typodupeerror

## Modern LaTeX Replacement?918

Posted by kdawson
from the hardly-seems-like-too-much-to-ask dept.
javierzinho writes "For many years I have been using LaTeX to compose scientific documents, but truly I am getting tired of its complexity. You have to install new packages for new features, compatibility issues are everywhere, you need to know commands for everything, table composition is torture, image insertion is an odyssey if you don't have the 'right' format, and you need to be a LaTeX Jedi master to create a new document class. I'm looking for a document processor (not a word processor) that is a viable replacement for LaTeX, possessing all of its advantages — consistency between text and math text, automated cross references, direct PDF creation, etc. — but that is not stuck in the 1980s with the compiler metaphor and weird font technology. An application with visual interface and so on. I've tried Scientific Word and Lyx but both are front-ends for LaTeX. Publicon only produces PDF files by exporting to LaTeX and subsequently using pdflatex. Add-ons for MS-Word are a joke, and webEq is intended for web publishing, not for PDF production. Does anybody know of a decent, scientific-structured document processor that is a modern application?"
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## Modern LaTeX Replacement?

• #### Adobe (Score:5, Informative)

by Anonymous Coward on Monday July 28, 2008 @09:07PM (#24379035)

Framemaker?

• #### Re:Adobe (Score:5, Informative)

on Monday July 28, 2008 @09:25PM (#24379277)
Framemaker is essentially a deprecated product with little further development. All maintenance has been outsourced to India. The UNIX version has gone completely downhill with the most recent versions. The Windows version is still usable, but the GUI is stuck in the 80s with no replacement coming. That said, I think Framemaker is one of the best document creation tools I've ever used.
• #### lout (Score:5, Informative)

by Anonymous Coward on Monday July 28, 2008 @09:12PM (#24379101)

http://lout.wiki.sourceforge.net/FAQ

• #### Top 1% of 1% (Score:5, Insightful)

on Monday July 28, 2008 @09:14PM (#24379133)

Remember, when you're doing highly technical writing like that, you're literally out at [or beyond] the top 1% of 1%.

The sad truth of the matter is that the servicing of highly technical writers just isn't a very big market [and, barring something like artificial manipulation of the genome, will NEVER amount to a very big market], and you're gonna be lucky if anyone bothers to release a product for it.

Heck, we mathies ought to count our lucky stars that Knuth ever took the time to design TeX in the first place.
• #### Re:Top 1% of 1% (Score:4, Interesting)

on Monday July 28, 2008 @11:28PM (#24380457) Homepage
I disagree that the market is that small. Its not large, but 1% of 1% would be too small.
The reason that LaTeX doesn't have the market is because its a programmer's way of typesetting, and Word is 'easier', even if the results are poorer, take more memory and storage and are harder to make changes.

Doing my thesis in LaTeX made the process much easier, but doing things like APA formatting of the bibliography using the classes was more trouble than it should be.

If a replacement does come out, I imagine it will come from the open source side, as, like you said, the market isn't big. Its also the highly technical people both that would be able to write it and would need it, so the encouragement is there.

Also, I agree on the Knuth comment, his contribution was huge and has helped many fields. However TeX, and LaTeX, are stuck in a decade very different to ours when it comes to typesetting.
• #### Re:Top 1% of 1% (Score:5, Insightful)

<2523987012@p[ ].to ['ota' in gap]> on Tuesday July 29, 2008 @12:14AM (#24380787)

The sad truth of the matter is that the servicing of highly technical writers just isn't a very big market

I know bupkis about TeX, but I do know a little about the business of software, and I can think of three things that make it even worse than the market size would indicate.

First, the high end of anything is likely to have a lot of divergence of needs. McDonald's can serve 80% of America with the same products, but you'd never be able to satisfy the top 1%, let alone the top 1% of that, with a single restaurant.

Second, all of those people, given that they are dedicated professionals and masters of their domains, will be very fussy, wanting any program they use to be well tailored to their needs. Look at programmers and the great variety of tools we use, even though the tasks are are pretty similar. So even for the same set of needs, you'd have a hard time making a product that a sufficient chunk of people liked.

And third, since everybody is used to TeX, you need to support a big swathe of what people are used to there to make people happy. Putting a modern face on that isn't easy, or somebody already would have done it.

And a bonus fourth reason: there's no money in it. It's not like most of the people writing science papers are swimming in dough, and they're used to getting TeX for free. Most of the market just wouldn't pay much for a replacement, even a better one.

