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