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Extended TeX: Past, Present, and Future 300

Posted by timothy
from the 30-years-of-chugging-away dept.
First time accepted submitter Hamburg writes "Frank Mittelbach, member of the LaTeX Project and LaTeX3 developer, reviews significant issues of TeX raised already 20 years ago. Today he evaluates which issues are solved, and which still remain open and why. Examples of issues are managing consecutive hyphens, rivers of vertical spaces and identical words across lines, grid-based design, weighed hyphenation points, and overcoming the the mouth/stomach separation. Modern engines such as pdfTeX, XeTeX and LuaTeX are considered with regard to solutions of important problems in typesetting." Note: When TeX was first released, Jimmy Carter was president.
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Extended TeX: Past, Present, and Future

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  • TeX for Math (Score:5, Interesting)

    by rrhal (88665) on Sunday April 07, 2013 @11:57AM (#43384693)

    When TeX was new people were not accustomed to seeing well type set documents unless they came from a legitimate publisher. I wrote several college papers in TeX and I think the presentation let me get a few mistakes past my teachers. I've not seen anything better for formulas - even today TeX documents have a more polished feel to them.

    • by xclr8r (658786) on Sunday April 07, 2013 @12:56PM (#43385001)
      Couple of good reads regarding LaTeX. 50 Shades of LaTeX: The Pain the Pleasure http://airminded.org/2005/11/18/latex-the-pain-the-pleasure/ [airminded.org] http://crookedtimber.org/2005/04/27/fetishizing-the-text/ [crookedtimber.org]
    • Re:TeX for Math (Score:4, Interesting)

      by ModernGeek (601932) on Sunday April 07, 2013 @01:33PM (#43385205) Homepage
      HTML 5.1 needs a TeX tag... I'd do anything to see it. What's stopping it from happening? Someone should fork WebKit and do it.
      • HTML 5.1 needs a TeX tag... I'd do anything to see it.

        What would you like it to do?

        • Re:TeX for Math (Score:4, Interesting)

          by fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) on Sunday April 07, 2013 @01:57PM (#43385331) Journal

          Presumably imply the existence of a feature-complete TeX implementation in the browser, that would render and display whatever TeX snippet was included within the tag...

          I'm pretty sure that there are some server-side convenience plugins for at least a few of the major OSS CMS packages that will let you use TeX or LaTeX and then digest the results into images that get plunked into the actual HTML that gets shoveled out to clients; but the odds of coaxing browser makers to include a completely separate, extremely powerful, and highly mature(if baroque) rendering engine alongside the one they already have, just to support a TeX tag seem slim...

          • Re:TeX for Math (Score:5, Informative)

            by K. S. Kyosuke (729550) on Sunday April 07, 2013 @02:12PM (#43385413)
            There's always TeXLive.js [github.com], if you actually need full (La)TeX environment in your browser.
          • Re:TeX for Math (Score:5, Interesting)

            by jd (1658) <{moc.oohay} {ta} {kapimi}> on Sunday April 07, 2013 @02:39PM (#43385541) Homepage Journal

            Well, with WebKit up the proverbial creek these days, a new rendering engine would make sense.

            The question would be whether you could create a TeX-alike engine that supports the additional functions required in HTML and can convert any well-formed SGML document into a TeX-alike document. If you could, you can have one rendering engine and subsume HTML and XML entirely within it.

            The benefits of doing this? The big drawback of style sheets is that no two browsers agree on units. TeX has very well-defined units that are already widely used. These also happen to be the units industry likes using. Eliminating browser-specific style sheets would be an incredible benefit.

            The big drawback of the Semantic Web is that everyone, their brother, cat and goldfish have designed their own ontologies, none of which interoperate and few of which are any good for searching with SPARQL. LaTeX has a good collection of very standard, very clean methods for binding information together. Because it's standard, you can have a pre-existing ontology libraries which can be auto-populated. And because LaTeX is mostly maintained by uber-minds, rather than Facebook interns during their coffee break, those ontologies are likely to be very, very good. Also, microformats will DIE!!!! BWAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!

            The big drawback with HTML 5 is that the W3C can't even decide if the standard is fixed, rolling or a pink pony. TeX is a very solid standard that actually exists.

