[OS X TeX] R, paradigm to bring into the LaTeX world?

Simon Spiegel simon at simifilm.ch
Sun Oct 22 16:24:38 CEST 2006

On 22.10.2006, at 15:43, Denis Chabot wrote:

> Hi,
> Many posts have been written lately about LaTeX Lite and in general  
> more user-friendly LaTeX. I am in the unfortunate position of  
> having to use Word most of the time because of the necessity to  
> often, almost daily, exchange documents with colleagues, all using  
> Word. Already I am a (lucky) black sheep, being the only Mac user  
> in the group. This sometimes creates problems with illustrations  
> (despite all the Microsoft bragging about 100% compatibility  
> between Word on both platforms).
> Often here and in the LaTeX sites in general, it is assumed WYSIWYG  
> users do not write structured documents and switching to LaTeX will  
> bring them into this mode of writing. It is not true of me: as soon  
> as Word offered styles, I started using them for every document.  
> When the outlining mode came about, I often switched to this as  
> well. Yet I'd gladly to without Word if it was not for my  
> colleagues because Word has become way too huge, complex, and buggy  
> (the optimum version has been 5, around 1990, if I remember well).  
> How often do I add or move a figure in my list of figures  
> (typically on a separate page at the end of a document in a  
> scientific article), and half of references to figures in my  
> document are changed from "(Figure X)" to (Figure X Relationship  
> between length and mass of...)", i.e. Word starts adding the legend  
> to the label and figure number. Fixing this requires killing the  
> reference and inserting it again. If you want figures in the  
> document instead of at the end, you are constantly fighting Word as  
> to where it will end (with no final answer, Microsoft knows better  
> than you and moves them around from day to day).
> Thus I like that in LaTeX things work as expected. On the negative  
> side, especially when you may be forced not to use it for a few  
> months, it is difficult to remember what some of the switches  
> you've used do from one time to the next. And although I can write  
> and let LaTex do the formatting (bliss), other times I spend hours  
> trying to figure out how to obtain a relatively minor change which  
> would have been easily done in a WYSIWYG environment (styles are  
> easily edited). Especially if this requires getting a new package  
> installed.
> Maybe I should have tried LyX a bit longer, but I did not quite  
> like its interface, and I like the idea of more "universality" of  
> straight LaTeX files (I just wish more journals in my field, marine  
> biology, accepted LaTeX manuscripts).
> But I can think of one way LaTeX would be a bit more user friendly.  
> I don't think it is up to the people on this Mac list to make it  
> happen, it would have to be a more generic effort. I'd like LaTeX  
> (and especially LaTeX frontends like TeXShop  to behave more like  
> the open source R statistical system does.
> http://cran.r-project.org/
> A basic installation of R (there is one for each of the main OS)  
> includes the "base" R and a good selection of the most often used/ 
> requested packages. But you can easily view the available packages  
> and install them. Especially if you use a frontend (in my case a  
> Mac R.app): a menu allows you to look at which packages you have  
> installed on your computer (and at the same time view the  
> documentation for them). Another one allows you to go to CRAN and  
> view which packages are available, either as binary for your own  
> platform or as source which the frontend will compile for you). You  
> can see if you have the latest version. You can update if you  
> don't, or install any number of new packages you want. You can  
> select if you want them installed for all users or for your account  
> only. This makes it quite a bit easier to see what's available that  
> might solve a particular need.
> I do not know if the lack of this way of doing things in LaTeX is  
> due to a greater difficulty in execution because of differences  
> between LaTeX and R, or simply because it has not occurred to  
> people it would be "a good thing". More likely I suppose, since  
> nobody is paid, it is the result of lack of time or synergy between  
> volunteers to implement such a system.
> But it seems to me it would be a good move. Anybody else has found  
> this a good idea in R? Do you think it would also be nice in LaTeX?

I don't know R, but it seems what you describe is similar to what  
MikTeX and (partly) TCO browser. MikTeX on Windows has a graphical  
interface where you can download and install packages, it informs you  
about updates and dependencies and manages your local tree. The  
binaries (not the UI) have even been ported to OSX and are, AFAIK,  
used productively by members of this list. Now, personally, I would  
welcome such a user interface for the Mac, and in the best of worlds  
it would be integrated into the i-installer so that all installations  
would be managed from one place.

The problems as I see them (and I might be wrong in some points,  
people please correct me):

- Someone has to do it.
- AFAIK MikTeX uses its own distribution and doesn't take its  
packages directly from CTAN or TL. This means that MikTeX is often  
slower in adapting updates.
- Since LaTeX is used by the geekier computer users, this is a  
problem. Some people (like me) always want to be up to date, others  
(like Rowland) want to configure the last bit of their systems and  
so. Of course, this is no reason, not to do this, but it may explain,  
why there isn't too much effort here.

IMO, the best (= most user friendly) solution would be a MikTeX-like  
package manager, integrated into i-installer which directly draws its  
packages from CTAN. This is probably not doable currently, since CTAN  
knows nothing about the dependencies of its packages, but IMO it's  
certainly something desirable. Of course, we always end up with point  
1: Someone actually has to do it.


Simon Spiegel
Steinhaldenstr. 50
8002 Zürich

Telephon: ++41 44 451 5334
Mobophon: ++41 76 459 60 39


"Was soll aus mir mal werden, wenn ich mal nicht mehr bin?" Robert  

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