alternatives to the concept of a page, Gutenberg press vs LCD screen

Reinhard Kotucha reinhard.kotucha at
Fri Aug 30 00:56:27 CEST 2019

On 2019-08-29 at 20:10:51 +0100, Peter Flynn wrote:

 > On 29/08/2019 10:12, Mike Marchywka wrote:

 > > All the dvi language and generally latex and typesetting seems
 > > stuck on the idea of "setting" fixed pages that may as well be
 > > images like jpeg. HTML and I guess PDF can be more flexible in
 > > how they are viewed

 > I don't think many people use DVI any more: PDF has been the
 > default for many years. TeX *IS* a typesetting program, so it's not
 > unreasonable to expect it to set type in a fixed way Ñ but PDF can
 > always be read and indexed and converted to plain text (so can DVI,
 > but rarely done).
 > LaTeX can be converted to HTML (eg Pandoc) but that's going
 > backwards: the optimal workflow is to create XML or HTML, and then
 > generate LaTeX from that, which I *much* more reliable. But HTML
 > does not have the formatting scope of LaTeX, so it depends on your
 > application.
 > > (this is for ignoring things like data entry by user, just cases
 > > where a publisher wants to publish a specific document or work
 > > for a reader and options for the viewer to nagivate). Someone
 > > here indicated that companies like this approach as they know
 > > what the document will look like when the viewer gets it
 > Yes, most publishers treat appearance as the single most important
 > thing, because they believe their reputation is based on appearance
 > rather than content. They are convinced that they need to control
 > appearance first, before anything else. They are wrong, of course,
 > but changing their minds is VERY DIFFICULT.

Dear Peter,
IMO appearence is still the most important thing.  I'm not willing to
buy an e-book reader for exactly this reason.  Technology is by far
not advanced enough to make e-books a serious replacement for printed

The limitations of current hardware lead to huge fonts and thus very
few words per line.  What I've seen so far looked like typeset with
Microsoft Word and hyphenation turned off.  I've never seen math
formulas yet but suppose that they aren't supported properly either.

Once displays get better (higher resolution, color) e-books will be
able to display high quality PDF files with the same quality as
printed books, and of course, page by page.  I'm convinced that this
will happen in the near future because it's highly desirable to
preserve all the achievements made by typographers within the last 500
years.  At least if publishers are not told that appearence is less
important.  Technology advances faster if there is a demand. 

In this respect I'm convinced that HTML is a big step backwards and
can only be regarded as an interim solution for the time being.  The
reason is that currently there is no HTML rendering engine which can
reproduce the same quality as TeX and probably will never be.

Even if re-flowing of page contents is required, HTML is not the best
choice either.  At TUG-2005 (14 years ago!) someone had a modified
Xdvi viewer with a slider which allowed to change \hsize on the fly.
This worked fluently though whenever the slider was moved, TeX had to
compile the whole page.  Of course, TeX was also modified so that it
worked as a server and only the content of a single page had to be
processed.  This was state-of-the-art 14 years ago.

Maybe the conversion to HTML is a more or less reasonable workaround
for the time being in order to support existing e-book hardware but
it's nothing one want to use in the future.

We don't get properly typeset books (or e-books) in the future if
we convince publishers now that appearence is less important only
because we have crude target devices in mind which will disappear in
the near future anyway (like gramophone records, audio tapes and
cassettes, DAT recorders, floppy disks, ...).  There are way too many
publishers today who don't care about appearence at all.

All this doesn't mean that content markup isn't important.  It's at
least required in order to support visually impaired readers and I
think that TeX still lags behind in this area.


Reinhard Kotucha                            Phone: +49-511-3373112
Marschnerstr. 25
D-30167 Hannover                    mailto:reinhard.kotucha at

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