[OS X TeX] Macintouch report on TeX versus Word

David Derbes loki at uchicago.edu
Thu Jan 22 17:28:50 EST 2009

On Jan 22, 2009, at 3:03 PM, Alain Schremmer wrote:

> On Jan 22, 2009, at 1:03 PM, Alex Ross wrote:
>> On Jan 22, 2009, at 6:11 AM, David B. Thompson, Ph.D., P.E.,  
>> D.WRE, CFM wrote:
>>> 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.
>> For what it's worth, there are those of us who've only learned  
>> LaTeX recently and yet do not trust WYSIWYG editors to produce  
>> reliable results.  There is a whole new generation learning to  
>> edit plain text and pilot the command line as we speak…
> The question which seemed occasionally to surface and which I was  
> trying to address is NOT the relevance of LaTeX to the members of  
> the club. Obviously, we all love and/or use LaTeX. The LaTeX club  
> is also an open door club. In fact, the club makes every efforts to  
> help others who have joined the club. There is nothing wrong with  
> LaTeX inasmuch as it is what the club uses and loves. And I too  
> have made my peace with LaTeX. So what?
> The question I was trying to address was an entirely different one:  
> it concerned the extent to which a LaTeX type software could one  
> day replace MS Word in its role as the writing tool for the world  
> outside the club.
> My point is that if we can't even discuss what it is that currently  
> prevents LaTeX from being the writing tool for the world outside  
> the club—and we don't seem to be able to, then there isn't much of  
> a chance that such a tool will ever see the light of the day.
> But then, maybe it is in the very nature of any club not to worry  
> about the outside world.
> Regards
> --schremmer----------- Please Consult the Following Before Posting  
> -----------

In fact I am extremely keen to expand the club. I show my students  
how to use LaTeX, my handouts are all in LaTeX (and the kids can have  
the source if they like), I try to convince my colleagues (especially  
in math), and I offer any help they ask for.

I think two things prevent a wider use of LaTeX. First, the commands  
are scary looking at first. Then, it actually takes a while to type  
things out; it's understandable that people would rather grab from a  
palette the square root sign than type \sqrt{ }. Seven keystrokes  
versus a mouse click. I'm willing to spend the time to type the  
commands and to learn at least some of the intricacies (though heaven  
knows there's an awful lot I know nothing about, and may never  
learn), but clearly not everyone is. [I understand that there are  
front ends and utilities -- e.g., TeX FoG -- that reduce the typing  
to a mouse click.]

LaTeX was written by people of a mathematical mindset for the use of  
that same group. Not everyone belongs to this group.

On the other hand, the talented team at Apple have been able to tame  
Unix, far more arcane in my experience, to the average person's  
ability to use it. Maybe in the not too distant future Apple or the  
Ubuntu guys or whoever will similarly tame LaTeX, so that its user  
interface is as friendly as Word or WordPerfect or Pages, but its  
beating heart and engine will still be good ol' industrial strength  

For the record, I doubt I would have tackled LaTeX without Dick  
Koch's (and others') TeXShop.

David Derbes
U of Chicago Lab Schools

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