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