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Extended TeX: Past, Present, and Future

timothy posted 1 year,17 days | from the 30-years-of-chugging-away dept.

Software 300

First time accepted submitter Hamburg writes "Frank Mittelbach, member of the LaTeX Project and LaTeX3 developer, reviews significant issues of TeX raised already 20 years ago. Today he evaluates which issues are solved, and which still remain open and why. Examples of issues are managing consecutive hyphens, rivers of vertical spaces and identical words across lines, grid-based design, weighed hyphenation points, and overcoming the the mouth/stomach separation. Modern engines such as pdfTeX, XeTeX and LuaTeX are considered with regard to solutions of important problems in typesetting." Note: When TeX was first released, Jimmy Carter was president.

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Jimmy Carter was president of TeX?! (0, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,17 days | (#43384659)


Re:Jimmy Carter was president of TeX?! (1, Funny)

rubycodez (864176) | 1 year,17 days | (#43384683)

even more surprising, when LaTeX was released in the early 80s, Ronald Reagan was president!

Re:Jimmy Carter was president of TeX?! (1, Funny)

K. S. Kyosuke (729550) | 1 year,17 days | (#43384755)

And MS Word hadn't really taken off until Clinton seized the steering wheel. Now you know who to blame for that!

Re:Jimmy Carter was president of TeX?! (1)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,17 days | (#43384823)

Then Monica got in the car and things got real interesting...

Re:Jimmy Carter was president of TeX?! (1)

superwiz (655733) | 1 year,17 days | (#43385211)

Why more surpricing? US got its reputation as technology powerhouse for all the tech released under Reagan.

Re:Jimmy Carter was president of TeX?! (1)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,17 days | (#43385589)

And then came George H. W. Bush and he said: "Read my lips: no new TeXes".

Re:Jimmy Carter was president of TeX?! (5, Funny)

fyngyrz (762201) | 1 year,17 days | (#43384701)

Yes, but there was that helicopter crash; the typesetting community always blamed TeX for that, and ever since then, TeX has been relegated to doing font work in the third world, charity undertakings and the like. And really, who wanted to be limited to 55 fonts per document? Some of us type in the fast lane, buddy.

Re:Jimmy Carter was president of TeX?! (1)

udippel (562132) | 1 year,17 days | (#43384747)

Enlighten me about that helicopter crash and ... ...wait, now I spoiled it, and can't give you my 'Funny' Mod point for at least the last 2/3 of your post any longer.

Re:Jimmy Carter was president of TeX?! (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,17 days | (#43384725)

Austin bumper sticker:

Don't MeX with TeX

TeX for Math (5, Interesting)

rrhal (88665) | 1 year,17 days | (#43384693)

When TeX was new people were not accustomed to seeing well type set documents unless they came from a legitimate publisher. I wrote several college papers in TeX and I think the presentation let me get a few mistakes past my teachers. I've not seen anything better for formulas - even today TeX documents have a more polished feel to them.

Re:TeX for Math (1)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,17 days | (#43384797)

True. Using it was also the only time in my career as a software engineer where I was essentially a copy-paste script kiddie. Seeing documents made by it is one of those "You don't want to see how the sausage is made" situations.

Re:TeX for Math (3, Interesting)

ModernGeek (601932) | 1 year,17 days | (#43385205)

HTML 5.1 needs a TeX tag... I'd do anything to see it. What's stopping it from happening? Someone should fork WebKit and do it.

Re:TeX for Math (1)

K. S. Kyosuke (729550) | 1 year,17 days | (#43385269)

HTML 5.1 needs a TeX tag... I'd do anything to see it.

What would you like it to do?

Re:TeX for Math (3, Interesting)

fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) | 1 year,17 days | (#43385331)

Presumably imply the existence of a feature-complete TeX implementation in the browser, that would render and display whatever TeX snippet was included within the tag...

I'm pretty sure that there are some server-side convenience plugins for at least a few of the major OSS CMS packages that will let you use TeX or LaTeX and then digest the results into images that get plunked into the actual HTML that gets shoveled out to clients; but the odds of coaxing browser makers to include a completely separate, extremely powerful, and highly mature(if baroque) rendering engine alongside the one they already have, just to support a TeX tag seem slim...

Re:TeX for Math (5, Interesting)

jd (1658) | 1 year,17 days | (#43385541)

Well, with WebKit up the proverbial creek these days, a new rendering engine would make sense.

The question would be whether you could create a TeX-alike engine that supports the additional functions required in HTML and can convert any well-formed SGML document into a TeX-alike document. If you could, you can have one rendering engine and subsume HTML and XML entirely within it.

The benefits of doing this? The big drawback of style sheets is that no two browsers agree on units. TeX has very well-defined units that are already widely used. These also happen to be the units industry likes using. Eliminating browser-specific style sheets would be an incredible benefit.

The big drawback of the Semantic Web is that everyone, their brother, cat and goldfish have designed their own ontologies, none of which interoperate and few of which are any good for searching with SPARQL. LaTeX has a good collection of very standard, very clean methods for binding information together. Because it's standard, you can have a pre-existing ontology libraries which can be auto-populated. And because LaTeX is mostly maintained by uber-minds, rather than Facebook interns during their coffee break, those ontologies are likely to be very, very good. Also, microformats will DIE!!!! BWAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!

