LaTeX, MS Word, asking questions, LyX (was Re: [OS X TeX] 1/2" margins)

Jeffrey Weimer weimerj at
Fri Oct 13 19:29:31 CEST 2006

On Oct 13, 2006, at 7:10 AM, Claus Gerhardt wrote:

> I have to defend latex (tex). The basics of  latex are not hard to  
> learn: after two weeks of reading George Grätzer's "Math into  
> Latex" and some typing, one should be able to write (=type) a  
> paper. That stage I would describe as using latex light.
> After a month one should be able to  set the margins to 1/2in by  
> looking in the Latex Companion, look up margin in the index.

I was introduced to TeX/LaTeX back in the 80's when GUI/WYSIWG  
packages were ... non-existent. I work in an environment that demands  
programming skills - the ability to program is essential, if not to  
my survival than at least to my advancement. I recognize that, just  
because a computer tool is "easier to use" does not mean it gives the  
proper or better output.  In this frame of reference, the above  
comment is just a shrug of my shoulders - ok, so I need some time to  
do this the better or proper way, let's go do it.

By comparison, I suspect many people today who want to type a basic  
document do not want the anticipation of needing a month to final  
know how to set document margins to 1/2 inch, let alone the  
understanding that, to do so requires "learning" a sequence of  
programming (ie, "non-GUI") steps.

IMO, this should be the framework of any development of a LaTeX Lite  
program: What functions do a majority of people who type documents  
desire in being able to format and layout their document? What set of  
those desired functions are core to preparing general classes of  
documents? How are those functions currently implemented in LaTex and  
its various input engines? How could the implementation of those  
functions be streamlined/improved from the perspective of the NEXT  
GENERATION of potential USERS?

Coordinating and standardizing the myriad of LaTeX packages that do  
just about the same thing is but one part of this process. Attacking  
the GUI side of the LaTeX input/document output process is, IMO,  
another. I would argue, in this age where the typical computer user  
has never learned or has no real interest in anything beyond GUI/ 
WYSIWYG programs, the latter part of the development will be the real  
"make or break" part of any "lite" version of LaTeX. I would go so  
far as to say, increasing the ratio of (Output Quality) / (Input  
Effort) will be the biggest challenge to survivability of any  
existing or yet to be developed software package, where Input Effort  
is focused on GUI / WYSIWYG / User Intuition factors first and  
foremost. I would also argue, we have reached a point where, for most  
users today, the differences between a document generated by LaTeX  
and one generated by WYSIWYG are .... of no real consequence. The  
message is pervading even in my field where, for example, I now find  
that journals will accept RTF/doc files directly for publication and  
in some cases have no further interest in taking LaTeX files.

Finally, in all of this, the bigger question is, who cares? Are those  
who use LaTeX (myself included) at all interested in doing the  
hypothetical equivalent of market surveys to make their product more  
palatable to the world? Who's ready to do the work to make it happen?

I know my first reaction to the above questions is ... "... well, if  
someone else wants to, I might throw in some stuff if I can ....".  
Loosely translated, this says --- "Hello, thank you for letting me  
join the club. Can I take that beer can to the garbage while I am  
going that way? BTW, where's the food?"

Anyway, these are just my ramblings on a Friday after a long week. I  
am finding the thread informative and enjoyable.

J. J. Weimer, Chemistry / Chemical & Materials Engineering
University of Alabama in Huntsville, MSB 125, 301 Sparkman Dr
Huntsville, AL 35899                phone: 256-824-6954

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