[OS X TeX] Macintouch report on TeX versus Word

David B. Thompson, Ph.D., P.E., D.WRE, CFM drdbthompson at gmail.com
Thu Jan 22 09:11:19 EST 2009

On Jan 21, 2009, at 17:30 , Alain Schremmer wrote:

> Certainly not—and I, for one, am not into "beautiful typesetting".  
> But, what I am reacting to is the fact that, de facto, we deny that  
> LaTeX is anything less than "absolutely and totally perfect". Oh  
> yeah, there are a few bugs here and there but, hey, that's the way  
> it goes.

Like so much in life, there are many ways to float a boat. :) I know  
we've strayed off-topic, but the discussion is lively and interesting  
and I hope beneficial to those who think about such things. I know I'm  
learning some things.

I came to LaTeX after MS moved Word to Winder$. The last DOS version  
was not perfect, yet it produced documents that were relatively  
straightforward to get into something resembling reasonable shape. The  
mathematics formatting was aboriginal, but it worked reasonably well  
for the kinds of documents I was tasked to produce.

Then I had to write something with more mathematics in it. That was a  
challenge. I wasn't pleased with either the process or the result. A  
friend and colleague shared his work with LaTeX, and I began working  
my way up the learning curve. That would have been about 1990.

Alain, you are correct--it is a steep curve. But I'm persistent and  
the challenge interested me. Finally, I arrived at a point where I  
could solve most of the problems I had with minor formatting issue and  
had results that were high quality. I'm not expecting perfection and  
I'm not a professional typesetter.

I now have enough knowledge to handle most of my text-processing  
problems. For things I don't know, there is this list and my reference  
library. I reuse templates created in the process of developing the  
suite of documents I commonly work with.

> When, a few years ago, I deplored that LaTeX was so difficult to  
> install and to learn for people like me, I was told that "LaTeX is  
> not for the faint of heart." and the discussion was closed.

That was a trite answer and you're right to be a bit put off. I told a  
number of people that the tools are not trivial but the investment is  
worthwhile... if you want to achieve a degree of results superior to  
commonly-used word processors...or...if you need much mathematics (or  
similar technical output).

There is also the literate programming paradigm but that is truly off- 
topic and I won't go there except to mention it in passing.

> So now it seems that the installation issue has been pretty much  
> taken care of. But what about the rest?

The fact is that this doesn't matter much to me, personally. I can  
carry my own water (mostly) with the tools at hand and should be able  
to finish out my career regardless of whether new tools evolve to hide  
the underlying mark-up required to use LaTeX. But you also have a  
valid point--if LaTeX (and TeX) are to survive this old dinosaur, then  
more development is required for one or more meta-tools that hide the  
details behind a (semi-) WYSIWYG shell. I haven't used LyX in forever,  
so I have no idea how it's faring these days. But something like it is  
required for the word-processing crowd. Otherwise, I think LaTeX runs  
the risk of fading away as those of us happy with text editors and  
command shells die off.

My that was a lot of words for a simple response. I can go on  
sometimes... back to my rock...


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