[texhax] (no subject)

Michael Barr barr at barrs.org
Fri Jun 6 22:11:31 CEST 2003

>Date: Fri, 6 Jun 2003 17:46:00 +0100
>From: Chris Rowley <C.A.Rowley at open.ac.uk>
>Subject: Re: [texhax] TeX and friends
>To: texhax at tug.org
>Message-ID: <16096.50504.110411.762390 at fell.open.ac.uk>
>Content-Type: text/plain; charset=us-ascii
>Karl Berry wrote --
>> As testimony, here we all still are talking about his
>> program *and using it*, 25 years later, in a computing world so
>> different from 1978.  And it is still going strong.  The fact that he
>> was able to devise something that has had such longevity is, to me,
>> truly amazing.
>The pity for us now is that he was not trying to provide something
>either so universal or so long-lasting: at first it was just for mim
>and his secretary to get a few books done; then it became something to
>tide over the AMS until something better was developed (at most 10
>years was the estimate for this to happen ... and, despite the evidence
>then available, it still was by 1988 in some parts of the AMS!!)
>This is not to distract from all the good ideas and superb algorithms
>he and his students produced and refined; but they were for a totally
>totally different purpose and a different generation of everything,
>including people!

I am right now involved in a project to republish an important PhD thesis
from 1967 that was typed on a manual (European) typewriter that lacked
such amentities as separate 0 and 1 keys (to make room for accents).  It
has been retyped in tex and now will look almost like letterpress.  I
started to muse about where we would be in typesetting now without Knuth
and tex.  I guess we would be using Word, with equation editors,
struggling to somehow make some of the unusual characters we use, maybe
drawing commutative diagrams by hand and putting up with output that,
truth to tell, is closer to that of that old typewriter than to what we
can get out of tex.  So even with its flaws, I could happily use it for
another 25 years (should I live so long).  If it is superceded, it will be
by something like Omega, which is still going to owe its most important
ideas to tex.  Not least of Knuth's contributions is that of making his
program public (not only public, but he went to considerable effort to
make it as accessible as possible).  Contrast this with the various
proprietary programs floating around.

So even if tex isn't perfect, it is so much better than the alternative
that it isn't even worth discussing.

Michael Barr

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