The big drawback with HTML 5 is that the W3C can't even decide if the standard is fixed, rolling or a pink pony. TeX is a very solid standard that actually exists.

Ok, what's the downside of TeX? There's no real namespace support, so conflicts between libraries are commonplace. I'm also not keen on having a mixture of tag logic, where some tags have content embedded and others have the content enclosed with an end tag. It's messy. Cleanliness is next to Linuxliness.

Parsing client-side is a mild irritant, but let's face it. AJAX is also parsing client-side, as is Flash, as are cascading style sheets, etc, etc. The client is already doing a lot (one reason nobody has a fast browser any more), so changing from one set of massive overheads to another really wouldn't be that much of a pain.

Ok, so if we consider TeX the underlying system, do we need a TeX tag? No. We would rather assume all parts of a document not enclosed by an SGML tag are TeX. This would be a transitory state, since you could then write SGML-to-TeX modules for Apache, IIS and other popularish web servers. The world would then become wholly TeXified, as it should be.

Re:TeX for Math (3, Insightful)

PopeRatzo (965947) | 1 year,17 days | (#43385407)

Way back when my wife was getting her PhD math, I had to learn Tex to help her. She let me bounce my head against Tex while she was busy with her fluid dynamics and then I'd get to explain it to her. I could never understand how there are mathematicians who can easily write in Tex the way I'd write in a word processor. It all just seemed so opaque. De-bugging errors was among the most frustrating things I've ever done on a computer. But the results are impeccable. I still don't think there is a better program for typesetting equations. Or I should say, I don't know of a better one. But if there is one, can someone kindly tell me?

Re:TeX for Math (4, Informative)

semi-extrinsic (1997002) | 1 year,17 days | (#43385537)

Modern LaTeX is quite a bit better at giving good error messages, unless you try to do very complex things. Combining lots of packages for heavy customization is the prime example; I once spent half a day setting up custom chapter titles with a side-by-side miniature table-of-contents and epigraph below a title where the chapter number extruded into the margin, and drop caps at the start of the first paragraph. But the end result was beautiful.

Re:TeX for Math (3, Insightful)

Daniel Dvorkin (106857) | 1 year,17 days | (#43385751)

I could never understand how there are mathematicians who can easily write in Tex the way I'd write in a word processor.

I can't really explain it other than to say "you get used to it." After a while, the markup becomes transparent; if you're typesetting an equation, for example, you see the layout in your head while you're typing the markup. Which makes it much easier than using an equation editor in a word processor, really--compounded by the fact that equation editors are universally awful.

Re:TeX for Math (1)

michael_cain (66650) | 1 year,17 days | (#43385881)

I can't really explain it other than to say "you get used to it." After a while, the markup becomes transparent...

Just like learning any other language, I suppose. Years ago I had a guy working for me who could do it with troff's pic preprocessor. He could "draw" lovely semi-technical diagrams of various sorts writing text in an editor in one window with a second window set up to render it when he clicked the mouse there. It didn't hurt that he had accumulated a whole library of code for drawing various shapes that he used frequently.

Re:TeX for Math (1)

LordVader717 (888547) | 1 year,17 days | (#43385977)

The funny thing is that Tex is most popular in STEM fields where it's the most frustrating. Yeah, it looks great, but typing that amount of markup for a few lines of equations is hardly efficient. And the only condolence with the layout of graphics is that people almost expect them to look shit.
But when all you're writing is text, the chaptering, the cross-referencing functions and all the add-on packages are perfect.

Re:TeX for Math (3, Insightful)

jd (1658) | 1 year,17 days | (#43385443)

Whereas now, people are still not accustomed to seeing correctly typeset documents and are now completely used to vast numbers of typos, malformed web pages, poor indexing via the semantic web, gratuitous XML, excessively long style sheets, browser incompatibilities, Javascript...

Re:TeX for Math (5, Interesting)

gweihir (88907) | 1 year,17 days | (#43385745)

Indeed. We just decided to move to LaTeX again for all documents that customers do not have the right to edit (most of them). The alternative was Word 2010.

Reasons are far better look, far better to edit, no distractions while edition (MS GUIs suck), can be edited on any OS, .eps capability, svn compatible, easy separation of documents into separate files, etc. Took me 3 days of LaTeX hacking to make the style file and templates match the Word Template, but well worth it, as now it is done and will not surprise us all the time like the toy-level MS Word does.

For stuff that customers do edit, we are stuck with MS trash, unfortunately. But even there we are thinking of writing it in LaTeX first and then move it over with latex2rtf for the final version. Far more efficient.

Re:TeX for Math (4, Insightful)

michael_cain (66650) | 1 year,17 days | (#43385937)

...no distractions while edition (MS GUIs suck)...

At some point there was an internal study at Bell Labs after WYSIWYG word processors were beginning to be available that found most people spent 20% of their time futzing with how the document looked instead of writing. Most of that time was wasted because subsequent changes were going to wipe out whatever the little tweaks had been intended to accomplish.

