[OS X TeX] Re: Who should use (La)TeX - who is able to use it?

Alain Schremmer Schremmer.Alain at verizon.net
Mon Nov 15 11:59:22 EST 2004

(1) I agree with the stability issue: there was a version of Word I 
could crash on demand by, among other ways which I have forgotten, 
adjusting margins in tables. And then there was the infamous "long 
document". And the no less infamous "text boxes".

A lot more seriously: I had a certain amount of stuff in Word 3 and ff 
that I didn't think I would ever need and thus didn't resave in later 
versions of Word. But then, never say never and now, some fifteen to ten 
years later, some I can open only in text, which at least gives me a 
chance of getting an idea of what I had written, but some I can't even 
open which leaves me with the paralyis familiar to all those who have 
lost a manuscript. If only for /this/ reason, I don't regret the great 
initial pain I had switching to LaTeX.

(2) For me, the infamous learning curve tapered off sharply as soon as I 
had found and "mastered" the half a dozen packages or so I needed for 
the text I am writing: including graphics, multirow (tables with "merged 
cells"), paralist because of asparaenum,  some particular fonts (e.g. 
condensed), cancel to slash across text, and a couple more things. Now, 
most of what I do consists in Copy-Paste-Modify a bit.

However, I must say that, beyond "the" two books, having human help, 
which I got both on this list and from John Peterson, the editor of the 
AMATYC News, proved invaluable, not least for what appeared infinite 

(3) This being said, I remain convinced that TeXshop and, probably, 
i-Installer, to both of which I am immensely indebted as, without them, 
I would have never made the transition from Word to LaTeX, could be made 
a lot more user-friendly to people totally innocent of anything but 
Word. This need not be an either/or matter. I don't see for instance, 
that a version of TeXshop couldn't be offered whose user interface could 
be a lot more like Word's. (I doubt Gates would sue.) Eventually, should 
one wish, one could then move to the "regular" TeXshop to avail oneself 
of the flexibility required by, at least, the LaTeX veterans. And then, 
maybe to even more flexible and powerful ones. As for myself, and as I 
think would be the case for most of the newcomers of a new kind, TeXshop 
is already more than I will ever need.

Note in this respect a difference between Word and TeXshop and, I 
suspect all other LaTeXes: I probably didn't use 10% of Word's power but 
the other 90% was there and, in fact, not always easy to ignore. In 
TeXshop, while I probably use at most 25% of its intrinsic power as an 
"editor", since the real power and resulting complexity of LaTeX resides 
in packages that I can choose either to "i-Install" or not, I am not 
bothered by stuff I can't use and/or don't want.

Unfortunately, I am not able to create such a version and being in the 
business of helping people learn mathematics, I recognize in both the 
mathematical and the LaTeX community the same attitude among those who 
can: Hey, just let "them" suffer through it, Mathematics/LaTeX is not 
for the faint of heart.

With the same result: While most people could learn mathematics up to 
and including differential calculus, the mathematics of change, the 
first point at which mathematics is really "descriptive"--in that it 
allows to write differential equations, only about one quarter of one 
percent of the many who attempt arithmetic in two-year colleges pass 
Calculus I.


Gary L. Gray wrote:

> On Nov 14, 2004, at 11:49 PM, david craig wrote:
>>> Is a "normal" user generally capable to use  LaTeX?
>> As you describe a "normal" user, I think the answer is a categorical 
>> "no".  (Well ... "capable", typically yes; "willing" probably not.  
>> Nor does it strike me as an especially good idea.  What's the payoff 
>> for the effort?)
>> What would be the point, really?  Such users already have tools that 
>> serve them perfectly well, whatever their limitations for our crowd. 
>> TeX is for people who need the level of control that it offers, 
>> especially vis a vis mathematics.
> I would also argue (and I often do to students and colleagues) that 
> one of the advantages of TeX is the stability and lack of frustrating 
> bugs. I have written many papers (containing numerous figures and 
> equations) in Word and its strange behavior and bugs (they may be 
> features, but you will never convince me of that) made me pull my hair 
> out (look at my picture on my web page and you will see). While TeX is 
> not trivial to learn, its consistent behavior more than makes up for it.
> All the best,
> -- Gary
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