[OS X TeX] Various TeX programs/a beginner's perspective

Kevin Walzer kevin at wordtechcommunications.com
Sun May 9 22:55:14 EDT 2004

The discussion on how to help beginners grok TeX/LaTeX on the Mac has 
taken a lot of twists and turns--how best to educate beginners coming 
from a word processing background; the easiest program to learn on the 
Mac; what Joe Slater's site on applications should focus on; and so on. 
I'd like to muddy the discussion further by providing the perspective 
of a (finally) fast-learning beginner.

I first became interested on TeX and the Mac about a year ago, shortly 
after returning to the Mac after a five year absence. (I replaced my 
LCIII with a Compaq Pentium II, and my Compaq with an iBook.) I 
eventually found my way to the Mac-TeX site, with Joe's page, and also 
Gerben's i-Installer. Needless to say, I was overwhelmed. TeX/LaTeX 
seemed impossible to figure out. i understood HTML markup, but LaTex 
was acrane and I could never get the correct output. Learning Unix, 
LaTeX and the LaTeX editors on the Mac was a *lot* to digest.

Not surprisingly, I started with TeXShop, because Joe's site made it 
clear that this was a very popular editor, well-designed, and 
relatively simple in its interface. I picked up TeXShop quickly, but it 
didn't help me to learn LaTeX very well. iTeXMac was bewildering to me 
in its complexity (still is). Even LyX didn't work the way I thought it 

Frustrated more than once, I gave up and came back, gave up and came 
back. Each time I made a little more progress, but didn't achieve what 
I was hoping to do (to add a LaTeX-based production workflow to my 
publishing business).

Finally, this spring, things have begun to fall into place. I'm 
starting on a smaller scale this time--with a simple article on a Mac 
topic (how to configure the Macjordomo list server). The formatting 
requirements are very basic and allow me to learn the basics of LaTeX 
markup and also learn how to document my own knowledge of a program. 
I've come back to the excellent "getting started" article Joe has on 
the Mac-TeX site, and I've also made considerable use of the LaTeX 
articles by Kevin O'Malley on MacDevCenter. I'm also, perhaps not 
coincidentally, learning how to write programming code at the same 
time; getting "hello world" to compile in C and getting a simple 
article to compile in LaTeX require similar attention to detail, a 
simlar habit of mind. Finally, I've been using a lot of tools with the 
same article--TeXShop, Texmaker (which is also a vehicle for learning 
how to code) and even Enhanced Carbon Emacs (which has become my 
general purpose code editor, tricked out with Python and Tcl modes as 
well) have all helped me to learn the basics of LaTeX enough to make 
real progress.

So what's the point of all this?

1. There's no getting around the fact that LaTeX has a learning curve. 
Don't hide it. It is hard. Once you get it, it falls into place, but it 
requires a different frame of mind than a word processor. (I still 
haven't implemented LaTeX in my publishing business--I still use word 
processors and DTP tools--largely because of speed issues. I'm very 
slow with LaTeX.)

2. Joe, please don't change the Mac-TeX site at all, except to add more 
applications. I think the site does an excellent job of showing what's 
out there in terms of apps, appraising each one fairly, and letting the 
user make the choice. The site does a good enough job of showing that 
TeXShop is popular and probably the best tool for beginners--but it 
also shows that it's not the only tool out there. Different users have 
different needs. I had been away from the Mac long enough that I wasn't 
trying to unlearn hard-wired OS9 habits; for these folks, OzTeX and 
CMacTeX are probably a comfortable environment. (I find the interfaces 
of these apps a bit dated, but I'm sure others don't.) I was interested 
in learning about Cocoa apps and learning about open-source, Unix-based 
stuff. Hence my subsequent focus on TexShop, Emacs, and Texmaker.

For what it's worth, I consider i-Installer to be an inspired piece of 
programming. Compared to MikTex, it makes installation a piece of cake. 
Hats off, Gerben. I also love TexShop, and also Enhanced Carbon Emacs. 
Both are really superb. iTexMaker is probably for someone with a 
different mindset than me, but I recognize it as a powerful 
application. . My interest in Texmaker is mainly in finding a space 
where I can actually contribute code and some expertise; I see this as 
a service to the Mac-TeX community.

Sorry for the ramble...just thought I'd add my (by now 25) cents to the 


Kevin Walzer, Ph.D.
WordTech Communications--A New Paradigm of Poetry

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