[OS X TeX] latex and xelatex

Simon Spiegel simon at simifilm.ch
Mon Mar 15 02:56:09 EDT 2010

On 15.03.2010, at 03:07, Herbert Schulz wrote:

> On Mar 13, 2010, at 9:17 PM, david craig wrote:
>> The latest digest makes me curious what the end game of this forking brands of (la)tex (latex, pdftex, xelatex, luatex, whatever ...) is going to be.
>>> From the point of view of someone who does a lot of work in tex that 
>> needs to be very portable, and is often destined for third parties who insist on straight latex, I really don't want to have to keep track of which tex implementation I need on a document-by-document basis.   The merging of pdflatex with latex was a truly welcome development.
>> Is there some hope of this occurring with xelatex/luatex?  (If not, why not?)  I don't really see how it helps anyone to have this proliferation of (la)tex implementations with differing abilities.
>> Curious, and somewhat hopeful...
>> David Craig
> Howdy,
> The biggest differences between the variations on latex (actually different engines all using the latex macro/format set) is in graphics inclusion and font usage.
> latex: the old traditional version (well... not really since it now is actually using pdftex [which is really pdfetex] in dvi mode). Needs a ``back-end'' processor to convert the dvi file to ps or pdf; usually done using dvips+pstopdf(or another distiller). Graphics has to be in eps or ps form. Fonts are any of the latex fonts available.
> pdflatex: direct production of pdf output. Graphics include pdf, pgn and jpg. Fonts are any of the latex fonts plus the possibility of using ttf fonts (but need map files, virtual fonts, etc.). Can do micro-typography.
> xelatex: produces xdvi file which is converted to pdf transparently usually using the xdvipdfmx ``back-end.'' Graphics, using xdvipdfmx, includes eps, pdf, jpg and I'm not sure what else. Can use system fonts (otf, dfont, ttc) with no special setup including most (all?) of the special features. Assumes UTF-8 Unicode input by default.
> lualatex: purely experimental at this stage in development. It's a highly programmable engine able to do amazing transformations, etc., using the lua programming language. I know little about this one.

Just to add some observations from my experience: xelatex has been useable and production-ready for quite some time. The necessary packages (fontspec for font selection and polyglossia as babel replacement are probably the most important  ones) exist and can be used without a problem. About the only thing missing for me – and the reason I don't use xelatex – is the microtype package. This package which offers character protrusion and font expansion and improves the quality of the output quite a bit, does not support xelatex since this engine misses some necessary features. But if you don't need microtype, there is little reason not to use xelatex (of course, YMMV). A clean UTF8 workflow is an improvement in itself IMO and the ability to use about any font the system offers really changes how you use LaTeX.

Lualatex, on the other hand, is definitely not production-ready yet. It can be used, but some important packages which will make your life a lot easier are missing. There is quite some work going on on the LaTeX side at the moment, most importantly the adapatation of fontspec to LuaTeX. Elie Roux and Khaled Hosny are on this, but the package is not yet finished. In principle, luatex also supports the necessary microtypogragic features, although I don't know how hard it will be adapt the existing microtype package. AFAIU fontspec et al. will require a newer version of luatex than the one currently shipping with TeXLive. TeXLive at the moment ships with LuaTeX 0.40.6, and at least in TeXLive 09, LuaTeX is one of the parts that can't be updated with tlmgr. So I guess we'll have to wait at least for TeXLive 2010 until we have a system which has all the necessary parts to make lualatex useful for general use. But once we have that, I hope that it will see widespread adaptation, there's really no reason for getting stuck with the limitations of pdflatex.

Simon Spiegel
Steinhaldenstr. 50
8002 Zürich

Telephon: ++41 44 451 5334
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