            Ok, what's the downside of TeX? There's no real namespace support, so conflicts between libraries are commonplace. I'm also not keen on having a mixture of tag logic, where some tags have content embedded and others have the content enclosed with an end tag. It's messy. Cleanliness is next to Linuxliness.

            Parsing client-side is a mild irritant, but let's face it. AJAX is also parsing client-side, as is Flash, as are cascading style sheets, etc, etc. The client is already doing a lot (one reason nobody has a fast browser any more), so changing from one set of massive overheads to another really wouldn't be that much of a pain.

            Ok, so if we consider TeX the underlying system, do we need a TeX tag? No. We would rather assume all parts of a document not enclosed by an SGML tag are TeX. This would be a transitory state, since you could then write SGML-to-TeX modules for Apache, IIS and other popularish web servers. The world would then become wholly TeXified, as it should be.

            • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

              by Anonymous Coward

              "And because LaTeX is mostly maintained by uber-minds, rather than Facebook interns during their coffee break, those ontologies are likely to be very, very good."

              Put TeX into HTML and that moderately true statement will quickly become absolutely false.

              Stack Overflow has been keeping many of the degenerates away from Usenet. I really don't want to go through the same decade-long cycle of idiocy in TeX-land.

              Anyhow, TeX is just too difficult. There's something about a virtual machine based on recursive macros

            • Re:TeX for Math (Score:5, Insightful)

              by Anonymous Coward on Sunday April 07, 2013 @04:58PM (#43386333)

              The question would be whether you could create a TeX-alike engine that supports the additional functions required in HTML and can convert any well-formed SGML document into a TeX-alike document. If you could, you can have one rendering engine and subsume HTML and XML entirely within it.

              TeX is a document typesetting language. HTML, regardless of its flavor, is a markup language that describes the document's contents but doesn't tell the browser how to lay it out.

              There's no hope for TeX-as-HTML ever working because they're built on fundamentally incompatible document models.

              -JS

              P.S. If you want to see what math for HTML looks like, go look at MathML. Next, try actually writing a non-trivial equation in MathML, something like

              $\int_{-\infty}^{\infty} e^{-x^2} dx = \sqrt{\pi}$

              Then you'll understand why those of use who do this for a living still write our papers in TeX. Even if you don't know TeX, you can probably guess what my equation should look like; you wouldn't say that about the MathML.

    • Re:TeX for Math (Score:4, Insightful)

      by PopeRatzo (965947) on Sunday April 07, 2013 @02:10PM (#43385407) Homepage Journal

      Way back when my wife was getting her PhD math, I had to learn Tex to help her. She let me bounce my head against Tex while she was busy with her fluid dynamics and then I'd get to explain it to her. I could never understand how there are mathematicians who can easily write in Tex the way I'd write in a word processor. It all just seemed so opaque. De-bugging errors was among the most frustrating things I've ever done on a computer. But the results are impeccable. I still don't think there is a better program for typesetting equations. Or I should say, I don't know of a better one. But if there is one, can someone kindly tell me?

      • Re:TeX for Math (Score:5, Informative)

        by semi-extrinsic (1997002) <asmunder&stud,ntnu,no> on Sunday April 07, 2013 @02:39PM (#43385537)
        Modern LaTeX is quite a bit better at giving good error messages, unless you try to do very complex things. Combining lots of packages for heavy customization is the prime example; I once spent half a day setting up custom chapter titles with a side-by-side miniature table-of-contents and epigraph below a title where the chapter number extruded into the margin, and drop caps at the start of the first paragraph. But the end result was beautiful.
      • Re:TeX for Math (Score:4, Insightful)

        by Daniel Dvorkin (106857) on Sunday April 07, 2013 @03:24PM (#43385751) Homepage Journal

        I could never understand how there are mathematicians who can easily write in Tex the way I'd write in a word processor.

        I can't really explain it other than to say "you get used to it." After a while, the markup becomes transparent; if you're typesetting an equation, for example, you see the layout in your head while you're typing the markup. Which makes it much easier than using an equation editor in a word processor, really--compounded by the fact that equation editors are universally awful.