So yeah, I agree; I wouldn't hold your breath waiting for a good commercial solution, not until it's a cheap mod of some existing technology.

• #### LaTeX does what I need it to do (Score:5, Insightful)

by Anonymous Coward on Monday July 28, 2008 @09:15PM (#24379137)

I find this funny that I just learned LaTeX two weeks ago. I ported my entire thesis over to LaTeX and have had nothing but professional and consistent results.

What's the problem with it, again? It doesn't have a fancy GUI? It works great for me.

• #### Re:LaTeX does what I need it to do (Score:5, Informative)

on Tuesday July 29, 2008 @04:24AM (#24382111) Homepage

Read the original post, he states exactly what his problems are, though I have other issues. My problems with LaTeX include:

Multi-page tables (Using longtables) is buggy. If a specific table cell is higher than the others, it can overflow into the document footer instead of getting moved to the next page.

Inconsistent rendering issues. When setting the background color of table cells, they sometimes change size. Float positioning is usually very good, but when it bugs out and does something stupid, it's nearly impossible to fix.

If you're using BibTex, making lots of references, etc, you need to run TeX four or five times, making it bog slow.

Any non-trivial coding is a pain. I was writing a custom document style, and it had to check if the number of figures was larger than a given number, and if so, insert a list of figures. Shouldn't be so hard, right? Wrong. You need to specify a piece of code to be evaluated at a later time, turns out that doing so is a gargantuan pain in the butt.

Another example: I wanted to write a simple function that took a piece of TeX code and displayed it verbatim, and showed the rendered result as well, side by side. No can do, because TeX has all sorts of weird issues with verbatim environemnts.

There are lots of character set issues. I have still not figured out how to use non-ascii characters in the pdf summary fields for PDFTeX and get them to consistently work.

The language for creating new BibTex styles is so retarded it's not even funny. Basically, you can't do it.

Specifying non-standard fonts is a pain.

• #### Re:LaTeX does what I need it to do (Score:5, Informative)

on Tuesday July 29, 2008 @08:44AM (#24384055)

Having written all my letters, thesis and pretty much everything that I needed to print in LaTeX over the last 8 years I can at least tell you what *my* problems with it are:

• The syntax is really abysmal for tables and many other "advanced" constructs.
• *Exact* placement of images is hard. The desired result can be achieved in most cases but only after you've gone through a painful trial/error process.
• Customizing document classes is a nightmare. Everybody uses the existing and excellent classes (article, letter, etc.) but god forbid you want to adjust your letter-head a bit, insert an image, add page-numbers or something like that. If you want to use LaTeX for anything beyond the available document classes then you're in for a steep learning curve (cf. "Brick Wall").
• PDF export is a hack.
• The "Don't argue with LaTex"-problem. Sometimes I do know better than LaTeX and want to change a margin, avoid a page-wrap or something similarly blasphemous. Sometimes it just works but equally often such a "quickfix" turns into a real adventure.
• Restoring the tool-chain on a new computer can be tedious. Depending on how many of your packages have been (incompatibly) updated or deprecated in the meantime you can easily spend a day or two on getting your more complex documents to render properly again.

Well, despite all these annoyances I'm still using LaTeX. Not because I like it so much but rather because I haven't found an alternative that produces equally excellent output.
On a side-note: I strongly disagree with the people who said that there wouldn't be a market for a "modern LaTeX". I know quite a few people that would immediately jump onto a solution that "just works" (i.e.: one program to install) and uses a sane template language.

• #### The complexity seems worst at first. (Score:5, Interesting)

on Monday July 28, 2008 @09:15PM (#24379147)
I can't help but question the complaints on the complexity. I generally have a repertoire of packages that I use frequently like the ams packages, pstricks for image drawing, beamer for powerpoint-like presentations, and the external program image magic to make pictures the correct format.

Using other packages periodically tends to not have too many conflicts, except when trying to conform to required document classes of certain journals. But the workarounds generally don't take too much time.

I have yet to find something as robust as LaTeX, yet relatively user-friendly. Then again, I've never tried to create my own document class, merely modified what is already there. That always seemed to be the domain of the nuts-and-bolts programmers rather than the people who just want a typsetting language. So my idea of "user-friendly" may be a little skewed.
• #### Re:The complexity seems worst at first. (Score:5, Insightful)

on Monday July 28, 2008 @11:39PM (#24380559) Journal

I can't help but question the complaints on the complexity.

I'm a hard-core TeX user. Not a LaTeX user (sorry, I disagree violently with Leslie Lamport's aesthetics, and the code just isn't solid enough), but a TeX user.

