Journal home page
General information
Submit an item
Download style files
Contact us
logo for The PracTeX Journal TUG logo

Ask Nelly:
     What do I do with the 2 CDs and 1 DVD from TUG?;
     How can I condense math matrices?;
     Can you explain the different TeX font formats?;
     How can I make PowerPoint slides with LaTeX?

The Editors

Ask Nelly is a question and answer column. Nelly is the quiet person who sits at the back corner desk, who knows a lot, and when asked any question is always ready with a patient answer. If Nelly doesn't know the answer, Nelly will know an expert who has the answer. Feel free to Ask Nelly about any aspect of LaTeX, TeX, Context, etc.

Q:  Early this year I received a mailer from the TeX Users Group containing two CDs and one DVD. What do I do with it?

A:  Those discs make up the TeX Collection. For a general summary, see TeX Collection. Here are some details:

  1. The proTeXt CD is a TeX distribution for Windows, based on MiKTeX (if you don't know what MiKTeX is, don't worry about it). Use this if you are installing TeX for the first time on a Windows machine; or if you want to upgrade an existing MiKTeX installation. For more info, see proTeXt.
  2. The TeX Live CD is a TeX distribution for Unix (including MacOSX, GNU/Linux, and more). Use this if you are installing TeX for the first time on a Unix machine; or if you want to upgrade an existing TeX Live installation; or if you want to share an installation between Unix and Windows clients. For more info, see TeX Live.

    Many GNU/Linux systems come with TeX packages based on teTeX. The TeX Live installation process will not make any attempt to analyze any such existing installations. Therefore, if you want to use TeX Live, you should install it in a completely separate directory; TeX Live cannot just be "plugged in" as a replacement for teTeX. The TeX Live documentation and web pages describe all this in detail.

    Advanced topic: TeX Live also includes all the TeX programs for Windows, but it has no native installer. You can download and use a command-line installer to get it done; see TeX Live for Windows.

  3. The DVD contains both proTeXt and TeX Live. Use this if your computer has a DVD reader and you want to run the distribution (either proTeXt for Windows or TeX Live) without actually installing it to disk. Each distribution has its own instructions for how that actually works.

    You can also use the DVD to install to hard disk, of course, if you have a DVD drive and prefer to use it. If you don't know if you have a DVD drive or not, I suggest using one of the CD's.

    Advanced topic: the DVD also contains a snapshot of CTAN, the TeX archive network; if you're not familiar with it, see CTAN. If you later find that you need a TeX package or font that was not included in the distribution, and you don't have convenient network access, you might be able to find it here.

In all cases, I highly recommend installing "all" packages, if you have sufficient space. It will use a gigabyte or so. By the standards of modern disks, that is not much, and it will save you the endless hassle of installing packages you find you need later.

This question was answered by Karl Berry. Karl is the co-editor of TeX Live with Sebastian Rahtz, and wrote some of the core software for Unix-based TeX. He's currently the president of the TeX Users Group. Feel free to email him at


Q:  Donald Knuth did a great job designing a system that produces beautiful equations. But sometimes more practical issues arise. Knuth's mathematical typesetting is TOO FAT! The typeset mathematical expressions are too wide.

In articles (and a book I am working on) I have many matrices that are three to six or more columns wide, and each entry or element in the matrix is wide. I have to split each element onto two to four lines, and many matrices must additionally be split into two parts. The result is difficult to read. If there were narrower math fonts (like sometimes used for text columns) and smaller spacing between symbols I could reduce some of the stacking that I have to do.

Are there narrower math fonts (I use MathTimeProfessional fonts) and easy ways to adjust symbol spacing?

A:  Saying that TeX's typeset mathematical expressions are too wide is a strange way of putting things, but it is an interesting question how one can handle wide matrices.

[See the attached PDF file for details of these methods.]

  1. One possibility, of course, is to typeset the entries of the matrix in scriptstyle.
  2. A second possibility is to eliminate the extra spacing that goes around binary operators and relations, etc.
  3. The third solution is the most interesting, and the most radical. If the matrix doesn't fit on the page, even with extra spacing removed, then one is indeed going to pine for narrower symbols. The MathTimeProfessional fonts don't have another set with narrower symbols (and they aren't going to get one!), and I suspect that other font sets don't either. Nevertheless one can still get a condensed matrix in the following way.
    1. Create a file containing only the matrix. Typeset it and save it as an EPS file.
    2. In your document file, load the EPS file and condense it horizontally.
    3. Use this image in place of the displayed math.

This question was answered by Michael Spivak who writes: I am a computer innocent who, through a series of historical accidents, ended up writing the amstex macro package, and a font design innocent who, through desperation for fonts that I was willing to use for my Calculus and Differential Geometry books, ended up designing the MathTime Professional fonts. It is a sobering reflection that these activities seem to have occupied a significant amount of my time during the last 20-25 years.

I often find it interesting to answer challenging questions about using TeX for typesetting. However, a severe allergy to LaTeX dictates that my solutions be couched in plain tex, though presumably any well-versed LaTeXophile will be able to supply a translation. If you have suggestions about new symbols, or other special effects, that you would like to see in the MathTime Professional fonts, that would also be interesting.

