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What is an RTF Editor?

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  • Written By: M. McGee
  • Edited By: Lauren Fritsky
  • Last Modified Date: 11 September 2016
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    Conjecture Corporation
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A rich text format editor, also known as an RTF editor, is a piece of software capable of opening and manipulating rich text files. The rich text format is a Microsoft®-specific format, but many third-party applications make use of it. This specification is updated periodically by Microsoft®, often to coincide with the release of a new version of Microsoft® Office. The format has been the subject of controversy, mostly by people that make applications that rely on it.

The rich text format is a method of formatting text to include built-in stylistic components such as alignment, font and text style. These stylistic aspects are transparent to the user, who only sees the formatting. This is a step up from plain-text editors, which simply store the characters and do not allow formatting.

The first RTF specification was developed in the mid-80s to coincide with the release of Microsoft® Word 3.0. This program was the first true RTF editor. Since then, the specification has gone through many changes, typically to allow new types of formatting or removal of unused options.

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An RTF editor uses code similar to that of a webpage. Headers contain information related to document formatting, and inline tags denote specific formats. Generally, an RFT editor is backward compatible with all the different versions of the document type, allowing very old documents to open correctly, even if the embedded code is no longer used. These programs simply ignore any code they don’t understand and display the unformatted text on the screen.

The RTF specification has been the subject of controversy over the years. The newest version of RTF is rarely released before its corresponding version of Microsoft® Office. This allows Microsoft® several weeks, or even months, to have its programs be the only ones capable of handling the newest rich text documents. Many opponents say this is done specifically to hedge out third-party manufacturers and increase Microsoft’s® market share.

Several third-party companies now work on the online RTF editor. Previously, web editors required user-embedded or HTML code if they were to produce consistent formatting. This created a steep learning curve for many users. The new online RTF editors are designed to plug into other web applications, such as a content management system, and allow the consistent formatting of a standard RTF editor to work on the web.

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