Interesting that today you can buy programs whose primary purpose is to blank all of your display except for a green-on-black mono-spaced text window. Sold as an aid for professional writers who need to pound out umpteen pages of text per day, so need to avoid interruptions and distractions while composing.

Re:TeX for Math (4, Informative)

gtall (79522) | 1 year,17 days | (#43385903)

I just gave a talk for management. One fellow remarked on the quality of my slides and didn't think they were done using PP. Yep, I said, they are Latex (Beamer), and I can cut and paste from my papers. Using PP for math will make you go blind.

Re:TeX for Math (1)

fermion (181285) | 1 year,17 days | (#43385955)

I recently saw a set of open access textbooks and it was clear they were not set in Latex. The layout made it very hard to read. When I made the comment no one seemed to understand what I was saying, which was that MS Word is not anything you want to use to write a text book.

Too many professors still seem to think MS Word, which is approaching 30 years old, and still too buggy to use, is the go to tool for writing. It is true that anyone who is around 40 or younger probably was trained to do this. What is unfortunate is that it does not seem that the current generation of students are being trained on LaTex. I mean, who cares what font you use in a research document. LaTex has all the templates for all the research journals prefab. Is there some reason we have to mix presentation with writing? If the Mac has brought one pestulance to society, it is the mixing of content and presentation. I don't really blame the mac. That really did not mixed until MS Word became the go to tool for writing memos.

Back to the point. LaTex is superior not only because it is superior at presentation, but also because it produces open plain text documents. When writing a book that is 'open source' even ODF is not good enough. It is like distributed compiled binaries for code and calling it open source. This, is, in a nutshell, why LaTeX rocks.

Wrong Font For Program Name (4, Funny)

Freshly Exhumed (105597) | 1 year,17 days | (#43384707)

Oh dear oh dear, I hope Donald Knuth doesn't see that Slashdot doesn't seem to allow the correct METAFONT for displaying the program name! Pissing off Donald Knuth would be like kicking the Dalai Lama.

Is it possible to represent it in it's proper format via this version of Slashcode?

Re:Wrong Font For Program Name (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,17 days | (#43384771)

What a strange thing to ask of a website that refuses to allow non-ASCII characters in 2013.

Re:Wrong Font For Program Name (1)

larry bagina (561269) | 1 year,17 days | (#43385145)

some non-ASCII characters are supported...


Re:Wrong Font For Program Name (2)

K. S. Kyosuke (729550) | 1 year,17 days | (#43385283)

Well, it was decided early on that there are many Perl people who might want to post Perl snippets in comments, so the inclusion of these characters was a no-brainer. Also observe how the APL people got snubbed. I blame it on the Perl folks' jealousy.

Re:Wrong Font For Program Name (3, Informative)

mark-t (151149) | 1 year,17 days | (#43384787)

Knuth doesn't seem to be too bothered by the fact that his program is rendered in standard ascii characters as 'TeX', rather than how the name is typeset in his books, since his very own home page [stanford.edu] seems to do likewise.

Re:Wrong Font For Program Name (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,17 days | (#43385521)

Knuth is a typography connoisseur not a typography fanatic !

Re:Wrong Font For Program Name (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,17 days | (#43385597)

Typography with ripe-fruit aromas of plum and strawberry. Bright fruit and acidity, with hints of strawberry, raspberry and dark cherry on the palate. Soft and inviting texture with a long finish.

Re:Wrong Font For Program Name (1)

fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) | 1 year,17 days | (#43385343)

Pissing off Donald Knuth would be like kicking the Dalai Lama.

So extremely disrespectful; but violence against somebody who would have to step severely out of character to respond in kind? Sounds low-risk...

Old tech, and limited (3, Interesting)

Okian Warrior (537106) | 1 year,17 days | (#43384781)

I just recently reviewed the landscape of document writing systems for a client.

TeX (and LaTeX, and such) are a fine choice for specific purposes. There's a lot of functionality, it's robust and widely used. If you're writing a journal submission paper, it's a good choice.

The publishing landscape has changed. There are now many more [wikipedia.org] types of document (help files, web pages, books, articles, owner's manuals, laws, contracts) that people want to write, and the TeX family is inconvenient for many of them.

XML is a more comprehensive document content specification. It easily covers all of the common document types (including those for which the TeX family is useful) and is extensible in a straightforward manner.

As a specific example, DocBook [docbook.org] (a specific XML scheme) covers all cases where TeX is useful, and many more. An XML processing system can convert to any presentation format (HTML, XHTML, PDF, Microsoft Help, Text), and it's straightforward to build converters for new formats.

(There are also other XML schemas [wikipedia.org] .)

The drawback of DocBook and XML in general is that installation is a nightmare. So far, there's no "one package install" that gets the author up and running. XML processing is a series of steps, with each step served by one of several open source packages. The author must choose and install software for each step, usually without any indication which is best for his purposes. This only needs to be done once, though. (For open source - paid software packages have this sorted out.)

(For example, see how long it takes you to install DocBook 5.x on a windows system.)

The TeX family is a good choice, but if you're not already using it consider learning a more recent solution.

Re:Old tech, and limited (4, Insightful)

retchdog (1319261) | 1 year,17 days | (#43385005)

structure is one thing, output is another. show me some docbook-rendered math that doesn't suck.

