[OS X TeX] Imposing Latex on authors of articles

Charilaos Skiadas cskiadas at gmail.com
Wed Feb 27 03:12:36 CET 2008

I agree with all the comments so far, but there are a couple of  
things that have not been mentioned that to me make LaTeX infinitely  
better to Word. At the danger of repeating what others have already  
mentioned, I'll recap some of the conclusions:

1) Plain Text, Open format. Means the document will be around for  
ever and ever. Nothing and noone can stop you from reading it.
2) Portability: The source looks the same in all platforms. The  
output looks the same in all platforms.
3) Flexibility: Stems from the separation between content and  
presentation. Advantages similar to HTML+CSS. You can focus on your   
content, and worry about the presentation later, in a consistent  
manner. Section headings are just that, they are not "bold 14pt  
whatnot". Easy to adjust documents to editor's requests. Case in  
point: I'm working on a 400 page book, which will resurface in later  
points, and was using a certain custom document class. The publisher  
sent me their style file, and I just \includepackage'd it, and  
suddenly my 400 page document matched the specifications from the  
publisher, with almost minimal work required by myself.
4) Reliable numbering of equations, sections, cross-references etc. I  
don't see how anyone could live without it.
5) The ability to use a text editor, i.e. an application designed to  
maximize your performance at writing text. (for example,  
autocompletion of reference labels)
6) Immense power: If it can't be done in LaTeX, it can't be done.
7) Superb typography: If you care about how your document looks like,  
then there's no contest.
8) Speed: Once you become familiar with it, being able to type math  
formulas without having to remove your hands from the keyboard is a  
considerable speed boost.

And now for some of the things I didn't see quite mentioned:
9) Good looking justified text. LaTeX actually gets the justification  
right. Unless I am mistaken, the algorithm that LaTeX uses to decide  
how it will adjust the spacing between any two letters, any two words  
etc so that justified text looks right and has almost no word breaks  
was what earned one of Knuth's students their Ph. D. (I would love to  
be corrected/verified on that). The fact that Word  gets this wrong  
has resulted in many people using (and being content with) non- 
justified text, their argument being that you can't get justified  
text to look right. Well, *in Word* you can't.
10) Works with revision control systems. For me this is a biggie. The  
book I am working on is a 14 chapter monster, with about 400 images.  
Leaving aside the sheer size of the resulting word document, and  
consequently the fact that it crashed my father's computer/corrupted  
itself more than once when it was still in Word, any such project has  
two key aspects:
a) You need to know what has happened when and to be able to compare  
different version of your document in time
b) You need to able to collaborate with other people, and communicate  
your changes. Ideally, both parties should be able to work on the  
same document at the same time.

The above two are possible when you combine LaTeX's plain text format  
with a revision control system(RCS), like Subversion, along with the  
wonderful latex-diff tool. Subversion (any RCS really), allows you  
easily to see what has changed in all 14 chapters (different files)  
of your document in the last, say, 2 weeks, and latex-diff allows the  
creation of a pdf file that has the all differences very clearly  
presented. And this WITHOUT me having to document the changes: I just  
change the document, and when needed ask Subversion+latex-diff to  
show me what is different between the current version of the document  
and previous versions. I don't see how collaboration is possible  
without this.

As for the second item, the two people can work on different portions  
of the same document, and when they're done commit their changes to  
Subversion, which then simply merges the two documents. This can be  
done in plain text documents, but not in the kind of document that  
Word produces. Again, I don't see how this could be done otherwise.  
Last summer, three of us were working on a paper for PracTeX (http:// 
www.tug.org/pracjourn/2007-3/skiadas-svn), me in Chicago, the second  
author in Norway and the third in France. We were all working on the  
same document simultaneously, and produced the final result in 3  
days, using Subversion and Assembla. At the same time, our production  
editor was also making changes. Altogether we made more than 140  
commits in 3 days, all in the same file. There wasn't a single  
conflict. I shudder to think how this would have been possible by  
passing files and emails around instead of using a subversion  
repository, especially given the vastly different time zones and the  
time restrictions we were under.

