Re: Documentation (was Re: [OS X TeX] Kanbun (漢文) and French...)

Jean-Christophe Helary fusion at
Sun Jan 4 01:39:46 EST 2009

On dimanche 04 janv. 09, at 14:00, Alain Schremmer wrote:

> On Jan 3, 2009, at 8:54 PM, Jean-Christophe Helary wrote:
>> If it uses the default Computer Modern (for whatever reason)
> The reason, I think, is historical. Computer Modern was developed by  
> Knuth and, to quote Companion 2ed, "until the early 1990s,  
> essentially only those fonts were usable with TeX". As far as I  
> know, it is what I am still using. (But then I don't really care  
> about fonts.) Page 346 of Companion 2 ed, though, has a subsection  
> entitled "Changing the default text fonts".

Ok so, this is a software design choice that is almost 15 years old.

(If typesetting is so much about how the result looks, you'd surely  
agree that putting the "changing the default text fonts" on page 346  
is also an interesting documentation design choice.)

But I am not here to complain. Really. I do a lot of volunteer work in  
other areas of the free software world (test/bug reports/user support/ 
documentation) and I fully understand the difference in point of view  
between developers and users, especially when seen with such a  
historical distance.

Still, Unicode has been around for some time already, and since, for  
example, some engines like XeteX are meant to provide better support  
for it, including OSX fonts support, it seems to me that a good start  
would be to use a default font that covers more Latin characters...

I have just found this reference to "Computer Modern" on my HD:

> A beginner's introduction to typesetting with LaTeX

> \LaTeX{}'s default font is Computer Modern (based on Monotype  
> Series†8: see the table on p.\thinspace\pageref{fontable-mf}), not  
> Times Roman, and some people get upset because it `looks different'  
> to Times.

The file dates from 2005.

But as a 1995-2008 Mac user (and we are on a Mac list here, aren't  
we ?), I'd like to say that the issue is not how the font looks, but  
how much characters it covers (besides for the fact that I have no  
idea where Computer Modern is located on my machine so I can't even  
check what it supports by using the system provided tools). In that  
respect Times New Roman is a much better choice because it supports:

> Afrikaans, Albanian, Azerbaijani, Basque, Belarusian, Bulgarian,  
> Catalan, Cornish, Croatian, Czech, Danish, Dutch, English,  
> Esperanto, Estonian, Faroese, Finnish, French, Galician, German,  
> Greek, Hawaiian, Hungarian, Icelandic, Indonesian, Irish, Italian,  
> Kalaallisut, Kazakh, Latvian, Lithuanian, Macedonian, Malay,  
> Maltese, Manx, Norwegian Bokmål, Norwegian Nynorsk, Oromo, Polish,  
> Portuguese, Romanian, Russian, Serbian, Slovak, Slovenian, Somali,  
> Spanish, Swahili, Swedish, Turkish, Ukrainian, Uzbek, Vietnamese,  
> Welsh

by default.

So, instead of having to explain new users that their language is a  
problem so they need to specify something to override the defaults,  
just using TNR (for example) in XeteX (for example) would solve a  
major documentation issue for that many languages !

>> it _is_ making a design choice.
> I beg to disagree. It is just a default value. By your logic, a TeX  
> installation ought to come without any preset font. I sure would  
> have hated that when I first started with LaTeX. There was enough  
> that I didn't understand without having to deal with fonts.

A default value is a software design choice. And by "my" logic, the  
default should be what is most adapted to users at the time of  
release. In a predominantly "Latin" environment, a font that covers  
the most of Latin languages should be the default.

Without using XeteX, if I try to use the information found here:'un%20document%20en%20fran%E7ais

My text (plain) does not work. I find that the problems start at the  
use of French "« " quotation marks.

Similarly, the French translation of « The not so short Introduction  
to LaTeX 2e » (where French quotation marks are used on the HP)  
proposes a simple template that will not accept those quotation marks.

Even the paragraph about "guillements" (p 19) does not provide correct  
information: "ou bien utilisez directement « et » si vous disposez  
d’un moyen de saisir ces caractères." That did not work (and I checked  
the encoding etc...)

I just learned in the MacTex documentation that this translation is  
not up to date, but the September 2008 version of the original only  
proposes similar escape sequences to type French...

I mention the 2 above links because on my side of Google they are the  
top 2 links. Where else am I supposed to find relevant information ?  
The Readme file in the MacTex packages does not point to anything  
readily useable for my purposes...

>> It seems to me that making things uselessly obfuscated to be able  
>> to type a few French accents (or other latin characters, since  
>> Latin seems to be the default in Computer Modern) is also a design  
>> choice.
> This is the first time I hear about anyone having difficulties with  
> accents in French or Italian or Spanish. For that matter, I tried to  
> read Companion 2 ed on the subject but didn't go anywhere. The  
> setting of the default language would appear to be somewhere deep  
> down. But what I don't understand is that LaTeX is used in France  
> fairly widely and I can't believe that everyone there went through  
> the same hassle.

My understanding is that most of the people who have used LateX for a  
while use the default settings and type things like:

Mon num\’ero de t\’el\’ephone va changer. \‘A partir du 18 octobre, ce  
sera le \mbox{0561 336 330}.

They probably have macros that convert "properly" typed French to  
those escape sequences.

After all, that is what the available documentation tells them to do.

People who have used Latex for a while and who follow the  
developments, would know about recent evolutions, encodings, font  
settings and would have changed their default settings accordingly.  
But from a software development perspective, you'd expect the software  
to take such new defaults into accounts so as to ease the burden on  
the user.

How many times will it have to be said that "the encoding, the font  
and the engine must be properly selected" to get a proper display ?  
And to how many languages will that information have to be translated  
(55 if you take into account the languages supported by TNR and most  
probably not supported by Computer Modern). That is a huge amount of  
energy on the part of user support list members.

> Whatever is wrong though, and if I understand your frustration, may  
> I say that letting it show doesn't exactly entice people to try to  
> help you.

Well, I have properly renamed that subthread to indicate issues with  
the available documentation.

My frustrations with the package comes from that and exclusively that.

Haven't I downloaded close to 2gb of data only to find that the  
documentation was not really "user friendly" ?

And the remarks about the XeteX pages may read as rants, but please,  
take the time to look at them with an objective eye, along with the  
rest of the documentation that is. I am not accusing XeteX to be  
especially obscure. I am just saying that people who would have some  
use for the package (multilingual writers familiar with OSX, among  
others) may not be familiar with this whole TeX thing and deserve that  
the 2 or 3 lines that address their issues be displayed a little more  
prominently on the relevant pages.

Besides for that, thank you for all your comments and hints. That did  
help me a huge lot.

Jean-Christophe Helary

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