Re:Old tech, and limited (0)

retchdog (1319261) | 1 year,17 days | (#43385221)

Oh, wait, I just looked it up. Docbook doesn't have math elements! To include math, you can passthrough either MathML or ... wait for it ... LaTeX code.

Hilarious. You're an idiot.

Re:Old tech, and limited (1)

djfreestyler (2579333) | 1 year,17 days | (#43385183)

There are several problems with XML in this context though. For starters, writing anything based on XML by hand sucks. Not that TeX is perfect, but it is quite a bit more pleasant to write than XML.

Furthermore, XML based things like DocBook only solve a few - if any - of the issues outlined in the article, since they are only a way to describe content and structure. It is still up to whatever engine you use to convert things to PDF or another "reading" format. And this is also where these solutions fall short, since most of these engines are nowhere near as advanced as the TeX engines when it comes to generating actual documents. In fact, they are usually converted to HTML. I have yet to see an HTML engine that handles hyphenation, ligatures, justicfication and similar typesetting related topics anywhere close to what TeX engines do.

Something else mentioned in the article is programming within the document. This is an area where TeX really is not all that great, but at the same time it is yet another item where XML is worse. If you have ever done anything like XSLT you will know that simple if/then/else constructs can get very large very quickly. The solution in general seems to be to embed another language within your document - JavaScript being the obvious option there. However, as LuaTeX proves, that solution is really not exclusive to XML.

Re:Old tech, and limited (1)

K. S. Kyosuke (729550) | 1 year,17 days | (#43385441)

I have yet to see an HTML engine that handles hyphenation, ligatures, justicfication and similar typesetting related topics anywhere close to what TeX engines do.

PrinceXML not advanced enough for you?

Re:Old tech, and limited (1)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,17 days | (#43385485)

It is still up to whatever engine you use to convert things to PDF or another "reading" format

In other words, the whole drive to separate content from presentation ended up being an excuse for consultants to write thousands of dollars' worth of XSLT, while Frame's .MIF (SGML + awesomesauce) has been around for 30 years and nobody pays it any attention. It just works.

Re:Old tech, and limited (1)

goose-incarnated (1145029) | 1 year,17 days | (#43385277)

Yes, because XML with the appropriate schema is a great replacement for typesetting!

This might come as a surprise to you, but XML is one of the worst designed structure control systems ever to come out of a committee ... and considering all the other crap committee's routinely come up with, that's really saying something.

Re:Old tech, and limited (1)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,17 days | (#43385303)

TeX is a system for typesetting documents. XML is a system for describing the structure of documents.

These are not the same thing. They are barely even comparable.

Re:Old tech, and limited (3)

jd (1658) | 1 year,17 days | (#43385739)

TeX has control elements for describing structure, since structure is a key part of typesetting. Since these elements are macros, they're programmable, although not truly abstract as in XML. About the only thing I can think of that XML can do for document structure that TeX cannot is out-of-order elements, and I'd argue that out-of-order is incompatible with structure.

In database terminology, XML is a key-data pair system. The data can be anywhere in the XML file and you need some sort of key to know where it is and/or when you've found it. (Since XML is not organized, you can't do random access to get at the key. You have to load it in and organize it, in which case it isn't XML, or you have to sequentially search it.)

TeX is a semi-sequential structure, with relationship links between specialized data tables. Again in database terms, it's a set of batch sequential files with crude but useful support for concrete data association. Because it's batch sequential, real-time usage gets hairy. Big deal. Those in the middle of writing should be concerned with the writing. It would be nice if editors had better error-detection, but it's not usually that critical.

Re:Old tech, and limited (1)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,17 days | (#43385507)

  As a specific example, DocBook [docbook.org] (a specific XML scheme) covers all cases where TeX is useful...

This has to be the most well-written, totally incorrect statement I've seen all year.

Re:Old tech, and limited (2)

colinrichardday (768814) | 1 year,17 days | (#43385643)

There are now many more [wikipedia.org] types of document (help files, web pages, books, articles, owner's manuals, laws, contracts) that people want to write, and the TeX family is inconvenient for many of them.

I'll grant you that (La)TeX makes for lousy web pages, but books and articles? Is XML that much better for contracts and owner's manuals?

Re:Old tech, and limited (3, Informative)

jd (1658) | 1 year,17 days | (#43385659)

Never had any problem writing books in LaTeX. The main difficulty has been in deciding whether I want a modern or medieval structure.

Docbook, on the other hand, I hated. I helped with the writing of a few chapters of the Linux Advanced Traffic Control book, which was abandoned in part because Docbook was such a disgusting system.

XML is useless for typesetting. It's not really that useful for organizing anything - you'll have used XML-driven databases, but you'll have never used an XML-driven database that had any performance or serious functionality. (LaTeX doesn't do databases, either, but it doesn't pretend to. It has external engines for databases, which are actually quite nice.)

Web pages? Never had any problem embedding HTML in LaTeX. In fact, I have very very rarely found ANY document style to be LaTeX-incompatible. Load up the correct document type, load up the appropriate stylesheets and you're good. Yes, spiral text is hard. Yes, embedding HDR images can be a pain. Yes, alpha blending isn't that hot. But how often do you use any of these for owner's manuals or contracts?