Although TeX may be at times frustrating, there are two things that I know to be true, and provide comfort:

1. Although there may be opacity in the system, logic and rationality pervades its design, so that, given sufficient time and effort, I can understand exactly what, how, and why something works or does not work the way it does. This is huge. I will never, ever, understand many of the operational choices in OpenOffice and Word because they are not based on a rational, logical framework, leading to the impression that they are both horribly idiosyncratic.

2. TeX is bug free. If text isn't laying out the way I want it to, it's because my code is not correct, not because there's some problem with TeX. In contrast, I've lost track of the number of bugs I've seen in OO and Word.

You can, and should, clamor that LaTeX is not bug free. It isn't, and very often the packages distributed for it are riddled with bugs. The IEEE Transactions class is one, embarrassing, example. But then, if you roll your own packages, like me, you have no one else to blame when they don't work correctly, and can take comfort that when they do, you've done a good job and your documents are beautiful.

The biggest problem with any of the WYSIWYG editors I've used (and, having typeset two conference proceedings that solicited contributions in LaTeX and Word, I've seen many and varied instances of this) is that the settings are not explicitly represented in the visible document, and so become hidden and often missed. If you aren't careful, it's very easy to have one paragraph appear in a slightly different font than the next, or to have one stretch of lines be ragged right and the rest be fully justified, or have the hyphenation settings change from one portion of the document to the next. It's horrible, and fixing this is a royal pain. Having explicit formatting within a compiler paradigm is the only way to go when producing professional quality documents.

• #### Modern LaTeX Replacement? (Score:5, Funny)

on Monday July 28, 2008 @09:17PM (#24379181)
PlAsTiC?
• #### Misunderrtanding the problem set (Score:5, Insightful)

<jmorris@beau.oPASCALrg minus language> on Monday July 28, 2008 @09:20PM (#24379217)

Any replacement for LaTeX that intends to do most of the same things is pretty much doomed to be markup language, even if you dump XML pixie dust on it. XML after all is just a horrible human unreadable markup language itself.

So once one accepts that the question simplifies to can LaTeX be replaced with something more usable by humans. First off the font system is purely a legacy thing, since Tex predates pretty much all other currently popular font tech. So could LaTeX be retrofitted to use TrueType for everything? Probably. In a 100% backwards compatible way? Only if a genius pulls a freaking miracle out of his butt.

If someone were to do a total rethink/rewrite, and if said person were a genius on the level with Knuth, then by making use of what we know today a new and better typesetting system could probably be created. Getting everyone to agree on anything else would be the biggest problem.

• #### Re:Misunderrtanding the problem set (Score:5, Informative)

on Monday July 28, 2008 @09:45PM (#24379527)

What sets TeX apart from other formatting systems is that it has a mathematical foundation. At it's core, TeX has a metric for how "good" a document looks and formats it to optimize that metric. Someone who wants to make a better TeX will have to have a thorough understanding of the math behind it (e.g. some "goodness" metrics are known to be NP-hard). See "Knuth-Pass line breaking" for just the tip of the iceberg on this.

So, yes, it will take someone who is a wiz at math, computer science and user interfaces (?) to overthrow TeX.

• #### Re:Misunderrtanding the problem set (Score:5, Informative)

on Monday July 28, 2008 @10:09PM (#24379775)

A quick note for unfortunate souls who actually try googling "Knuth-Pass line breaking", it's Plass, not Pass.

• #### Re:Misunderrtanding the problem set (Score:5, Funny)

on Monday July 28, 2008 @11:09PM (#24380301)

I've heard of two-pass algorithms, and n-pass algorithms, but I can only guess that a "Knuth-pass" algorithm gives you the benefits of an infinite number of passes in only one pass.

Knuth really was a smart guy.

• #### Re:Misunderrtanding the problem set (Score:5, Interesting)

on Monday July 28, 2008 @10:58PM (#24380235) Homepage Journal

[disclaimer: I am the main author of LilyPond, a system that you could easiest describe as "LaTeX" for music notation]

The problem is not with TeX. Knuth is mostly as brilliant as people say he is. The problem is that

1. the extension infrastructure of TeX is very outdated (WTF, a macro expansion language?)

2. the development ecosystem around TeX is filled with souls that are of lesser stature than Knuth. They're mostly people that need to write mathematics (physicists. mathematicians), as opposed to people that know how write software.

