[texhax] learning tex vs latex
pierre.mackay at comcast.net
Wed Oct 28 06:35:59 CET 2009
On 10/27/2009 07:30 PM, Alan T Litchfield wrote:
> Your time, if considering only those two options, would be better
> spent learning LaTeX. IMHO but YMMV.
Alan Litchfield gave you one answer, which is the one most often
offered. I have for years disagreed.
LaTeX, which began as a clone of Brian Reid's Scribe based on the TeX
typesetting engine (this is not always acknowledged, but is obvious from
the terminology) has metastasized into a collection of often
well-designed routines, which are accessible only through a sort of C++
syntax that I, for one, but not the only one, find bewildering. LaTeX
commands ofter run you through 5 or more parameters that I simply have
not the patience to deal with. My basic problem with LaTeX is that it
has a genius for making simple things complex, and does so at every
It is nonsense to speak of LaTeX as developing, while TeX is not. LaTeX
is a macro package built on top of TeX. It can not "develop" in the
sense of altering the basic engine, because Donald Knuth has taken great
care to ensure archival compatibility for all input files that ever ran
in TeX3. If a package requires something that cannot be run in the
basic TeX3 engine, it may not be called TeX.
The fine tuning that is possible in a macro package based on plain TeX
may be possible in LaTeX, but LaTeX, for its own protection, shuts off
many avenues for such fine tuning, or at best, disguises them so
thoroughly that you will have real difficulty discovering how to walk
The model for LaTeX has become the "black box", all too like Microsoft.
Because it is released under GPL or similar provisions, the basic source
code is always available, and that is a very good thing, but I have used
plain TeX since 1984, and written pages of routines to do finely
adjusted formating which I use for publication in academic journals, and
it is not clear to me that the documentation model for LaTeX is
seriously better than the comments in my macro package.
I can rarely understand what LaTeX docs are saying, owing to the C++
syntax that runs throughout them.
If you are satisfied with LaTeX formating, you should probably go with
it. I think it is often slovenly, and though I am assured that, since
LaTeX is ultimately built on top of plain TeX, it would be possible to
get rid of the slovenliness, I have never thought that I had the time to
put into that.
Finally, the advantage of plain.tex over LaTeX is that you remain in
control. With LaTeX, you are left in a position that is far too like
what Microsoft Word offers you: "We know better than you do what you
want"---again with the important proviso that you are always free to
read all the source macros of LaTeX, but that is never the case for the
source code of Word.
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