[OS X TeX] Focus (was: Various TeX programs on Mac)

Joachim Kock kock at math.uqam.ca
Sat May 8 10:20:47 EDT 2004

> The *main* focus is the output, not the input.
> The object being the PDF, its data being the code.

I disagree.  The main focus is the text you are writing.  The text *is* the
source: it is the content and it is the clear expression of its structure.
The form is secondary.  You submit your paper to one journal, you change
the sty file and submit it to another; you copy and paste from one document
to another without worrying about the layout; you change notation throughout
the document by changing a single definition in the preamble.  The main
philosophy of TeX is to concentrate on content and structure and let form
be a secondary issue.

If you put emphasis on the pdf then you open up for bad tex habits:

  "Let {\it x} be a point in {\it M}" 

will seem to be as good as

  "Let $x$ be a point in $M$"

because the output is identical.  

While I welcome current efforts on this list to popularise TeX on the Mac
and to make it more accessible to the novice, I find it extremely important
also to educate the newcomer, who most likely has been corrupted by WYSIWYG
practice.  The crucial message to the novice should be about the idea of
TeX --- explain the benefit of markup language.  TeX is not about how to
produce a pdf document, it's about structuring your writing, and ultimately
your thinking.  Of course you cannot start a tutorial with this sort of
highbrow advice --- you realise all this only after years of experience ---
but at least care must be taken not to hide the philosophy and not to lead
the new user in the wrong direction with superficial 'friendliness'.  This
goes for front-end design as well as for tutorial writing.

Concretely, one thing that receives very much attention is the ability to
see the pdf (or other output) all the time.  But wanting to see the output
all the time is the new user's bad habit.  In fact it is very consuming to
switch from typing to viewing, not only in terms of computing time but also
mentally.  It is all too easy to get distracted by some formatting detail
while in fact you were formulating your deep thoughts.  If you bake a cake
you don't want to taste the dough each time you add a new ingredient.  If
you knit a sweater you don't want to try it on each time you finish a
needle.  Why do so many new tex users press 'Typeset' or 'ViewPDF' all the
time?  Partly because they are too focused on the pdf, partly it is too
easy!  (But of course I don't want to blame the software designers for this
--- at the final stages of redaction and typesetting the ease of switching
between .tex and .pdf is crucial for your productivity.)

The bottomline: back to the source.


Please see <http://www.esm.psu.edu/mac-tex/> for list
guidelines, information, and LaTeX/TeX resources.

More information about the MacOSX-TeX mailing list