LilyPond back in the day used TeX as a backend engine, and I vividly recall all of the brokenness I encountered in the support-tools that surround TeX (dvips, xdvi, etc. etc.). Things have gotten a lot better now that we have pdflatex - it cuts a whole truckload of crappy tools out of the document pipeline.

Font handling remains atrocious. In case you're wondering: someone was bright enough to base parts of the fontsystem on the DOS 8.3 restriction, so URWGothicL-Demi is and will be called uagd8a forever inside TeX -and worse- if you have to add a modern (OTF, TTF) font, you have run scripts to make LaTeX's font subsystem understand these files in terms of the ridiculous naming scheme.

People get hung up over TeX's beautiful formatting algorithms, but they are not actually that complicated, and by todays' standards TeX is a small program: tex.web is just 25k lines, and that includes its ample comments. LilyPond has page layouting and line breaking that is far more complex.

The real problem with typography, whether for music or documents, is that it's full of traditions that predate automatic processing, and are not specially suited to computerizing. For example, in some language words change their spelling/typography when they get hyphenated (eg. the German eszet letter which hyphenates to s-s).

IMO The challenge is designing the software such that these idiosyncrasies can be captured effectively without hardcoding them, so people can create their own idiosyncrasies.

As for the original poster's question, the system that looked the most convincing to me is Lout, but I have never tried it out.

• #### Re:Misunderrtanding the problem set (Score:4, Insightful)

on Monday July 28, 2008 @09:50PM (#24379575) Homepage Journal

If someone were to do a total rethink/rewrite, and if said person were a genius on the level with Knuth, then by making use of what we know today a new and better typesetting system could probably be created. Getting everyone to agree on anything else would be the biggest problem.

* Emphasis mine.

One of the biggest problems here is that, for such a system to exist, it would have to be created by a hypergenius. A hypergenius that could not only exceed Knuth (Knuth, for Bob's sake!), but do it without resting on the established highest technology in the field (i.e. TeX and packages built around it). Now, there's certainly room for more friendly programs built around this incredibly solid core, but I think a full ditch-and-rewrite is pretty much off the books.

• #### Re:Misundertanding the problem set (Score:5, Insightful)

on Monday July 28, 2008 @11:30PM (#24380475) Journal

A hypergenius that could not only exceed Knuth (Knuth, for Bob's sake!), but do it without resting on the established highest technology in the field (i.e. TeX and packages built around it)

I don't know about that. I think a more ordinary genius could do it, simply because they have the wisdom of Knuth plus others to build from, even if they reject the technical base of LaTeX, but incorporate the ideas and theories behind it.

Still, it would be quite an achievement, and I still agree with you that a full-on replacement is unlikely in the foreseeable future.

• #### Re:Misunderrtanding the problem set (Score:5, Informative)

<manas@tungaLAPLACEre.name minus math_god> on Monday July 28, 2008 @10:09PM (#24379765) Homepage

First off the font system is purely a legacy thing, since Tex predates pretty much all other currently popular font tech. So could LaTeX be retrofitted to use TrueType for everything? Probably. In a 100% backwards compatible way? Only if a genius pulls a freaking miracle out of his butt.

You just described XeTeX [google.com]. Here's a list of the features, taken from Wikipedia:

XeTeX is a TeX typesetting engine using Unicode and supporting modern font technologies such as OpenType or Apple Advanced Typography. [...] XeTeX has simple font installation and can use any installed fonts in the operating system without configuring TeX font metrics. XeTeX uses AAT when working on Mac OS X using the xdv2pdf driver, or FreeType using dvipdfmx (which is the default on Windows or Linux). As a result, XeTeX can access font features such as alternative glyphs, special ligatures, swashes and variable font weights. Support for OpenType local typographic conventions (locl tag) is also present. XeTeX allows even raw OpenType feature tags to be passed to the the font.

I've written my research proposal [tungare.name] using XeTeX and modern typography, and am in the process of typesetting an entire book with the same foundations.

• #### My LaTeX writing experience (Score:5, Interesting)

on Monday July 28, 2008 @09:23PM (#24379249)
Having used LaTeX to typeset my dissertation, I share these concerns about LaTeX. The documents it produces are beautifully typeset and look great -- especially for math. The notion that the writer is agnostic of the typesetting procedure and methods with LaTeX is a complete lie. I've never had to worry about ratios, measurements, indentations, word-per-line, empty pages and other problems as I have in LaTex. LaTeX submissions to journals are becoming less and less available -- in physical chemistry and chemistry journals at least.

