[texworks] Beginners' needs (was: Lua scripting)

David J. Perry hospes.primus at verizon.net
Wed Jun 17 02:13:08 CEST 2009

I have been working hard for not quite a year now at learning Xe(La)TeX, 
using TeXworks all the while. I've read with interest the threads about Lua 
and other proposals for expanding TeXworks.  I'm not a programmer, so I 
can't express an opinion about those things directly.  I would like to offer 
the following thoughts.  This email is a bit long, but I really like 
TeXworks and want to see it flourish, so I'll go ahead.

1. Do keep it simple (uncluttered GUI) and do keep the beginner's needs in 

2. I think TeXworks acutally _needs_ only three enhancements (as opposed 
things that are nice, fun, cool but not essential).

3. In fact, I think TeXworks works so well that I'd like to see the official 
version 1 sooner rather than later.  This would let more people try it. 
(BTW: thanks to Alain for those Windows binaries.  I do a lot of computer 
related stuff, but have no interest in buildling software!)

4. The three enhancements that I think are truly needed include:
a. a better manual and/or integrated help system
b. the ability to print source code (for debugging this is sometimes 
convenient) as well as the PDF output
c. improved help with errors

Let me say a little about each of these.  I single out these things because 
I think they speak particularly to the needs of beginners.

a. The manual that Alain wrote does a fine job of teaching people how to 
actually use the TeXworks front end.  True beginners need some additional 
information to get them started in the TeX world.  One example: it took me a 
while to understand the differences between the various "dialects" of TeX, 
which is obviously a very important piece of information; until you 
understand that you have no idea what those options in the Typesetting 
dialog are all about.  I'm not suggesting that we duplicate material that is 
already available to actually learn all the details of LaTeX, but rather 
provide enough help to get folks started on the right path.  If you look at 
the first part of the tutorial that I wrote about XeTeX you can see the kind 
of thing I have in mind (http://www.scholarsfonts.net; revised version due 
out in a few days, BTW).  And I would be happy to help with revisions to the 
manual.  It is also possible to write a software manual in such a way that 
it can be broken down into chunks and made into a help system within the 
software--two for the price of one (well, more like one and a half).  But 
that's a more long-term project.  One thing that might be more easily 
implemented would be to have a list of reputable TeX FAQs, tutorials, etc.; 
clicking on one would open a browser window and take the user right 
there--sort of like the "email the mailing list" buttton that's in place 
now, but for web sites.

b. Printing is not specific to the needs of beginners, but not being able to 
print screams "I am a very young piece of software" as well as being 
inconvenient. Despite being a non-programmer, I suspect that adding printing 
is not a simple task, given the three operating systems that need to be 
supported; so I do not make this request lightly.  If printing won't come 
soon, would it be possible to provide a more graceful way to handle the 
"broken pipe error" that results when I open my PDF in Acrobat to print and 
then forget to close it before I recompile after making more edits?  I do 
that fairly often . . . and it might confuse beginners.

c. We all know that the errors in TeX are frustrating, and particularly so 
for beginners.  I noticed on Jonathan's TeXworks page at TUG that improved 
help with errors was in the pipeline for post-version 1, and this is 
probably realistic, given the complexity of the task.  I mention it only 
because I think it is one of the enhancements that are truly needed, but I 
understand it won't be here tomorrow.  But it is more important for 
beginners than some of the other slick stuff that might get added.  In the 
meantime, one suggestion: I find that if I enlarge the error log in order to 
debug, then I don't have much space left to view the source code.  Could we 
give users the option of having the log on the right (on top of or in place 
of the PDF)?  Perhaps one could right-click and select the option to move 
the log to the right (if it's below the source) or move it back to the lower 
left (if it is on the right side).

In short, I'd like to see version 1 soon, hopefully with printing, possibly 
with links to sites for help; subsequent vesions with better help with 
errors and an integrated help system.

Best wishes,

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