        • I can't really explain it other than to say "you get used to it." After a while, the markup becomes transparent...

          Just like learning any other language, I suppose. Years ago I had a guy working for me who could do it with troff's pic preprocessor. He could "draw" lovely semi-technical diagrams of various sorts writing text in an editor in one window with a second window set up to render it when he clicked the mouse there. It didn't hurt that he had accumulated a whole library of code for drawing various s

      • The funny thing is that Tex is most popular in STEM fields where it's the most frustrating. Yeah, it looks great, but typing that amount of markup for a few lines of equations is hardly efficient. And the only condolence with the layout of graphics is that people almost expect them to look shit.
        But when all you're writing is text, the chaptering, the cross-referencing functions and all the add-on packages are perfect.

        • by frisket (149522)
          If you're "typing that amount of markup" then yr doin it wrong. There are LaTeX editors which let you go clickity-click for that nowadays.

          Not quite clear what you mean about expecting graphics to look shit: perhaps you're thinking of the old default article/report/book styles? There are lots of alternatives nowadays.

    • Re:TeX for Math (Score:4, Insightful)

      by jd (1658) <{moc.oohay} {ta} {kapimi}> on Sunday April 07, 2013 @02:17PM (#43385443) Homepage Journal

      Whereas now, people are still not accustomed to seeing correctly typeset documents and are now completely used to vast numbers of typos, malformed web pages, poor indexing via the semantic web, gratuitous XML, excessively long style sheets, browser incompatibilities, Javascript...

    • Re:TeX for Math (Score:5, Interesting)

      by gweihir (88907) on Sunday April 07, 2013 @03:23PM (#43385745)

      Indeed. We just decided to move to LaTeX again for all documents that customers do not have the right to edit (most of them). The alternative was Word 2010.

      Reasons are far better look, far better to edit, no distractions while edition (MS GUIs suck), can be edited on any OS, .eps capability, svn compatible, easy separation of documents into separate files, etc. Took me 3 days of LaTeX hacking to make the style file and templates match the Word Template, but well worth it, as now it is done and will not surprise us all the time like the toy-level MS Word does.

      For stuff that customers do edit, we are stuck with MS trash, unfortunately. But even there we are thinking of writing it in LaTeX first and then move it over with latex2rtf for the final version. Far more efficient.

      • Re:TeX for Math (Score:5, Insightful)

        by michael_cain (66650) on Sunday April 07, 2013 @03:54PM (#43385937) Journal

        ...no distractions while edition (MS GUIs suck)...

        At some point there was an internal study at Bell Labs after WYSIWYG word processors were beginning to be available that found most people spent 20% of their time futzing with how the document looked instead of writing. Most of that time was wasted because subsequent changes were going to wipe out whatever the little tweaks had been intended to accomplish.

        Interesting that today you can buy programs whose primary purpose is to blank all of your display except for a green-on-black mono-spaced text window. Sold as an aid for professional writers who need to pound out umpteen pages of text per day, so need to avoid interruptions and distractions while composing.

        • by frisket (149522)

          At some point there was an internal study at Bell Labs after WYSIWYG word processors were beginning to be available that found most people spent 20% of their time futzing with how the document looked instead of writing.

          Do you have chapter and verse on that? Figures quoted at the XML-in-Practice conference in Boston in 2007 put it at 30-60% and a new study claimed to have seen 75-90%. I have raised this on a related mailing list but have been unable to identify the source as the organisation who ran the conference has erased all trace of it from their web site.

          Most of that time was wasted because subsequent changes were going to wipe out whatever the little tweaks had been intended to accomplish.

          I keep tellin' 'em but they never listen.

      • Re:TeX for Math (Score:4, Informative)

        by jgrahn (181062) on Monday April 08, 2013 @05:24AM (#43389535)

        We just decided to move to LaTeX again for all documents that customers do not have the right to edit (most of them). The alternative was Word 2010. Reasons are [...] svn compatible, [...]

        That's a rather laconic way of putting it. Real revision control gives you a whole array of essential things, like collaborative editing, an audit trail, the ability to work on version 2 while version 1 is still being finalized ... That's why *all* binary document formats (not just MS Office) fail my personal test.

