[OS X TeX] R, paradigm to bring into the LaTeX world?

Denis Chabot chabotd at globetrotter.net
Sun Oct 22 09:43:09 EDT 2006


Many posts have been written lately about LaTeX Lite and in general  
more user-friendly LaTeX. I am in the unfortunate position of having  
to use Word most of the time because of the necessity to often,  
almost daily, exchange documents with colleagues, all using Word.  
Already I am a (lucky) black sheep, being the only Mac user in the  
group. This sometimes creates problems with illustrations (despite  
all the Microsoft bragging about 100% compatibility between Word on  
both platforms).

Often here and in the LaTeX sites in general, it is assumed WYSIWYG  
users do not write structured documents and switching to LaTeX will  
bring them into this mode of writing. It is not true of me: as soon  
as Word offered styles, I started using them for every document. When  
the outlining mode came about, I often switched to this as well. Yet  
I'd gladly to without Word if it was not for my colleagues because  
Word has become way too huge, complex, and buggy (the optimum version  
has been 5, around 1990, if I remember well). How often do I add or  
move a figure in my list of figures (typically on a separate page at  
the end of a document in a scientific article), and half of  
references to figures in my document are changed from "(Figure X)" to  
(Figure X Relationship between length and mass of...)", i.e. Word  
starts adding the legend to the label and figure number. Fixing this  
requires killing the reference and inserting it again. If you want  
figures in the document instead of at the end, you are constantly  
fighting Word as to where it will end (with no final answer,  
Microsoft knows better than you and moves them around from day to day).

Thus I like that in LaTeX things work as expected. On the negative  
side, especially when you may be forced not to use it for a few  
months, it is difficult to remember what some of the switches you've  
used do from one time to the next. And although I can write and let  
LaTex do the formatting (bliss), other times I spend hours trying to  
figure out how to obtain a relatively minor change which would have  
been easily done in a WYSIWYG environment (styles are easily edited).  
Especially if this requires getting a new package installed.

Maybe I should have tried LyX a bit longer, but I did not quite like  
its interface, and I like the idea of more "universality" of straight  
LaTeX files (I just wish more journals in my field, marine biology,  
accepted LaTeX manuscripts).

But I can think of one way LaTeX would be a bit more user friendly. I  
don't think it is up to the people on this Mac list to make it  
happen, it would have to be a more generic effort. I'd like LaTeX  
(and especially LaTeX frontends like TeXShop  to behave more like the  
open source R statistical system does.


A basic installation of R (there is one for each of the main OS)  
includes the "base" R and a good selection of the most often used/ 
requested packages. But you can easily view the available packages  
and install them. Especially if you use a frontend (in my case a Mac  
R.app): a menu allows you to look at which packages you have  
installed on your computer (and at the same time view the  
documentation for them). Another one allows you to go to CRAN and  
view which packages are available, either as binary for your own  
platform or as source which the frontend will compile for you). You  
can see if you have the latest version. You can update if you don't,  
or install any number of new packages you want. You can select if you  
want them installed for all users or for your account only. This  
makes it quite a bit easier to see what's available that might solve  
a particular need.

I do not know if the lack of this way of doing things in LaTeX is due  
to a greater difficulty in execution because of differences between  
LaTeX and R, or simply because it has not occurred to people it would  
be "a good thing". More likely I suppose, since nobody is paid, it is  
the result of lack of time or synergy between volunteers to implement  
such a system.

But it seems to me it would be a good move. Anybody else has found  
this a good idea in R? Do you think it would also be nice in LaTeX?

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