[OS X TeX] Building new formats (MacTeX)

Adam R. Maxwell amaxwell at mac.com
Sun Sep 17 19:32:38 EDT 2006

On Sep 17, 2006, at 13:23, Rowland McDonnell wrote:

> [I'm not going to use some software that does what i-installer does:
> make large changes to the data on my computer without me having the
> faintest idea what it's doing.
> Isn't that normal prudent computer management?]

Prudent, perhaps, but not typical; Apple's Installer makes large  
changes to the data on your computer every time you install a software  
update, for instance (anyone remember that broken iTunes update  
fiasco?).  MacTeX has the same black-box limitations.  As far as that  
goes, any installer program does, which is why I prefer drag-and-drop  
installation.  Unfortunately, TeX and associated command-line software  
doesn't lend itself to drag-and-drop installs.

[someone (Maarten?) wrote the following, but the attribution was not  

>> Some experience with the
>> cryptic output of --help, -? and -h of the various tools helps. A
>> constant reminder that man pages list only what you need to know, and
>> not a comma extra, and some experience with maintaining a Linux
>> system at work.
> Man pages contain much less than I need to know.  I know this because
> most man pages don't make much sense to me at all.  I don't have any
> experience with the tools, or with running any sort of Unix system.   
> I'm
> a Mac user coming to this cold, with no experience of anything  
> relevant.
> Man pages tell you what you need to know if you are a Unix expert -  
> but
> only if you are a Unix expert.  It seems to me that they man pages are
> in general useless unless you already know about whatever the man page
> is explaining.

I think this is correct; most man pages are written as a reference,  
and likely written by the software author.  The gcc man page doesn't  
exist to give you a tutorial on the languages it compiles; it's there  
as a reference so that if I need to know what -Wselector does (for  
example), I can look it up.  There's a decent market for C language  
books, so you can buy one at any level you need.  This is likely not  
the case for a TeX distribution development and maintenance book (a  
miniscule market).

> It seems that my suspicion was right: one /does/ have to be a Unix
> sysadmin to learn how to set up and maintain a modern Mac TeX
> distribution.  :-/  Ho hum.  I was hoping to avoid learning all that
> Unix stuff.

Not necessarily, but you do need UNIX sysadmin skills to create your  
own distribution or modify it without i-Installer, plus some low-level  
understanding of TeX environment variables.  Those of us who don't  
have time for that are very happy with i-Installer (or Fink or  
darwinports), because someone else has invested that time.

>> Oh, and
>> some experience with programming helps: this system was developed by
>> programmers, and as you have figured out by now: user friendliness
>> wasn't at the top of their list of priorities.
> Given that I have no experience programming modern computers, and have
> been using Macs exclusively - computers noted for user-friendliness -
> since about 1994 - I'm a bit stuffed, aren't I?
> [Some decent documentation clearly needs to be written.  What's the
> point of writing software without paying attention to usability?
> Programmers shouldn't be let out on their own, that's what I reckon.
> Ho hum.]

It has been said that the worst people to write documentation are the  
developers of the software.  However, the software projects I've been  
involved in have been documented by the developers; occasional  
requests for assistance from users are generally met with silence, so  
we do the best we can (in TCOBrowser's case, this is a simple readme  
file).  It's a hassle to keep a manual up-to-date, and there's not  
much motivation to keep up with it; if I want documentation, I read  
the source code, so why spend /more/ time to create and update  
something I never use?  I'm not saying this is the reason you can't  
find the documentation you want, but the TeX developers may have  
similar constraints.


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