    • Re:TeX for Math (Score:5, Informative)

      by gtall (79522) on Sunday April 07, 2013 @03:49PM (#43385903)

      I just gave a talk for management. One fellow remarked on the quality of my slides and didn't think they were done using PP. Yep, I said, they are Latex (Beamer), and I can cut and paste from my papers. Using PP for math will make you go blind.

      • Using PP for math will make you go blind

        I've switched to Beamer for my presentations, but for OS X there was a nice system service that sent the selected text through pdflatex and returned the resulting PDF. It also did some tricks to embed the TeX source in the PDF, so there was an inverse operation. That made formulae in Keynote presentations easy: just type the TeX version, hit a keyboard shortcut, and you get it replaced by the PDF. Hit another shortcut and you can edit it again.

    • by fermion (181285)
      I recently saw a set of open access textbooks and it was clear they were not set in Latex. The layout made it very hard to read. When I made the comment no one seemed to understand what I was saying, which was that MS Word is not anything you want to use to write a text book.

      Too many professors still seem to think MS Word, which is approaching 30 years old, and still too buggy to use, is the go to tool for writing. It is true that anyone who is around 40 or younger probably was trained to do this. Wha

    • by call -151 (230520) *

      Absolutely- the proper typesetting gave airs of polish and correctness. The effect is long-gone now, but I do remember seeing mathematical preprints, typeset nicely in TeX, which had as the first line something to the effect of: "Warning: although this looks like a final result, do not be fooled by its appearance. It is really preliminary and should be gauged as if it were haphazard handwritten scribbles rather than polished typeset mathematics." These days people are used to seeing all kinds of mathemat

  • by Freshly Exhumed (105597) on Sunday April 07, 2013 @12:01PM (#43384707) Homepage

    Oh dear oh dear, I hope Donald Knuth doesn't see that Slashdot doesn't seem to allow the correct METAFONT for displaying the program name! Pissing off Donald Knuth would be like kicking the Dalai Lama.

    Is it possible to represent it in it's proper format via this version of Slashcode?

  • by Okian Warrior (537106) on Sunday April 07, 2013 @12:19PM (#43384781) Homepage Journal

    I just recently reviewed the landscape of document writing systems for a client.

    TeX (and LaTeX, and such) are a fine choice for specific purposes. There's a lot of functionality, it's robust and widely used. If you're writing a journal submission paper, it's a good choice.

    The publishing landscape has changed. There are now many more [wikipedia.org] types of document (help files, web pages, books, articles, owner's manuals, laws, contracts) that people want to write, and the TeX family is inconvenient for many of them.

    XML is a more comprehensive document content specification. It easily covers all of the common document types (including those for which the TeX family is useful) and is extensible in a straightforward manner.

    As a specific example, DocBook [docbook.org] (a specific XML scheme) covers all cases where TeX is useful, and many more. An XML processing system can convert to any presentation format (HTML, XHTML, PDF, Microsoft Help, Text), and it's straightforward to build converters for new formats.

    (There are also other XML schemas [wikipedia.org].)

    The drawback of DocBook and XML in general is that installation is a nightmare. So far, there's no "one package install" that gets the author up and running. XML processing is a series of steps, with each step served by one of several open source packages. The author must choose and install software for each step, usually without any indication which is best for his purposes. This only needs to be done once, though. (For open source - paid software packages have this sorted out.)

    (For example, see how long it takes you to install DocBook 5.x on a windows system.)

    The TeX family is a good choice, but if you're not already using it consider learning a more recent solution.

    • by retchdog (1319261) on Sunday April 07, 2013 @12:57PM (#43385005) Journal

      structure is one thing, output is another. show me some docbook-rendered math that doesn't suck.

    • Yes, because XML with the appropriate schema is a great replacement for typesetting!

      This might come as a surprise to you, but XML is one of the worst designed structure control systems ever to come out of a committee ... and considering all the other crap committee's routinely come up with, that's really saying something.

    • There are now many more [wikipedia.org] types of document (help files, web pages, books, articles, owner's manuals, laws, contracts) that people want to write, and the TeX family is inconvenient for many of them.

