# [texhax] Plain vs. Latex

Michael Barr barr at math.mcgill.ca
Wed Oct 28 12:54:35 CET 2009

I would like to add my 2c to what Pierre MacKay and others have said.
Let me begin by pointing out that nearly all of plain can also be used in
latex.  There are exceptions, but not many and mostly not important and
you can always add them to your own file of macros.  This is not true of
amslatex, incidentally, which has gone to a lot of trouble to make it
quite difficult, although not impossible, to use plain macros.  I don't
understand their philosophy, but then that was why I quit the organization
40 years ago.

If you look at my papers, they are nominally latex (and indeed the journal
I do the tex editing for accepts on latex), but you see plenty of what is
obviously plain tex in them.  For example, I detest the
(the latter doesn't even exist in latex) and latex never complains.  I
generally avoid using \begin{xxx} and \end{xxx} pairs, although sometimes
the replacement \xxx, \endxxx don't work the same and I have never
understood why.  I hate the multiply nested braces that latex
recommends (but doesn't enforce) and use braces only when necessary.  My
diagram macros (and indeed the xy-pic they are based on) run fine in both
plain and latex.  Although it would probably be possible to program them
in orthodox latex, it would be much harder and why bother?

Someone was asking about a package to do memorandums in latex when he had
a macro package in plain tex that worked.  Not one respondent thought to
suggest that he try to just include the plain package--it would likely
work fine.  Sometimes, I get criticized in my postings because I use \def
in latex or do some other non-orthodox thing.  As though latex were a
religion, not a tool.

There are certainly things that latex does well.  Things like setting up
the first page of a paper are easy in latex.  Font handling, once you get
past the woeful documentation is much easier and I use nothing else.
Things like lists are well-done and I use them.

Incidentally, I have always made sure I keep a copy of Lamport's original
latex package as it provides an awful lot of useful documentation that
latex 2e, for all its advantages, does not provide.  Latex 2e has a
priesthood and woe betide someone who wants to figure it out for himself.
(Okay, I exaggerate.)  Incidentally, I once had a bit of correspondence
with Leslie Lamport and he certainly approved of how I was mixing plain
and latex.

Another advantage to learning both plain and latex is that you will then
get and use The TeXBook and actually learn something of the innards of
tex.

I have had intimations that latex 3 will go to some lengths to leave plain
definitely behind.  It will leave me behind too.

Michael