Why does PT keep going on about HTML export from word processors?

Peter Sefton at PT’s Outing asks himself and anybody who is listening “Why do I keep going on about HTML export from word processors?” He begins like this:

I spend a lot of time on this site going on about HTML, particularly XHTML export from word processors using styles. Why? Surely in 2005, when the mainstream use of the web is 10 years old, this is a solved problem?

It’s not solved.

If you’re using Microsoft Word or OpenOffice.org, or working with a community that uses both, can  you fire up the word processor, type out a document and export it as XHTML, or click a button to send it to your blog in useful XHTML?

What he describes is something of a technical tour de force that finishes with a plug for ICE but doesn’t directly answer the question. There seems little doubt that ICE is a clever bag of tricks and that, from the perspective of the non-technical user, it may be better than GOOD. Nevertheless, the question I have to ask myself about all that is “Why?”

Unless I’m missing the point, both ICE and GOOD are being developed primarily to enable academics to prepare well presented course materials that can be published equally well on paper or electronically on the web or CD-ROM. I think, though not having prepared a course that way I’m not sure, that each of the electronic formats includes a PDF version of the material to facilitate printing by students. If that is the case, then why bother with all the conversion from Word (or the Open Office equivalent) to XML and thence via XSLT to XHTML and/or PDF? Word, especially if used on a Mac where PDF capability is built into MacOS X, can easily enough generate PDF directly. Start with a good set of templates and you could get near enough to the same outcome for a fraction of the effort. The technology might not be so neat but it does work and would do the job.

So, given the pain that seems to be involved, is the answer to the original question a matter of satisfaction at bending the machine to the will of a “hard master” (Sherry Turkle in The Second Self) or of masochism? It doesn’t seem to be a matter of need. Word produces respectable PDF and, when I need or want (X)HTML, there are adequate tools available for that too.