      I'll grant you that (La)TeX makes for lousy web pages, but books and articles? Is XML that much better for contracts and owner's manuals?

      • by dgatwood (11270)

        Books (and, ostensibly articles, depending on what you mean) usually eventually end up needing to exist in an HTML format. So for the same reason that TeX isn't great for web pages, it isn't great for anything that needs to eventually be a web page, an EPUB book, a Kindle book, or whatever.

    • by jd (1658) <{moc.oohay} {ta} {kapimi}> on Sunday April 07, 2013 @03:05PM (#43385659) Homepage Journal

      Never had any problem writing books in LaTeX. The main difficulty has been in deciding whether I want a modern or medieval structure.

      Docbook, on the other hand, I hated. I helped with the writing of a few chapters of the Linux Advanced Traffic Control book, which was abandoned in part because Docbook was such a disgusting system.

      XML is useless for typesetting. It's not really that useful for organizing anything - you'll have used XML-driven databases, but you'll have never used an XML-driven database that had any performance or serious functionality. (LaTeX doesn't do databases, either, but it doesn't pretend to. It has external engines for databases, which are actually quite nice.)

      Web pages? Never had any problem embedding HTML in LaTeX. In fact, I have very very rarely found ANY document style to be LaTeX-incompatible. Load up the correct document type, load up the appropriate stylesheets and you're good. Yes, spiral text is hard. Yes, embedding HDR images can be a pain. Yes, alpha blending isn't that hot. But how often do you use any of these for owner's manuals or contracts?

      There are more table classes than I'd really like, and some of the style coding is scruffy, but I challenge anyone to find a genuine, common document type that LaTeX* cannot do as well as or better than any non-TeX wordprocessor, DTP solution or XML-based system. (Non-TeX means you can't compare TeX with Scientific Word, TeXmacs or any other engine that uses TeX behind the scenes.)

      (To make it absolutely clear, "as well as or better than" can refer to any one or more parameters. So if I get better-quality output, that's better than. If I can achieve comparable results with cleaner, easier-to-maintain syntax, that's also better than. To win, your solution has to not merely equal but actually exceed what I can do on EVERY parameter, or you have failed to demonstrate something that supercedes.)

      A bitcoin to anyone who can do this.

      *I am including all dialects of LaTeX here, so LuaLaTeX, PDFTeX, etc, are all things I can consider on my side, as are all WYSIWYG and WYSIWYM editors, Metapost, supplemental services, style sheets, etc. Since this is versus a specific alternative, anything comparable for that specific alternative is fair game for you to use, but you can't mix in other alternatives. It has to be one versus the complete TeX family if you want to prove your point.

    • by Phillip2 (203612)

      Seriously? XML? You really have to be joking. It's an authoring disaster. Just horrible to work with, it gets in your way, and soaks your mind away from what you should be thinking about -- content. Docbook is verbose and horrible to write. Any of the various text syntaxes that are out there betters XML from an authoring perspective.

      LaTeX (or TeX) has one major advantage over them; you can macro away what ever you do a lot; even if it is something trivial like putting of decisions about how to capitalize wo

  • by smoothnorman (1670542) on Sunday April 07, 2013 @12:25PM (#43384819)
    nothing that old can possibly be relevant anymore (cf "trust no one over 30"). it should be replaced with something more responsive to a one-hand touch interface abbrev friendly imho. math, a central theme in TeX, no longer has any relevance to the modern world (just ask any millionaire agile scrum extreme php programmer). any remaining bits of math are done entirely by app; the vestigial remnants of the usefulness of "math" can only be found in the interjections of animated characters. only a tiny ancient dying breed of tenured academics (and i suspect *europeans*) would ever seek typography beyond the standards of MSWord. page layout was forever perfected by expensive per seat layout software around 1996 and requires no more changes. markup languages are <b>too</b> hard to learn. anything that requires a compiling phase has gone the way of C++. the world is better now as everything old and outmoded quickly recedes. sine-die.
  • by TechyImmigrant (175943) on Sunday April 07, 2013 @12:43PM (#43384923) Journal

    TFA doesn't address the extreme crapitude of embedding pictures in Tex. I could drive myself to drink converting everything to EPS, or poorly scalable bitmaps before embedding them, but I don't want to.

