[OS X TeX] Imposing Latex on authors of articles

david craig dac at panix.com
Tue Feb 26 15:35:18 EST 2008

Like any new language, there's a bit of a learning curve.  However, once 
you become comfortable with it, it's generally very easy to read latex 
code as any written equation.  And yes, sometimes there are irritating 
quirks to be overcome, but I don't know any powerful software for which 
the same cannot be said.  Once you're over the elarning curve, you'll 
never look back.  (That is, unless you're the type to hold a grudge.)

But the bottom line is, for complex mathematics and complex documents 
there is simply nothing that can do what LaTeX can.   The references, 
the equation numbering, the formatting, the level of control you have 
vastly exceeds any other option.   There's simply no credible 

As others have pointed out, separating content from formatting also has 
other tremendous advantages.   You can completely transform the look and 
feel of a document with a few redefinitions at the front.   (I know -- 
I've been doing a lot of this lately with some lab manuals.)

I understand that when you're learning LaTeX it might feel like an 
imposition.  However, I have found that I LIKE submitting papers in 
LaTeX.  Frankly, when others typeset a long and complex document for 
you, mistakes creep in that are very hard to proofread for.   At least 
when I am doing the typesetting, any mistakes are my fault -- and would 
be there anyway.   I always have a much quicker turnaround from 
galleys with journals which allow LaTeX submission, because what they 
give to me is pretty much exactly what I gave them to begin with.   I 
don't have to hunt for little slip-ups by the typesetters.

Finally, and for me, possibly the most important reason, is the question 
of permanence.  LaTeX source is essentially plain text.  The meaning of 
the code is often immediately transparent and widely documented if not. 
How many times has Office's file format changed in the past fifteen 
years?  How many times will it change in the future?  (Can't complain 
too loudly about the switch to xml, though, even if there are issues 
with open xml.)  Of the cheesy equation editors available, for how long 
will the companies that make them -- or their file formats -- be around? 
Will Microsoft Office itself be around in 40 years?  Maybe ... but I 
wouldn't bet much of value on it.  Let alone bet that even if it is, it 
will be able to open anything you write today.

I think back not even ten years ago to when I was a graduate student. 
How many files that I created then can be opened with software on my 
computer now?  Much of what I haven't explicitly moved to other forms 
is, if not lost, a big pain to find a converter for.

Then I think to when I retire -- how much of what I am creating now will 
I be able to open then?

It's nuts, really, and a subject that doesn't get nearly as much 
attention by consumers as it ought.   But I learned a long time ago that 
anything important should be kept as plain text if possible, and in as 
universal a file format as available otherwise (e.g. with images.)

Microsoft Office documents with equations as embedded objects fail this 
test in every imaginable way.  But even if LaTeX goes the way of the 
dodo, every shred of my scholarly output will be plainly readable until 
ASCII text passes into the mists of time.  Short of massive global 
catastrophe, I don't expect that to be for a while.

David Craig


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