you know, the number one problem
with Free Software design is fonts, like it’s dodgy fonts with incorrect this,
incorrect that, have problems when printed as well ... and so yeah, I felt
woa, I have a background in typography and I kn

within a total system of worker owned companies.
Between fundamentals of media- and information economy, he
talks about free typography and what it has to do with nuts
and bolts, the problem of working with estimates and why the
people that develop Scribus should own all the magazines it

First of all we have to be clear, our own company is very small and
doesn’t actually earn enough money to sustain itself right now. We sustain
our company at this point by taking on other projects; for exam

be a problem, so they’d rather use a free font, and if that means hiring
somebody to drop the pixels down for a new font once and then having it
free forever, it can all make sense. That’s why typography is different from
software. And so the Scribus project has gone really far but the reason

it’s obscure is because except from the ideological case, they don’t have a
business case they can make for the publishers. Because for publishers they
want a piece of software that works and if it

oduct in the end, because they make the movies, that
their software enables them to make. And this would be a good model
for peer production as well, except obviously they’re a capitalist organization
and they exploit wage labour. But basically if Scribus really wanted to have a
financial base, the people that develop Scribus would have to own a magazine
that is enabled by Scribus. And if they can own the magazine that Scribus
enables then they can capture enough of that value to fund the development
of Scribus, and it would actually develop very quickly and be very good,
because that’s actually a total system. So right from the software to the
design, to the journalism, to the editing, to the sale, to the capture of the
value of the end consumer. But bec

sed to
start implementing Open Source tools as an alternative to the tools we were
missing. Blender for 3D animation, FontForge for type design, Processing
for interactive/graphic programming and others as a complement to proprietary packages: GIMP, Scribus and Inkscape to name the most important
ones. I ran into some technical problems that I hope will be sorted out
soon; one of the strategies is to run these software packages on a migration
basis – as the older computers in our lab won’t be able t

exactly the
same Adobe suite and as a way to differentiate yourself, Free Software could
soon become more popular. I think the success of Processing is related
to that, though I doubt such a composed project will ever make anyone
seriously consider Scribus for page layout, even if Processing is Open Source.


Matthew Fuller. Software Studies: A Lexicon. The MIT Press, 2008
Matthew Fuller. Media Ecologies: Materialist Energies in Art and Technoculture.
The MIT Press, 2007
Matthew Fuller. Behind the Blip: Essays on the culture of software. Autonomedia, 2003


OSP usually works between GIMP, 4 Scribus 5 and Inkscape 6 on Linux distributions and OSX. We are fans of FontForge, 7 and enjoy using all kinds
of commandline tools, psnup, ps2pdf and uniq to name a few.
How does the use of this software change the way you work, do you see some

cessary and interesting skill to develop is dealing with incompetence – what can it be else than
a loss of control? In the mean time we expand our vocabulary so we can fuel
conversations (imaginary and real life) with people behind GIMP, Inkscape,
Scribus etc.; we learn how to navigate our computers using commandline
interfaces as well as KDE, GNOME and others; we find out about file formats and how they sometimes can and often cannot speak to each other;
how to write manuals and interact with mailing

disciplines (or scenes?) such as design, printing and photography.
A great pleasure in working with F/LOSS is to experience how software
can be done in many ways; each of the applications we work with is alive
and particular. I’ll just portray Scribus and Inkscape here because from the
differences between these two I think you can imagine what else is out there.
The Scribus team is rooted in the printing and pre-press world and naturally
their first concern is to create an application that produces reliable output.
Any problem you might run in to at a print shop will be responded to
immediately, even late night if necessary. Members of the Scribus team are
a few years older than average developers and this can be perceived through
the correct and friendly atmosphere on their mailing list and IRC channel,
and their long term loyalty to this complex project. Following its more
industrial perspec

ypesetters and designers are clearly defined and lined up. In this
view on design, creative decisions are made outside the application, and the
canvas is only necessary for emergency corrections. Unfortunately for us,
who live of testing and trying, Scribus’ GUI is a relatively underdeveloped
area of a project that otherwise has matured quickly.
Inkscape is a fork of a fork of a small tool initially designed to edit vector
files in SVG format. It stayed close to its initial starting point and is in a way
a much more straightforward project than Scribus. Main developer Bryce
Harrington describes Inkscape as a relatively unstructured coming and going
of high energy collective work much work is done through a larger group of
people submitting small patches and it’s developers community is not very

tentially pulls the applications we use into some form of public
space where they can be examined, re-done and taken apart if necessary; we
are curious about how they are made because of what they (can) make you
do. When we asked Andreas Vox, a main Scribus developer whether he saw
a relation between the tool he contributed code to, and the things that were
produced by it, he answered: Preferences for work tools and political preference
are really orthogonal. This is understandable from a project-manage

But it hasn’t become a standard in our workflow yet. In fact, each
new important book layout project raises each time the question of the

a software written in 1978 by Donald Knuth
distinguished by the Fernand Baudin Prize 2009


tool. Scribus and LibreOffice (spreadsheet) are also part of our book making
During our work session with you at Constant Variable, we noticed
that it was difficult to install a sufficiently complete TeX/ConTeXt/Python
environment to be able to generate t

s also a thing we’re now
trying to test ourselves. Because in the beginning we developed a lot of
different little scripts, for example the hotglue2svg converter. And right
now we’re trying to extend this. For example, to create one interview in
Scribus and include the .pdf made with Scribus. To also test ourselves
different approaches.
This book will be both a collage and have a overall, predefined structure
provided by the lay-out engine?

I’m trying to make pragmatic use of the functionalities of LaTeX, which is
used for the final c

’s much harder to extract usable
content again, depending on the creator. So I think it’s important to keep
the content in a readable and understandable source format.

Xavier, what is going to happen next?

Right now, I’m the guy who tests on Scribus, Inkscape. But I don’t know if it’s
the answer to your question.

I was just curious because you have a month to work on this still, so I was
wondering ... are there other things you are testing or trying ?

Yeah, I think I want to finish the hot

ls: basename, bash, bibtex, cat, Chromium, cp, curl, dpkg, egrep, Etherpad, exit,
ftp, gedit, GIMP, ghostscript, Git, GNU coreutils, grep, ImageMagick, Inkscape, Kate, man,
makeindex, meld, ne, pandoc, pdflatex, pdftk, Processing, python, read, rev, Scribus,
sed, vim, wget
Fonts: Junicode by Peter S. Baker, OCR-A by John Sauter

Source Files:
Texts, fonts and pdf:
Published by: Constant Verlag (Brussels, January 2015)
ISBN: 978

an, 213

Safari, 144
Samedies, 37, 40, 203
Sauter, John, 351
Schmalstieg, Manuel, 311
Schmid, Franz, 13, 15, 17
Schrijver, Eric, 109
Scribus, 13–19, 57, 61, 62, 65, 71, 79–81,
113, 115, 128, 157, 187,
196, 197, 276, 297–302,
313, 341, 342, 351
Scribus file, 113, 119
Sexism, 40, 328
Shakespeare, William, 23, 25, 26
Sikking, Peter, 172
Smythe, Dallas, 190
Snelting, Femke, 3, 297, 319, 351
Sobotka, Troy James, 227
Sollfrank, Cornelia, 319
SourceForge, 111
Sparkleshare, 118
Spencer, Susan, 92



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