    The issues of imperfect typesetting are not the barrier to entry for potential TeX users. Picture embedding is.

    • by Hamburg (2890317)
      Embedding of PDF images is supported, so scalable. And most formats can be converted to PDF, there are even easy-to-use PDF file printer if a program doesn't directly support it. No need to convert to a bitmap format. Bitmaps are supported, but I would use that only if the image is already a bitmap. And you can embed it floating, for automatically optimized page breaking.
    • by retchdog (1319261)

      pdflatex can accept basically anything other than EPS. yeah, including graphics is still a major pain, but converting to EPS is not typically a problem.

      • Converting to EPS is typically a problem when converting from the tools I find in front of me at work. E.G. Visio. Visio is bloody great for technical diagrams. Nothing comes close. But the EPS output looks like it's been through a 4-year-old-crayon-drawing filter. They have no incentive to make it easy to move away from "insert object->visio".

        My document writing productivity would drop to 10% of what it is today if I had to draw arrowheads to scale in Inkscape rather than use my smartshape templates in

        • by retchdog (1319261)

          Well, yeah, TeX isn't ideal for that, and it's not really meant to be. It could be adapted for it, or at least have a wrapper written, but I guess no one is interested in doing so.

          PDF has some support for scalable graphics. Can you export to PDF and use that in the latex file?

        • I don't know if this is comparable, but I use Metapost for drawing graphs and diagrams. Actually, I draw diagrams long-hand on graph paper, with coordinates labeled, and code it up in Metapost. Even my 3D diagrams look really nice. The EPS output is scalable and can be included directly in TeX (or LaTeX) documents.

          People tell me drawing diagrams long-hand first is too much trouble, but it really is the "secret sauce" for me. Also, Metapost is incredibly powerful once you dig in. I think it is ideal fo
        • by frisket (149522)
          Does Visio not provide PDF export of images? Sounds like a crap system to me if it doesn't.
      • by ssam (2723487)

        i never understood the "anything other than EPS". it would be nice it accepted a superset of what plain latex supported. (i would also like it to support svg. it would make my makefile simpler).

    • by gweihir (88907)

      Depends on your quality requirements. In a high-quality environment, pictures will be .eps in the first place.


      • Depends on your quality requirements. In a high-quality environment, pictures will be .eps in the first place.

        Amen!
    • by jd (1658)

      Think it's graphicsx. One of the packages, anyways, lets you include PNGs, JPGs, etc. No problem. I include graphics all the time with LaTeX, very few of which are EPS. True, graphics import isn't as clean as I'd like (it's a bugger to remember all the different nuances of each type of graphics format you can use and through which package you need to use it with).

      I also don't like the fact that vector images require you to master Asymptote, Metapost and an armful of other systems. This can - and should - be

    • by gtall (79522)

      Depends on the pictures. I tend to use pgf with Latex, I might have to fight a bit to get the picture to come out correctly, but for what I need, it beats using a draw program.

    • by pne (93383)

      Also, if you're having problems embedding images in LaTeX, an Internet search for "latex images" will often not do what you are hoping for...

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by archshade (1276436)

        I know you are trying to be funny, but searching for ``latex images'' on google the first page is all tutorials on how to insert an image into a Latex document. The third link was a link to a google image search wich did have the kind of thing you are implying. still 9/10 relevant results is not bad.

  • I always thought of TeX as the last gasp of the RUNOFF/nroff/troff/ditroff line of document preparation; the last of the command-line oriented word processors. Having had access to Interleaf [wikipedia.org] from 1985. TeX seemed so retro. (Interleaf was like Microsoft Word for Sun workstations. It was very early, very good, and very expensive.) TeX still had a compile-run-debug workflow, and without a graphic display, you had to run a hard copy on something like an electrostatic printer or a daisy wheel printer to check

    • by PhamNguyen (2695929) on Sunday April 07, 2013 @01:48PM (#43385285)
      I agree, the need to compile is a big time sink. Hunting for a missing brace or dollar is just horrible. I and many people I know (all long time users of LaTeX) switched to using LyX and only exporting to LaTeX for the final formatting (e.g. using a journal's style guide). Unfortunately there is no quick fix for LaTeX: the power of the language means that gui's like LyX can only deal with a subset of the language, and yet this power is necessary in order to allow for all the packages that LaTeX supports (and especially to support existing packages).
      • Hunting for a missing brace or dollar is just horrible

        If you use a syntax-highlighting text editor, a missing dollar sign is pretty obvious.