There is a large and important market for high-quality typesetting software with excellent math functionality. More importantly, something which interfaces with bibliographic software well, and produces high quality PDFs. (Bibtex does a decent enough job, but I find that it's plagued by the same problems as LaTeX.)

I've searched for an alternative as well, and I'm quite sure that none exist. I haven't seen other type setting documentation formats for journal submissions, which I think is an important hint.
• #### I'm somewhat split on the subject (Score:5, Interesting)

on Monday July 28, 2008 @09:24PM (#24379257)

I understand your qualms with LaTeX as a long time user, but given the alternatives I find it better (though word processors are easier to use, LaTeX makes things much prettier).

A word processor front end (let's pick Open Office Writer as an example) with a LaTeX backend would be a good mix, but also give you the downside of WPs, namely constant layout fiddling instead of focussing on content.

I don't quite understand your complaint about the way LaTeX is structured wrt packages. It's pretty much the same thing you see with Firefox where you have a core program with lots of useful plug-ins for added functionality, and as such it's the same argument as it has.

• #### there is nothing as good as tex / latex (Score:4, Interesting)

on Monday July 28, 2008 @09:29PM (#24379327) Homepage

The problem is that all the things with decent interface have crappy quality of output. Truth is, latex (tex really) have far FAR better output than anything else. Nothing comes close in terms of typesetting text and math correctly. I can spot a word document once it's printed. Not by the font, but by text layout. Reading something written in a gui word processor like word (or openoffice) hurts your eyes and your brain.

Plus, your problem was the interface. So why not consider something that outputs latex? It needs to be a front end that handles all the dirty work and uses latex for what it does best. Just like you don't care that most of your operating is written in C which is just as old technology.

Plus, most places that want mathematics documents, really want you to submit latex. You're better off with something that can output it natively.

Writing something that does the same thing is stupid if what is wrong is an interface. If a good interface is written, you might never know you are using latex (or tex) in the background.

• #### Really Old School Solution (Score:4, Funny)

by Anonymous Coward on Monday July 28, 2008 @09:30PM (#24379343)
Hire a calligrapher. Its gotta be cheaper than a FrameMaker license.
• #### I don't know if anyone's mentioned Wyneken... (Score:5, Informative)

on Monday July 28, 2008 @09:35PM (#24379407)
It is LaTex, but made easy. Made very easy. It's managed by a co-worker and friend of mine, so I may be biased. But he's done some exceptional work with it (including many internal manuals here at Red Hat). So check it out. He is a big KDE fan, so it's made the transition to QT 4 recently and it looks fabulous. http://www.99b.org/wyneken/ [99b.org]
• #### The Beast That Is Framemaker (Score:4, Interesting)

<lawrenceperson@@@gmail...com> on Monday July 28, 2008 @09:40PM (#24379453) Homepage Journal

It sounds like FrameMaker will probably do just about everything you want, including a very robust equation editor, automatic cross-referencing, robust table creation, Postscript and TrueType font support, and even XML includes.

However, know in advance that you will never love FrameMaker, nor will it ever love you. Its ways are Harsh and Unyielding. You will have to walk The Way of The Frame Within the Frame, and it will not make you any happier. (Except, unlike Word, your pictures won't decide to move for no apparent reason.) You must embrace the Pain Which is The Reference Page, and come through the other side.

But once you have mastered The Beast Which is FrameMaker, it will dance (albeit slowly) at your bidding...

• #### A stupid question, but I need to ask... (Score:5, Interesting)

on Monday July 28, 2008 @09:42PM (#24379479) Journal
What is it about LaTeX that makes it so special? Can't scientific documents be laid out correctly in a word processor? I ask out of ignorance, not rhetoric.
• #### Re:A stupid question, but I need to ask... (Score:4, Informative)

on Monday July 28, 2008 @09:58PM (#24379663)

The short answer is no.

The big difference between document processing and word processing is that with something like Word you are constantly having to play with layout, fonts etc.

There is some rudimentary stuff to set styles, but when you push it (and not even hard) it breaks, and then you are back to trying to reformat your own document, and as you make changes to the malformed part, other parts of the document change.

With a document processor, you specify a document format and then just throw test at it, with directives to sat what part of the format to apply. There is a HUGE amount of complex logic which applies various rulesets to format each part of the document very nicely, and do so within the context of the document.

Word was designed initially to work with things like daisy wheel printers etc. FrameMaker Tex etc. were designed to work with typesetters which have much more flexibility (and thus require much more logic to drive them).

The end result is that the same paper prepared with word and LaTex is night and day - even on the same output device.