There are more table classes than I'd really like, and some of the style coding is scruffy, but I challenge anyone to find a genuine, common document type that LaTeX* cannot do as well as or better than any non-TeX wordprocessor, DTP solution or XML-based system. (Non-TeX means you can't compare TeX with Scientific Word, TeXmacs or any other engine that uses TeX behind the scenes.)

(To make it absolutely clear, "as well as or better than" can refer to any one or more parameters. So if I get better-quality output, that's better than. If I can achieve comparable results with cleaner, easier-to-maintain syntax, that's also better than. To win, your solution has to not merely equal but actually exceed what I can do on EVERY parameter, or you have failed to demonstrate something that supercedes.)

A bitcoin to anyone who can do this.

*I am including all dialects of LaTeX here, so LuaLaTeX, PDFTeX, etc, are all things I can consider on my side, as are all WYSIWYG and WYSIWYM editors, Metapost, supplemental services, style sheets, etc. Since this is versus a specific alternative, anything comparable for that specific alternative is fair game for you to use, but you can't mix in other alternatives. It has to be one versus the complete TeX family if you want to prove your point.

so old it must be replaced... (5, Funny)

smoothnorman (1670542) | 1 year,17 days | (#43384819)

nothing that old can possibly be relevant anymore (cf "trust no one over 30"). it should be replaced with something more responsive to a one-hand touch interface abbrev friendly imho. math, a central theme in TeX, no longer has any relevance to the modern world (just ask any millionaire agile scrum extreme php programmer). any remaining bits of math are done entirely by app; the vestigial remnants of the usefulness of "math" can only be found in the interjections of animated characters. only a tiny ancient dying breed of tenured academics (and i suspect *europeans*) would ever seek typography beyond the standards of MSWord. page layout was forever perfected by expensive per seat layout software around 1996 and requires no more changes. markup languages are <b>too</b> hard to learn. anything that requires a compiling phase has gone the way of C++. the world is better now as everything old and outmoded quickly recedes. sine-die.

Re:so old it must be replaced... (1, Flamebait)

asshole felcher (2655639) | 1 year,17 days | (#43384905)

TeX isn't a markup language. It's a programming language (and not a particularly nice one at that). You're not writing an article or a letter, you're writing a program which compiles to a dvi object file.

Re:so old it must be replaced... (1)

inglorion_on_the_net (1965514) | 1 year,17 days | (#43385051)

Flamebait? That post is funny!

Re:so old it must be replaced... (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,17 days | (#43385163)

Flamebait? That post is funny!

No, it isn't. period. And I'm 54.

Re:so old it must be replaced... (1)

smoothnorman (1670542) | 1 year,17 days | (#43385229)

it was indeed a feckless attempt at satire by someone who is very grateful to have TeX to write and manage his technical publications (and is also 54, and so now old and useless) i do apologize for its lack of "funny".

Re:so old it must be replaced... (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,17 days | (#43385401)

Sounds like Irish politely asking understanding! Accepted. I'ts not your fault me being old fart.

What about pictures? (4, Insightful)

TechyImmigrant (175943) | 1 year,17 days | (#43384923)

TFA doesn't address the extreme crapitude of embedding pictures in Tex. I could drive myself to drink converting everything to EPS, or poorly scalable bitmaps before embedding them, but I don't want to.

The issues of imperfect typesetting are not the barrier to entry for potential TeX users. Picture embedding is.

Re:What about pictures? (2)

Hamburg (2890317) | 1 year,17 days | (#43385013)

Embedding of PDF images is supported, so scalable. And most formats can be converted to PDF, there are even easy-to-use PDF file printer if a program doesn't directly support it. No need to convert to a bitmap format. Bitmaps are supported, but I would use that only if the image is already a bitmap. And you can embed it floating, for automatically optimized page breaking.

Re:What about pictures? (2)

retchdog (1319261) | 1 year,17 days | (#43385025)

pdflatex can accept basically anything other than EPS. yeah, including graphics is still a major pain, but converting to EPS is not typically a problem.

Re:What about pictures? (1)

TechyImmigrant (175943) | 1 year,17 days | (#43385383)

Converting to EPS is typically a problem when converting from the tools I find in front of me at work. E.G. Visio. Visio is bloody great for technical diagrams. Nothing comes close. But the EPS output looks like it's been through a 4-year-old-crayon-drawing filter. They have no incentive to make it easy to move away from "insert object->visio".

My document writing productivity would drop to 10% of what it is today if I had to draw arrowheads to scale in Inkscape rather than use my smartshape templates in Visio. The benefits of form/content separation, automated typesetting and easy text-file source code management do not compensate for the drawing tools integration and the lack thereof.

I can use Tex and LaTex. I appreciate the benefits compared to say Word or openoffice but when it comes to drawing the innards of chips I'm designing (like what I do on a daily basis), the fluidity of drawing is the most important issue. Every three or four years, I run this one up the pole to see if I can get by with LaTex and the related tools, but I fail. If I wrote math papers, it wouldn't be a problem, but I don't, I design chips.