        • I use TexShop and it isn't obvious at all. Which editors are you referring to? Emacs and Vim come with their own learning curve. Can you suggest an editor which is easy to use, has syntax highlighting for tex, and has built in tex support? If not, I think LyX is a better solution for most people.
          • I use emacs. You can simply type in it without much instruction.

            Gedit and KWrite also have syntax highlighting for TeX. I don't know if they're available for Mac.

          • by gtall (79522)

            You do know that in Texshop you can double click on a brace and it will hilite all the way to the matching brace. Also, when you type an closing brace, it hilites all the way up to the previous brace. Maybe you are using an old copy of TeXShop, my version is 2.47.

            • That is true, although it doesn't mean it's easy to find a missing brace in an entire document when you don't know where to look. Actually the worse problem is finding things like \end{enumerate} etc.
    • You seem to be completely ignoring XSL:FO, Lout, Skribe, and Ant. (And I'm sure there are more like these.)
    • I use LaTeX for almost everything from articles to memos, and have been doing so since the late 1980s. Last year I needed to print part of my dissertation, which is from 1990. With my current system, using a modern version of LaTeX, but including the special macros I used for the dissertation, it formatted the same in 2012 as it did in 1990. Try that with MSWord. :)

      In addition, having text files with macros certainly makes storage/searching/organizing much easier. The files compress well, and searches,

    • by dfghjk (711126) on Sunday April 07, 2013 @03:19PM (#43385715)

      "TeX still had a compile-run-debug workflow, and without a graphic display, you had to run a hard copy on something like an electrostatic printer or a daisy wheel printer to check the results."

      When TeX was new, "a graphic display" was common and there were many previewers available pre-1.0. The idea that anyone previewed work on a daisy wheel printer is absolutely ludicrous. Never happened and would be useless.

      "Then you could go to the phototypesetting machine."

      No, you would go to screen previewer, then a laser printer, and then only to a phototypesetter if you were publishing. You sound like someone who didn't use TeX in those days.

      "Once everybody got an interactive display good enough to view the output of TeX..."

      You mean like a PC in 1985? Seriously, you pretend to be a historian but you aren't one. I, on the other hand, cowrote one of the first PC TeX previewers, in...1985. I am actually familiar with how these tools were used then, and it's clear you weren't a TeX user. As an Interleaf user, it seems you were the type privileged by limitless company money. Not many even had access to a machine capable of running Interleaf in those days. In my next job I worked with someone who was an Interleaf fan and who had the clout to get the company to buy him, and only him, a seat. He liked it, no one else used it or really even got to see its output, and TeX worked well at zero cost.

      Many consider "compile-run-debug" to be an advantage but perhaps not since it became trendy to call that a "workflow". What-You-See-Is-All-You-Get.

    • by belmolis (702863)
      One thing that people seem not to be considering is writing programs to generate documents. TeX is excellent for this. I have no idea how it is done for MS Word but suppose that in recent versions you can generate OOXML. I've generated a bit of ODF for OpenOffice but found it rather tedious and very verbose, and there is the additional problem that there is really no relationship between using OpenOffice the usual way via the GUI and writing ODF XML directly.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    If you're trying to learn LaTeX, the biggest barrier is that you'll do a search and find tutorials that recommend using old, broken modules. Then you'll change something and wonder "WTF does LaTeX not ever work?!"

    It's a great idea, if LaTeX is behaving mysteriously, to use nag and l2tabu, and especially ChkLatex to flag typos and mistakes \macro word. (The macro will eat the whitespace before word, either \macro{} word or \macro\ word is what you meant.) It's also best to stick with only packages in TeXLive

  • Hyphens and perfect justification are great when you want to replicate the unreadability of a newspaper from a century ago.

