[OS X TeX] overview of what TeX is producing

Bob Kerstetter bkerstetter at mac.com
Tue Mar 1 10:27:52 EST 2005

On Mar 1, 2005, at 6:30 AM, Jason Davies wrote:

Hi Jason,

> I have been trying to explain exactly what TeX does to people - not the
> technical stuff but the principles that it enacts typographically.


> in other words, *why* is TeX output so elegant to the human eye?

My short answer. TeX nicely formats text, tables and graphics by word 
paragraph and page. It does this because Donald Knuth and now the TeX 
open source community care about the way things look and they study 
typography before coding. For example, changing a word in the middle of 
  a paragraph can, and usually does, alter the line wrapping both above 
and below the word to obtain the best looking appearance. Even Adobe 
has figured this out and is using some of the TeX algorithms in 

That's the end of the short answer. Anything from here on may be more 
than what you were seeking, so you've been warned about the rambling. 
But I use TeX and a Mac within an otherwise Word and Windows 
organization, so some of this stuff might be helpful.

> any answers will help.I am being leant on (as ususal) to justify why I
> am not sending people Word documents and have decided to go on the
> offentsive (ie giving up on 'it works better for me') and trying to 
> sell
> them the idea that they are using an inferior set up.

Wow, you are in for a struggle. It's like trying to convince people to 
change their metaphysical philosophies. If they see no need, why would 
they change? But there are good reasons why TeX is better.

> There's no hope
> that they will adopt TeX - they find Word tricky enough - but I might 
> be
> able to convince them that my results justify the means...

In my experience, when it comes to publishing, few people really care 
about the appearance, as long as it's good enough. They just want 
content that helps them get their work done, make a living and go home 
or to the lake or out to a club\dots. I am describing me and most of my 
colleagues. I find that TeX helps me accomplish these goals and it 
looks better in the process. Once you learn TeX and its friends, it 
makes you tons more productive than doing the same work in Word. This 
is especially true if you cross-publish your content in multiple media, 
such as print, PDF and HTML. You are freed from the time-killing, 
mundane details of making things look good enough. Who wants to settle 
for good enough? Once you know it, TeX makes things look better than 
good enough and it does it easier. It helps improve communications. 
And, it helps me go home sooner. Why would I want to stay at work and 
fight with Word or InDesign or Quark or Dreamweaver?

However, if your users need to edit the content and like Word's change 
tracking, you might want to send them your content in Word, for the 
sake of peace. To this end, I have developed methods to supply Word 
documents when that is required for review. If I supply Word regularly, 
my reviewers put up with the times I send them PDFs and say, "please 
print it out, mark it up and fax it back." I keep my source in LaTeX, 
convert to Word through TeX4ht [LaTeX ---> HTML (via tex4ht) ---> Word] 
and send them a content-only Word document. (You can also do this with 
[LaTeX ---> Open Office ---> Word], but I have not needed the more 
controlled formatting that might provide and have not tried it.)

Anyway, my reviewers copy the file around and send back two to ten 
change-tracking Word documents. (I think of this as supplying customer 
service to my colleagues, instead of being a pain in the neck to me.) 
So, I look at the changes and transfer the appropriate ones to the 
LaTeX source. The final output is usually PDF or HTML generated from 

If this was not more productive, I wouldn't do it. I am not married to 
TeX source. In fact, I am looking at the XML file format of Pages and 
wondering if this might become my new source document. I don't know. I 
still need TeX for pretty output and hyperlinks, but maybe XML ---> 
ConTeXt might help here. Not sure yet.

Sometimes, I just work within the limits of Word. For example, I 
support a network of independent distributors and resellers who need to 
localize flier content. So I send them fliers in Word so they can 
change text, logo and contact info and get the fliers out to their 
customers. (If it was just logo and contact info needing changed, I 
might send out the fliers as PDFs with forms, maybe.) Anyway, even in 
these cases, I develop my original content in LaTeX and convert to 
Word, so I have the original source in a stable text file.

Just FYI, LaTeX to HTML is also how I proofread. I convert the 
documents to HTML and open them in TextEdit. I then put on a headset, 
select some text in TextEdit, use the Speech > Start Speaking command 
and follow along in the LaTeX source, making changes as necessary. I 
use TextEdit instead of the Speech Service because it's easier for me 
to control, especially when stopping the speech.

Well, that's probably way more than enough.

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