Re:What about pictures? (1)

retchdog (1319261) | 1 year,17 days | (#43385471)

Well, yeah, TeX isn't ideal for that, and it's not really meant to be. It could be adapted for it, or at least have a wrapper written, but I guess no one is interested in doing so.

PDF has some support for scalable graphics. Can you export to PDF and use that in the latex file?

Re:What about pictures? (1)

twistedcubic (577194) | 1 year,17 days | (#43385887)

I don't know if this is comparable, but I use Metapost for drawing graphs and diagrams. Actually, I draw diagrams long-hand on graph paper, with coordinates labeled, and code it up in Metapost. Even my 3D diagrams look really nice. The EPS output is scalable and can be included directly in TeX (or LaTeX) documents.

People tell me drawing diagrams long-hand first is too much trouble, but it really is the "secret sauce" for me. Also, Metapost is incredibly powerful once you dig in. I think it is ideal for technical drawings. The language is simple and powerful.

Re:What about pictures? (1)

ssam (2723487) | 1 year,17 days | (#43385533)

i never understood the "anything other than EPS". it would be nice it accepted a superset of what plain latex supported. (i would also like it to support svg. it would make my makefile simpler).

Re:What about pictures? (1)

gweihir (88907) | 1 year,17 days | (#43385761)

Depends on your quality requirements. In a high-quality environment, pictures will be .eps in the first place.

Re:What about pictures? (1)

twistedcubic (577194) | 1 year,17 days | (#43386061)

Depends on your quality requirements. In a high-quality environment, pictures will be .eps in the first place.


Re:What about pictures? (2)

jd (1658) | 1 year,17 days | (#43385767)

Think it's graphicsx. One of the packages, anyways, lets you include PNGs, JPGs, etc. No problem. I include graphics all the time with LaTeX, very few of which are EPS. True, graphics import isn't as clean as I'd like (it's a bugger to remember all the different nuances of each type of graphics format you can use and through which package you need to use it with).

I also don't like the fact that vector images require you to master Asymptote, Metapost and an armful of other systems. This can - and should - be massively cleaned up.

So, whilst I agree that TeX has crappy image handling, it's not nearly as bad as you depict.

Re:What about pictures? (1)

gtall (79522) | 1 year,17 days | (#43385961)

Depends on the pictures. I tend to use pgf with Latex, I might have to fight a bit to get the picture to come out correctly, but for what I need, it beats using a draw program.

TeX Sucks (1)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,17 days | (#43384955)

TeX works fine until you try to use it with more than just text. The second you try to add any images or floats it becomes retarded it does stupid things like put images in wrong chapters, makes large areas of blank space, renders text overlapping with images, etc...

Re:TeX Sucks (1)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,17 days | (#43385231)

  The second you try to add any images or floats it becomes retarded it does stupid things like put images in wrong chapters, makes large areas of blank space, renders text overlapping with images, etc...

No, TeX does not do this. LaTeX does this, and it is a pain in the ass. I only mention this because EVERYONE says TeX when they really mean LaTeX. TeX is to LaTex as C is to C++. LaTeX is supposed to make TeX easy to use, but what it does is prevent you from doing really, really basic, obvious stuff.

The last command-line word processor (1, Insightful)

Animats (122034) | 1 year,17 days | (#43385039)

I always thought of TeX as the last gasp of the RUNOFF/nroff/troff/ditroff line of document preparation; the last of the command-line oriented word processors. Having had access to Interleaf [wikipedia.org] from 1985. TeX seemed so retro. (Interleaf was like Microsoft Word for Sun workstations. It was very early, very good, and very expensive.) TeX still had a compile-run-debug workflow, and without a graphic display, you had to run a hard copy on something like an electrostatic printer or a daisy wheel printer to check the results. Then you could go to the phototypesetting machine.

Once everybody got an interactive display good enough to view the output of TeX, formatting via macro calls was obsolete. Which is why almost everybody uses something like Microsoft Word now.

Re:The last command-line word processor (3, Interesting)

PhamNguyen (2695929) | 1 year,17 days | (#43385285)

I agree, the need to compile is a big time sink. Hunting for a missing brace or dollar is just horrible. I and many people I know (all long time users of LaTeX) switched to using LyX and only exporting to LaTeX for the final formatting (e.g. using a journal's style guide). Unfortunately there is no quick fix for LaTeX: the power of the language means that gui's like LyX can only deal with a subset of the language, and yet this power is necessary in order to allow for all the packages that LaTeX supports (and especially to support existing packages).

Re:The last command-line word processor (1)

colinrichardday (768814) | 1 year,17 days | (#43385503)

Hunting for a missing brace or dollar is just horrible

If you use a syntax-highlighting text editor, a missing dollar sign is pretty obvious.

Re:The last command-line word processor (1)

PhamNguyen (2695929) | 1 year,17 days | (#43385851)

I use TexShop and it isn't obvious at all. Which editors are you referring to? Emacs and Vim come with their own learning curve. Can you suggest an editor which is easy to use, has syntax highlighting for tex, and has built in tex support? If not, I think LyX is a better solution for most people.