He can be reached at mailto and


Q:  I hear about various font types: computer modern, type 1, true type, etc. I'd love to see a short summary of the major types of fonts with brief descriptions of how they are different and how these differences matter to TeX users.

A:  Ah, fonts. The mysterious black box of TeX.

As far as TeX the processor is concerned, it only needs to know some size information for each font, which is contained in a TeX Font Metric (TFM) file. For each character or symbol ('glyph') in the font, the TFM file contains: its height, width, and depth (how much it descends below the baseline); kerning information, the non-standard spacing between a glyph and others glyphs in the font -- for example, 'T' followed by 'y' looks better if the 'y' is moved closer to the 'T'; and ligatures, optional characters that are used when two glyphs appear together -- for example, in some fonts 'f' followed by 'l' is replaced by the character 'fl'. The TFM also contains information about the font as a whole -- for example, the nominal interword spacing.

TeX could not care less what the glyphs actually look like. TeX produces a DVI (DeVice Independent) file that contains information about what glyphs and other objects go where on a page. Driver programs then interpret the DVI file, produce the glyphs for display or print, and place the glyphs at a precise location on the page. xdvi is one such program for screen display; dvips is another, for PostScript printers. Originally, many of these drivers used Metafont (a character drawing program designed by Donald Knuth) to produce bitmaps in the target resolution of the output device; say, 72 or 96 dpi (dots per inch) for screen display, or 300 or 600 dpi for laser printer printing.

So, as for the fonts themselves, distinct from the metric information TeX requires, broadly, there are (1) bitmap fonts and (2) outline fonts.

  1. Bitmap fonts. TeX was originally designed for use with bitmap fonts designed in and made by Metafont. The Computer Modern family is the best known and most widely used of these. In the beginning, of course, TeX was a one-trick pony, and Computer Modern was the trick---but it was some trick!

    Then came PostScript, and life suddenly became both simpler and more complicated.

    Tom Rokicki wrote dvips, which has proved to be an extraordinarily robust DVI to PostScript converter. At first, dvips merely converted the Metafont bitmaps of Computer Modern into Type 3 bitmapped PostScript.

  2. Outline fonts.

    (a) Type 1 PostScript fonts
    Computer Modern bitmaps were fine, but a demand grew for using the new Type 1 Postscript fonts with TeX, like Times or Palatino. The Type 1 format stores information about the outline of the glyph's shape. It is resolution independent. Rasterization (conversion into pixels for printing or display) occurs at the device level. Because this rendering needs to be done quickly, the Type 1 format is a restricted subset of PostScript (there are many sources on the Web explaining the difference between Type 1 and Type 3 fonts; the interested reader is directed to those resources). dvips and other PostScript TeX drivers then incorporated the ability to (partially) embed the actual PostScript fonts into the PostScript files they were generating. Map files are used to associate the TFMs TeX uses for typesetting with the PostScript fonts used for printing. Eventually, Computer Modern itself was released in Type 1 format. Most modern TeX systems now come preconfigured to use the Type 1 rather than the Metafont versions of Computer Modern.

    (b) TrueType fonts
    Another outline font format that emerged was TrueType. Depending on the application you are using, TrueType fonts can either be converted to PostScript Type 1s or used natively. The TeXLive distribution comes with many tools for manipulating TrueType fonts for use with TeX.

    (c) OpenType fonts
    OpenType fonts are a marriage of Type 1 and TrueType, with advanced typographic features and support for Unicode.

To summarize: there are two major kinds of fonts that TeX uses---bitmap and outline. Computer Modern, the default font family in TeX, is available in both flavors. OpenType, with its potential for access to advanced typographic features, is an exciting format for the future.

Don't get me started about fonts for math. Or font encodings. That's for another day.

This question was answered by Steve Grathwohl. Steve is a developer of digital content for Duke University Press. He began fooling around with TeX in the late 1980s and, aided and abetted by Duke, is still doing so. Steve is the local host for Practical TeX 2005 in Chapel Hill, NC this coming summer. Contact him at mailto


Q:  I just returned from a conference. I was the only one I saw using transparencies (produced by the slides format). Most other presentations were done using PowerPoint. Is there any way to get LaTeX manuscripts into PowerPoint?

A:  The best way is to import your document into Word. TeX2Word can be used to open the document in Word and then you can use all the usual Office tools. The simplest would be to Copy-Paste the document from Word to PowerPoint.

This question was answered by Kirill A. Chikrii, Chikrii Softlab R&D, Kiev, Ukraine, developer of TeX2Word and Word2TeX. You may contact him at

[LaTeX does a nice job of making slide presentations with the beamer, prosper, and other packages. For example, see Tristan Miller's article on making LaTeX slides in this issue. It's also possible that the PowerPoint presenters at the questioner's conference may have wondered how he made such nice slides! -Ed.]


Answers to Distractions

1. The word is "typewriter." A "typewriter" is a device used by the ancient peoples of the known world to reproduce letters.

2. Two choices here, either "deadlines" (deadliness) or "timelines" (timeliness).

See other Jon Carroll Xmas Quizzes.


Page generated June 9, 2010 ; TUG home page; search; contact webmaster.