[OS X TeX] An article about LaTeX and word processors
amorton at fastmail.fm
Fri Feb 3 00:56:44 CET 2017
> Like many of you, I’m sure, I’ve used MS Word many times in the past (I worked for a while in an all-PC office). My experience caused me to learn to avoid MS Word. MSWord is not even on my MacBook Pro; I use Pages for some documents when necessary. At one point in my career, the contract I was working on required me to write a long, complex technical report using MS Word. I rebelled and convinced the sponsor to accept LaTeX, which I used thereafter.
While I haven’t seen any of the prior criticism of this paper (in PLoS One, so minimally reviewed), the flaws are pretty clear just from a skim read.
The experimental environment is contrived, to say the least. People were given half an hour to reproduce one page of what we used to call “camera ready copy” based on an unfamiliar style guide. Of course in LaTeX this means first fiddling round to get the correct detail formatting of headings, tables and so on. In Word you just rejig the font sizes, table column widths and turn borders on or off, which for a one-page document is easy - you’re not faced with doing it over and over for all the 50 headings and 20 tables across an entire document.
After all, the whole point with LaTeX is you do the hard work once to sort out your document style (or more often, just grab the style template from a publisher) and then write all your texts with the template sorting out the formatting niceties for you. The efficiency comes from replicating the style beautifully across multiple documents, and across multiple sections and tables within the one document, with hardly any further work. A one-off exercise based on a single page in an unfamiliar style is guaranteed to show LaTeX in the worst possible light.
Nonetheless, despite the setup being stacked against LaTeX, it still allowed people to demonstrate higher productivity as soon as mathematics enters the picture - the results for LaTeX were superior to Word on the text that included equations. Of course, that’s why people much more readily acknowledge the utility of LaTeX for mathematical writing than for production of well-formatted texts in general.
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