Re:The last command-line word processor (1)

colinrichardday (768814) | 1 year,17 days | (#43385945)

I use emacs. You can simply type in it without much instruction.

Gedit and KWrite also have syntax highlighting for TeX. I don't know if they're available for Mac.

Re:The last command-line word processor (1)

gtall (79522) | 1 year,17 days | (#43385993)

You do know that in Texshop you can double click on a brace and it will hilite all the way to the matching brace. Also, when you type an closing brace, it hilites all the way up to the previous brace. Maybe you are using an old copy of TeXShop, my version is 2.47.

Re:The last command-line word processor (1)

K. S. Kyosuke (729550) | 1 year,17 days | (#43385403)

You seem to be completely ignoring XSL:FO, Lout, Skribe, and Ant. (And I'm sure there are more like these.)

Document archiving. (2)

Robert Frazier (17363) | 1 year,17 days | (#43385579)

I use LaTeX for almost everything from articles to memos, and have been doing so since the late 1980s. Last year I needed to print part of my dissertation, which is from 1990. With my current system, using a modern version of LaTeX, but including the special macros I used for the dissertation, it formatted the same in 2012 as it did in 1990. Try that with MSWord. :)

In addition, having text files with macros certainly makes storage/searching/organizing much easier. The files compress well, and searches, etc., can be done using standard tools such as grep.

Best wishes,

Re:The last command-line word processor (1)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,17 days | (#43385601)

The problem with WYSIWYG editors like Microsoft word is that the rendering has to play nice with user input. Elements of a document must move as little as possible when user gives input, so the end result is dependant on looking good while being typed, which is irrelevant when using the finished document. The structure of the documents is also very vulnerable to minor floating point differences; a document can break horribly if something minor changes.

And does Word still use that justification that manipulates only spaces between words instead of individual letters? The end result can quite easily be horrible. Considering that and whatever else there is, the result from Latex simply looks much better than something from Word. That might not matter in your everyday context, but when you want to make a good impression, Latex can be a much better choice.

Re:The last command-line word processor (3, Informative)

dfghjk (711126) | 1 year,17 days | (#43385715)

"TeX still had a compile-run-debug workflow, and without a graphic display, you had to run a hard copy on something like an electrostatic printer or a daisy wheel printer to check the results."

When TeX was new, "a graphic display" was common and there were many previewers available pre-1.0. The idea that anyone previewed work on a daisy wheel printer is absolutely ludicrous. Never happened and would be useless.

"Then you could go to the phototypesetting machine."

No, you would go to screen previewer, then a laser printer, and then only to a phototypesetter if you were publishing. You sound like someone who didn't use TeX in those days.

"Once everybody got an interactive display good enough to view the output of TeX..."

You mean like a PC in 1985? Seriously, you pretend to be a historian but you aren't one. I, on the other hand, cowrote one of the first PC TeX previewers, in...1985. I am actually familiar with how these tools were used then, and it's clear you weren't a TeX user. As an Interleaf user, it seems you were the type privileged by limitless company money. Not many even had access to a machine capable of running Interleaf in those days. In my next job I worked with someone who was an Interleaf fan and who had the clout to get the company to buy him, and only him, a seat. He liked it, no one else used it or really even got to see its output, and TeX worked well at zero cost.

Many consider "compile-run-debug" to be an advantage but perhaps not since it became trendy to call that a "workflow". What-You-See-Is-All-You-Get.

What in the world is "mouth/stomach separation"? (1)

mejustme (900516) | 1 year,17 days | (#43385041)

> and overcoming the the mouth/stomach separation

Can someone please explain what "mouth/stomach separation" means?

Re:What in the world is "mouth/stomach separation" (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,17 days | (#43385245)

You have to read the beginning of the TeXbook.

Re:What in the world is "mouth/stomach separation" (3, Informative)

asshole felcher (2655639) | 1 year,17 days | (#43385265)

It's sort of like C where you have a preprocessor ("mouth") which does macro expansion and text replacement and then the actual compiler ("stomach").

Quoting this [www.ntg.nl] paper:

The usable programming language has to consist of both parts [mouth and stomach] because the assignment capabilities of the stomach are needed in order to define macro definitions and to read or write text, i.e., to produce an output. The mouth is necessary for all tasks that needs an iterative application or a recombination of input tokens. TEXâ(TM)s stomach uses the macro processor for almost all commands to scan the command arguments. Additionally, while scanning the arguments of many stomach commands, such as \write, \edef, count or dimension register assignments, all tokens are expanded. Thus stomach operations are not allowed in these places, leading to the problem of fragile commands in moving arguments. This is partly taken care of with LATEXâ(TM)s \protect.

Re:What in the world is "mouth/stomach separation" (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,17 days | (#43385555)

It means that the contents of your stomach should not return to your mouth when you work with TeX, as it does now.

still the best (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,17 days | (#43385191)

Note: When TeX was first released, Jimmy Carter was president.

And books were created thousands of years ago, yet we still use these antiquated instruments. Personally, I still find plain TeX useful for all my typesetting needs.

The biggest issue is old, dead modules (2, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,17 days | (#43385193)

If you're trying to learn LaTeX, the biggest barrier is that you'll do a search and find tutorials that recommend using old, broken modules. Then you'll change something and wonder "WTF does LaTeX not ever work?!"