And despite what the original poster has to say about using LaTex, once its set up you concentrate on the content, not on the formatting. If set up correctly it behaves somewhat like CSS in that you can go and play with the document formatting and output a paper in a completely different style, never having to go touch the content at all.

• #### Re:A stupid question, but I need to ask... (Score:5, Interesting)

on Tuesday July 29, 2008 @12:55AM (#24381065) Homepage

The main thing I have used LaTeX for is generating conference papers (and a few journal papers and a thesis).

99% of grad student time wasted in LaTeX is spent trying to squeeze more content into a set page limit. I can't tell you how long I have spent trying to reformat tables to appear in a more compact format and still be readable, rephrasing sentences to eliminate dangling words in paragraphs, tweaking line spacing just enough to get your last 100 words to fit on the last page (while not being noticeable to reviewers), turning first names into initials in the bibtex file to shrink the references section, and when pressed hand-editing the postscript in figures to make things look better or more compact...

If you are writing text which doesn't have to meet tight formatting or page-count restraints, LaTeX can be a real joy to use. It always makes things look great. (Heck, I helped edit a non-math published book using LaTeX, and our printers were overjoyed at how easy it was to deal with our postscript.) But if you give in to the temptation to try and tell LaTeX to do something different than it wants to do, then you are in for a world of pain.

• #### Re:A stupid question, but I need to ask... (Score:5, Informative)

on Monday July 28, 2008 @10:21PM (#24379903)

This is not a stupid question. Let me say at the outset that I avoided LaTeX for years and boy, was I wrong. LaTeX proponents often talk about the pretty formatting, but for me the advantage is the robust document structure you easily create.

LaTeX pretty much requires you to create a structured document, and the document class you're using automatically handles the formatting, display, and numbering, and it is easy to do extensive cross-referencing of equations, tables, figures, etc. By structured I mean that you create entries like

\section{This is my first section}

This creates a new automatically numbered section, creates a formatted section head, and resets all equation and subsection numbering. Entries automatically show up in a table of contents if you elect to create one (a one-line command). If you create structured technical documents, it's fantastic. Tables are a pain, but for me that's the one big weakness. And the more you have to control the detailed formatting of specific pages (which I don't need to do), the less you will want to use LaTeX.

Yes you can do all this in Word or OpenOffice, but it requires setup and in my experience almost *no* user of those programs bothers to do it. It's just too much of a pain. With LaTeX, on the other hand, it's hard to extensively change the default formats (this is what the OP meant by creating a new document class) but the standard classes for articles and books are fine for many people. New LaTeX users have to overcome the urge to tweak the formatting. Once you just leave it alone, it's liberating. You can focus on content and logical structure, and the result is a decent-looking document.

It appears to me that there is a movement *towards* the use of LaTeX in economics (my field), most commonly by using Scientific Word [mackichan.com]. This is just an impression, and I can't speak about other fields.

Finally, the experience one has with LaTeX will depend on the front end (which can simplify entering equation and structure commands). Lots of folks use Scientific Word. I use Emacs/AucTeX. I am *very* happy with that combination.

• #### Re:A stupid question, but I need to ask... (Score:5, Informative)

on Tuesday July 29, 2008 @02:57AM (#24381675) Homepage

All of the above is true. And solid reasons for using TeX. But there are more great features as well.

The mathematical typesetting language has an admittedly high learning curve. It's got a lot of complicated function names and arcane naming rules for some symbols. But it produces beautifully-typeset mathematical formulas (see an earlier response to your query), and once you've memorized the fifty or so symbols that are relevant to the equations in your particular field, you can write your formulas ridiculously fast.

Take for example, the quadratic formula:
$x = \frac{-b \pm \sqrt{b^2 - 4ac}}{2a}$

I imagine that at first glance, this looks like gibberish to the non-LaTeXperts in the room. But if you squint, you can decode what it means. The only obscure symbol in there is the \pm for the plus-over-minus character. Commands like \frac{..}{..} and \sqrt{..} create nice variable-sized objects that grow to fit over, under, or around their arguments. And if there's a symbol in Greek, Hebrew, or any more arcane set of mathematical algebras that is necessary for your equation, Tex /probably/ has it covered somewhere (though you may have to dig to find it). In general, though, typing in equations using your "familiar" fifty or so characters winds up being far, far faster than using some WYSIWYG equation-editor. If you've got several hundred equations to typeset, you'd never get past the first chapter without it. After you adjust to getting superscripts by writing "x^2" and subscripts with "x_i," you'll never look back.

