[XeTeX] Request for Participation (RFP)

Neaale Hirsh xnhirsh33 at gmail.com
Thu Dec 4 00:23:11 CET 2008

Request for Participation (RFP)

I have been talking with Will Robertson, author of
fontspec, about the need for a fontspec basic user
manual. "Basic" implies it's intended for users like me
who are still migrating from word processors. We are
used to setting a fixed point size for a default Mac TT font
once per document; we adjust the fonts or font style for
captions, math, headings, etc. In XeTeX and XeLaTeX, we
stumble around until things work, more or less:

\font\"Monaco" at 12 pt                % XeTeX only
\A This is some text                   % XeTeX only

\usepackage[cm-default]{fontspec}       % XeLaTeX only
\defaultfontfeatures{Mapping=tex-text}  % XeLaTeX only
\setmainfont{Times New Roman}           % XeLaTeX only
\documentclass[12pt]{article}           % XeLaTeX only
This is some text                       % XeLaTeX only

The above approaches are not compared in the existing
fontspec user manual, of course, because the readers
don't need it. But I feel certain that the next ex-word-
processor (XWP) person like me will cross the same
territory and he or she will not find much help in the
existing user manual. It wasn't written for XWPs.

To compile a more basic manual, Will suggested that I
ask the XeTeX ML for volunteers to contribute to it. OK,
I'm doing it, but it's weird asking for volunteers from a
group that doesn't need the product. I can't help thinking
of Groucho Marx's line, "I wouldn't join any club that
would have me as a member."

By way of background, I recently obtained XeTeX by
installing TexShop and TeXLive2008. Both execute under
OS X 10.5.5. My Mac now holds several thousand files of
TeX, LaTeX and related programs. Only TeXShop can be
seen by Apple's System Profiler, though. No wonder it's
hard to tell the difference between an installation problem
and a user error.

A fontspec Basic User Manual

A basic user manual introduces fontspec by itemizing its
commands, showing their common groupings, contrasting
them with old ways of doing business, explaining the
types of messages they give, and referring the readers to
a plain language glossary (included). The manual then
walks the reader through the individual commands or
groups, demonstrating each of the above details. It ends by
describing installation and uninstallation, and by making an
effort to describe what could go wrong. Sample messages
are explained. Finally, a glossary of commands-by-
example instead of commands-by-abstraction. No "Unix
man pages" here--they are notoriously unhelpful to

Collaboration Model

This ML is quite handy for announcing progress and
making drafts available for comment. The actual business
of getting organized and having dialogues about the
topics will be done via ordinary email. That's the
collaboration model I'm used to.

Your Examples Needed

Fontspec's original user manual covers everything
possible in 28 pages plus appendices. We're pursuing a
subset of its usage: namely, whatever seems to be basic and
common. We include TT fonts and OT fonts as often as

If you've used fontspec in a way that a newbie might
want to use it, just copy your statements and send them
to me with the PDF output. You also need to explain, in plain
language, what it accomplishes. The explanation becomes
a lookup key for the user.

If you're willing, volunteers are needed to walk the user
through installation and uninstallation. "File1 went here, file2
went there; pay attention to this message . . . Ignore those
messages." It is untapped territory that needs path-breakers.

Will is a member of the group automatically. His role is
whatever he has time for.

Our Friends, xltxtra and xunicode

These packages are natural to you, but they're not natural to
a beginner who chooses one set of problems at a time.

Feel free to invoke these packages in (say) 20% of your
examples. We'll cover the packages eventually, but we need
a success first.

Next Step

If you're interested, send me your name and I'll send you
version 1 of the scope of the manual. Your
contributions will make up version 2. Then a couple of
drafts will follow with requests for comment.

Fontspec is a small package from the user's point of view.
A manual could be produced in a couple of months if people
want it.

Dr. Neale Hirsh
Houston TX
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