    When you actually want something readable that doesn't look like shit, you need to stop it with the stupid stunts. Screwing with the kerning is not acceptable. Splitting words is not acceptable. You shouldn't even be splitting phrases or clauses onto different lines, and preferably not even sentences.

    Yes, I'm sure you can disable the hyphenation and justification crap. (right...?) You s

    • Wow, so the universe does revolve around what you think is the proper way to do things. I wondered who was in charge, and it's nice that you've let mere mortals in on the secret.

      I assume that you've never seen a red light stopping your progress, you've never got stuck in a traffic jam, they always have you size when you go shopping, you're never late, no one has ever kept you waiting, and your shit doesn't stink.

      Grow up, you puerile fool. Your opinion has all the gravitas of a fart.

  • mixed feelings (Score:5, Insightful)

    by ssam (2723487) on Sunday April 07, 2013 @03:04PM (#43385649)

    while i have written a thesis in latex, and could not imagine using anything else for papers, i still get frustrated by it.
    * any problem is solvable with enough searching online, but the solutions are often like magic. for example i often have figure filenames like "x2.3_y3.4.pdf" latex gives a weird message, search around and eventually you find a forum thread that tells you to put some extra arguments in the includegraphics call, or if you are lucky you might find a mention of the grffile package. in all the years of using it I have never built up an intuition for solving these issue (by comparison programming and linux pretty much make sense to me).
    * multiple ways of doing things. should i use \begin{center} or {\centering text text tex}. probably they both work fine, but each of them breaks something else in some obscure case.
    * why are some things \command{text text text}, some {\command text text text} and some \begin{command}. compare with XML/SGML where everything is achieved with nesting tags.
    * can the output be cleaned up? when i run pdflatex i get several screen-fulls of messages. really it should be showing me errors and optionally warnings.
    * the interactive mode when it hits an error. i am sure there is nothing productive i can do in that shell. why is it so hard to get out of. why is -halt-on-error not default?
    * why do i have to run pdflatex twice? why can't it figure out if a reference has changed? latexmk (or a good makefile) helps, but it took me years to find it.

    • by gtall (79522)

      Part of your problem is using Latex in Linux, I've never found a good editor/display combo for Linux. On a Mac, TexLive2012 and TeXShop makes a lot of your problems go away. And do try to learn the difference between TeX and LaTeX, it would make a lot of your confusion go away.

    • Don't. Put. Periods (or spaces) in filenames for anything to be read by TeX. Stick to [0-9a-zA-Z_].
    • * multiple ways of doing things. should i use \begin{center} or {\centering text text tex}. probably they both work fine, but each of them breaks something else in some obscure case.

      Use \centering inside an environment that already handles its own spacing, such as a figure. Rule of thumb: if you need to put curly braces manually around \centering, you're probably using the wrong one.

      why are some things \command{text text text}, some {\command text text text} and some \begin{command}

      Most {\command text} (

    • by crazyvas (853396)
      Well summarized list! I've used LaTeX for years as well, and could immediately relate.

      tex.stackexchange.com is helpful (wish it existed years earlier), and will hopefully become much more helpful. For instance: http://tex.stackexchange.com/questions/23650/when-should-we-use-begincenter-instead-of-centering [stackexchange.com]

      But I completely hear you: it's frustrating I have to constantly look up things on a forum (or ask the local TeX guru) even after years of advanced usage. BTW, I use https://code.google.com/p/latex-m [google.com]
  • TFA seems to focus mainly on esoteric typesetting tweaks being worked on in the LaTeX 3 engine. That's cool for people who care a lot about rivers of whitespace in their documents, but there are other things going on in the tex world that I would consider to be more the main event.

    Tex predates unicode, postscript and PDF, and modern font formats. There are now versions of tex such as xetex and luatex [stackexchange.com] that accept utf-8 input, generate PDF output directly, and can use whatever fonts you have on your system

  • by michael_cain (66650) on Sunday April 07, 2013 @04:06PM (#43386027) Journal
    Fun to see just how many of the people that jump on a discussion like this one have 4- and 5-digit user numbers :^)

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