Did I also mention you can grep it?

• #### stability (Score:4, Insightful)

on Monday July 28, 2008 @09:46PM (#24379539) Homepage Journal
One of the strengths of TeX is that it does not change. I can TeX with minor adaptations a text I have written 15 years ago and I know that I will be able to process it in 15 years.

An other strength is its flexibility. Any replacement which dumbs things down makes things more rigid. LaTeX itself is already a "dumbed down" version of TeX which sacrifices some of the beauty of TeX but makes it more accessible. I myself use it primarily.

I could imagine a variant of LaTeX, which makes certain things easier, like positioning of pictures.

From the user prespective the problem of LaTeX is that it has a relative steep learning curve which once overcome saves enormous time. Processors like Word get you started immediately, adding more and more frustration once the user wants more control.

• #### Some front ends are better than others (Score:4, Interesting)

on Monday July 28, 2008 @09:54PM (#24379625)
Hi, I recently finished a PhD in math; while I probably haven't Texed as many pages as you, I have plunked out my share over the years. I've found the unix/linux front end program Kile to be extremely labor saving, particularly its newest version. It has forward/backward search, automatic completion for \ref commands, and a built in library of click-to-use symbols (and for these you are automatically advised of what packages are needed to use them.) I am agnostic on the issue of whether something "better" than LaTex is possible, or whether with great power always comes irritating details, but for what's out there, I think Kile can greatly improve the experience.
• #### What's next? (Score:5, Funny)

on Monday July 28, 2008 @09:56PM (#24379641)
The next thing you know someone will ask for a replacement for vi.
• #### XSL-FO? (Score:5, Informative)

on Monday July 28, 2008 @10:08PM (#24379761)

Let the hate commence. Anyway:

XSL-FO is another markup language, but there's a good bit going for it, not the least of which is an application that renders it directly to PDF: http://xmlgraphics.apache.org/fop/ [apache.org]

The main good thing about FO is the ability to take advantage of related XML technologies to help you generate the documents (and the various tools that you can use to generate them). You can embed SVG diagrams and MathML if you're comfortable with the namespaces; FOP can definitely render SVG via Apache's Batik project (which is also very good) and I'm pretty sure will also render inline MathML via an optional plugin. A lot of people mentioned OpenOffice, and the cool thing there is that since the documents it generates are XML documents (I'm pretty sure its equation editor emits MathML), you can use XSLTs to transform the documents that it generates into XSL-FO documents for rendering.

The obvious missing feature is the WYSIWYG app, but you'll find a bunch of links at the W3C's XSL-FO [w3.org] site.

Anyway, like I said, let the XML hate commence.

C

• #### Our professors seem to favour MathType (Score:4, Interesting)

on Monday July 28, 2008 @10:17PM (#24379859)

It's an MS Word addon that is specifically designed for highly technical formulas. I cannot personally rate it, as I don't use it. However the people who are using it are professors of electrical or computer engineering, so it clearly works for that field at least.

• #### Nope -- but there are better ways to do LaTeX (Score:5, Informative)

on Monday July 28, 2008 @10:42PM (#24380089)

First of all, you have zero chance of finding anything better than LaTeX for mathematical/scientific typesetting. However, there are ways of solving lots of the problems you mention without chucking LaTeX out the window.

1. Frustrated that you're constantly having to download and install new packages, fonts, etc.? Try the everything-including-the-kitchen-sink distribution, TeX Live [tug.org]. If you're running Mac OS X, there's a great Mac-specific version of TeX Live called MacTeX [tug.org], which also includes a number of front-end apps for editing, managing bibliographies, spell-checking, etc.
2. Hate the standard (La)TeX font, Computer Modern? You're not alone. For free, math-capable fonts (most of which are included in TeX Live/MacTeX), check out this illustrated survey [tug.org]. If you want the ability to use OpenType and other installed fonts on your system, as well as foreign language scripts, unicode, and other modern font features, check out the wonderful Xe(La)TeX [sil.org] and its fontspec package [ctan.org], both included in TeX Live/MacTeX (of course)
3. Want the ability to do real programming in (La)TeX, with a full scripting language? Check out LuaTeX [luatex.org] (although it's still very much a work in progress).
4. Want a good LaTeX front-end/editor? IMHO, Scientific Word and Lyx try to hide the complexity behind a WYSIWYG interface -- but this makes things even more confusing, because the complexity is still there, but now it's invisible, so it's impossible to diagnose why your document doesn't look the way you want. What you really want is a text-editor with built-in templates, push-button PDF compiling, and other TeX-specific features. One of the most popular editors (justly so) is TeXShop [uoregon.edu], for Mac OS X. A cross-platform program called TeXWorks [tug.org] is in development (led by Jonathan Kew, who developed XeTeX), and promises to bring TeXShop's advantages to all platforms. If (like me) you're wedded to Emacs, there's the fantastic AUCTeX [gnu.org] editing mode for all things TeX-related.
5. Read LaTeX books designed for users, not developers or those interested in the "theory" of typesetting. This means, in my opinion, to stay away from anything with "Knuth" in the byline. I really like Leslie Lamport's introductory book on LaTeX [amazon.com], which you should be able to track down at almost any university library if you don't want to buy it.