11) BibTeX. What can I say? The ability to flexibly and quickly  
customize how the bibliography a)looks at the end of a document, and  
b) is referenced in the text, is indispensable. And again,  
autocompletion of cite keys is essential.

12) Maintainability. This was sort of mentioned. It is much easier to  
adjust/edit the LaTeX document, especially since text editors are  
very good at that. But a couple of items of particular interest:
a) Ability to search and replace in all equations. Suppose you  
decided that you did not want \phi but instead \varphi in the 600 or  
so equations in your manuscript. In Word you have to change those  
manually. In LaTeX it is a simple search and replace that would  
probably take less than two minutes.
b) Ability to search and replace with regular expressions. This  
allows a number of sweet things that I will not get into right now.
c) Macros: The ability to give new, meaningful, names to particular  
parts of a math formula. This can save time in typing, make changes  
later consistent and so on. For instance one of the things I always  
do is define a command for \frac{\partial #1}{\partial #2}. But there  
are probably tons of other examples. For instance, you decide how you  
want the questions section at the end of each chapter to look like,  
and create a custom environment for that. It is easy to customize  
this environment later on, and it will change in every place it has to.

13) Automatic creation of TOCs, TOFs, indexes etc.
14) pgf/Tikz, and Beamer, not necessarily in that order. Enough said.

I could probably go on and on, but I probably better stop.
Haris Skiadas
Department of Mathematics and Computer Science
Hanover College

On Feb 26, 2008, at 6:10 PM, Alain Schremmer wrote:

> On Feb 26, 2008, at 9:58 AM, ludwik kowalski wrote:
>> I am a new subscriber. About a week ago I successfully downloaded  
>> and installed Latex software on my new iMac.  Then I started to  
>> learn how to program in Latex language. So far I complied only  
>> several short input files. What follows is an extract from notes I  
>> am composing for myself. Do you agree with my observations? If not  
>> then why not?
> Others have discussed your observations and I agree with them. I  
> only wish to bring the point of view of one who, three years ago,  
> was exactly at the point you are and who is now engaged in a  
> massive piece of work.
> 1) Yes, LaTeX can be a royal pain and not only to beginners. Just  
> read the archives of this list.
> 2) Yes, I wish that some front end could be developed that would  
> make LaTeX feel like a word processor. But I tried LyX at the  
> beginning and it didn't feel good for me. And that would probably  
> cripple LaTeX, something I still don't understand but have come to  
> believe. See E) i. below.
> So, why am I still using LaTeX and not about to change?
> A) To begin with, I found MS Word's user friendliness to wear very  
> thin very quickly and to be very limiting, not to mention that it  
> once lost me several chapters of a "large document"—back ups  
> included. (It felt as if Word corrupted the document as it was  
> saving it so that the backups were corrupted too.)
> B) LaTeX is non-proprietary and I put my stuff on the web under a  
> GNU Free Document License which requires non-proprietary media.
> C) Neo Office can't do one hundredth of what LaTeX does, is WAY too  
> unstable and, anyhow, not likely to survive any better than Word  
> and countless other word processors in the long run.
> D) LaTeX does allow me to concentrate on what I am writing and to  
> focus on the formatting I want but I feel I don't have to bother  
> with certain aspects, e.g. fonts, chapter headings etc. The way I  
> look at it, if anyone wants to change the look of what I write or  
> clean it—they are welcome to do it —LaTeX makes it relatively easy  
> while I doubt it could at all be done with a word processor.
> E) Two points that the heavy weights who responded to you didn't  
> mention:
> 	i. whatever the problem you have (e.g. multiple choice exams),  
> there is always a way to solve it in LaTeX because it is infinitely  
> flexible while, almost by definition, a word processor has only a  
> finite number of things it can do, and
> 	ii. whenever you cannot find yourself the way to do it in LaTeX,  
> there is always someone on this list who will bail you out.
> Finally, and strangely enough, aside from the times LaTeX  
> infuriates me, I have grown actually to like writing in it, a  
> feeling I never had in fifteen years with Word.
> Regards
> --schremmer

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