It's a great idea, if LaTeX is behaving mysteriously, to use nag and l2tabu, and especially ChkLatex to flag typos and mistakes \macro word. (The macro will eat the whitespace before word, either \macro{} word or \macro\ word is what you meant.) It's also best to stick with only packages in TeXLive.

But always, always before you use a package, find it on CTAN and make sure you've got the latest and greatest, and check the docs that there's not some disclaimer like, "by the way, this package is only here for compatibility, please use package X."

they messed up the ligatures (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,17 days | (#43385227)

in the HTML version of TFA:

more specifically


more speci[0xff]cally

TeX has intentionally horrible formatting (1, Funny)

r00t (33219) | 1 year,17 days | (#43385627)

Hyphens and perfect justification are great when you want to replicate the unreadability of a newspaper from a century ago.

When you actually want something readable that doesn't look like shit, you need to stop it with the stupid stunts. Screwing with the kerning is not acceptable. Splitting words is not acceptable. You shouldn't even be splitting phrases or clauses onto different lines, and preferably not even sentences.

Yes, I'm sure you can disable the hyphenation and justification crap. (right...?) You shouldn't be able to enable it. These "features" are one of two major reasons why TeX documents normally look like crap, the other reason being the horrible Computer Modern font.

Re:TeX has intentionally horrible formatting (1)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,17 days | (#43385691)

I'm guessing you don't know anything about typesetting do you? It's precisely for readability that such things are done. And yes, two lines of code and you can turn those off. I'd highly suggest reading Bringhurst on Elements of Typographical Style.

Re:TeX has intentionally horrible formatting (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,17 days | (#43385927)

Excellent recomendation. Bringhurst knows his typography.

Re:TeX has intentionally horrible formatting (1)

Required Snark (1702878) | 1 year,17 days | (#43385863)

Wow, so the universe does revolve around what you think is the proper way to do things. I wondered who was in charge, and it's nice that you've let mere mortals in on the secret.

I assume that you've never seen a red light stopping your progress, you've never got stuck in a traffic jam, they always have you size when you go shopping, you're never late, no one has ever kept you waiting, and your shit doesn't stink.

Grow up, you puerile fool. Your opinion has all the gravitas of a fart.

mixed feelings (4, Insightful)

ssam (2723487) | 1 year,17 days | (#43385649)

while i have written a thesis in latex, and could not imagine using anything else for papers, i still get frustrated by it.
* any problem is solvable with enough searching online, but the solutions are often like magic. for example i often have figure filenames like "x2.3_y3.4.pdf" latex gives a weird message, search around and eventually you find a forum thread that tells you to put some extra arguments in the includegraphics call, or if you are lucky you might find a mention of the grffile package. in all the years of using it I have never built up an intuition for solving these issue (by comparison programming and linux pretty much make sense to me).
* multiple ways of doing things. should i use \begin{center} or {\centering text text tex}. probably they both work fine, but each of them breaks something else in some obscure case.
* why are some things \command{text text text}, some {\command text text text} and some \begin{command}. compare with XML/SGML where everything is achieved with nesting tags.
* can the output be cleaned up? when i run pdflatex i get several screen-fulls of messages. really it should be showing me errors and optionally warnings.
* the interactive mode when it hits an error. i am sure there is nothing productive i can do in that shell. why is it so hard to get out of. why is -halt-on-error not default?
* why do i have to run pdflatex twice? why can't it figure out if a reference has changed? latexmk (or a good makefile) helps, but it took me years to find it.

Re:mixed feelings (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,17 days | (#43385967)

*wrapping text in an enumerate or itemize environment around a floating image?

Re:mixed feelings (1)

gtall (79522) | 1 year,17 days | (#43386031)

Part of your problem is using Latex in Linux, I've never found a good editor/display combo for Linux. On a Mac, TexLive2012 and TeXShop makes a lot of your problems go away. And do try to learn the difference between TeX and LaTeX, it would make a lot of your confusion go away.

the main event (1)

bcrowell (177657) | 1 year,17 days | (#43385923)

TFA seems to focus mainly on esoteric typesetting tweaks being worked on in the LaTeX 3 engine. That's cool for people who care a lot about rivers of whitespace in their documents, but there are other things going on in the tex world that I would consider to be more the main event.

Tex predates unicode, postscript and PDF, and modern font formats. There are now versions of tex such as xetex and luatex [stackexchange.com] that accept utf-8 input, generate PDF output directly, and can use whatever fonts you have on your system rather than special-purpose fonts packaged for use with tex. Luatex allows lua to be used as an extension language, which is a great idea considering how much tex sucks as a general-purpose programming language.

The other thing to realize about tex is that today it's the de facto standard input format that people use for creating mathml (since mathml itself is much too cumbersome for humans to write directly). There are technologies like mathjax that support this and that allow mathml to be displayed even in IE, which has never had standards-compliant mathml support.

Old timers (2)

michael_cain (66650) | 1 year,17 days | (#43386027)

Fun to see just how many of the people that jump on a discussion like this one have 4- and 5-digit user numbers :^)
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