Above all, be patient, and be open to learning. It's understandable that you want to do powerful and flexible document processing, without having to learn a whole bunch of commands. Unfortunately, this has a lot of similarity with people who want to program computers without learning a programming language. ("Why can't the computer just understand what I want it to do, in plain English?") Any program powerful enough to do everything you want is also powerful enough to do lots of things you don't want -- and because the computer can't read your mind, you have to learn how to tell it exactly what you want.

Cheers,
IT

• #### you're asking the wrong question (Score:5, Interesting)

on Monday July 28, 2008 @10:47PM (#24380139)
What you want isn't really a replacement for TeX/LaTeX (even if you think that's what you want), but rather an automated front-end that's easier to use for yourself. The fundamental "correctness" of TeX/LaTeX is beyond question, as there are no alternatives for scientific work that comes even close in quality and performance (except for variants found on CTAN of course). In particular, your underlying assumption that a "modern application" is bound to be better is nonsense.

You should think of TeX as a slightly high level description language for your document, eg if PDF (say) takes the role of machine languague, then in this analogy TeX would be C and LaTeX would be C++, and LyX would be like Visual Studio. With this analogy, we can see the flaw in your question: there's nothing wrong with these tools, other than the fact that you're no longer willing to use them, because you want something even higher level.

You really have two choices depending on your temperament: If you like to have control of all the layout details, then you should learn the tools properly and start taking advantage of the features to simplify your workload dramatically (you obviously don't know the tools well enough or you wouldn't complain about document classes, table composition, etc.) I suggest you learn how to use macros, and maybe read the TeXbook. In this way, you will be able to grow your own high level interface to LaTeX which will suit you extremely well. Since you've used LaTeX for years already, this is a good investment.

If however you're happy to delegate the fine tuning of your documents to the software, then your other choice is to give the LyX developers some feedback on what you'd like to see, or wait for a better front end to come out, which hides the complexity even more than LyX. Those things happen every once in a while, but they invariably introduce complications that make life more difficult when working on a joint paper together with other people. Try TeXmacs if that's what you want.

• #### lout (Score:4, Interesting)

on Tuesday July 29, 2008 @12:05AM (#24380713) Homepage Journal
I used lout [sourceforge.net] a few years ago for many of these reasons, it's a little simpler and friendlier and produces pdf/ps.

Here is some info from the FAQ [sourceforge.net]:

Lout is similar in function to LaTeX and troff. Indeed, it borrows ideas, techniques and conventions from these typesetting systems. For example, Lout uses Knuth's (the author of TeX, on which LaTeX is based) optimal line breaking algorithm, and has extended it to paragraph breaking across pages. For simple documents, Lout, LaTeX and troff offer much the same functionality, with different syntax (see the "Simple Examples" section). Lout is much more "programmer friendly" than TeX's macros (and a fortiori than incomprehensible troff macros). See the "Advanced Examples" section.

Lout makes it easy to mix text and graphics. You can draw lines, arrows and boxes, scale and rotate objects, use color commands. While many of these things are possible in LaTeX by including Postscript files generated by utility programs such as xfig, you have to specify the size of each included figure, losing a lot of Lout's flexibility.

• #### ConTeXt? (Score:5, Informative)

on Tuesday July 29, 2008 @01:09AM (#24381147)

"I'm looking for a document processor (not a word processor) that is a viable replacement for LaTeX, possessing all of its advantages â" consistency between text and math text, automated cross references, direct PDF creation, etc. â""

ConTeXt [pragma-ade.com]? Like LaTeX, but perhaps better in many aspects?

"but that is not stuck in the 1980s with the compiler metaphor"

Sorry, no help here.

"and weird font technology."

Oh, somebody cruel has forbidden you to use XeTeX [sil.org], write in UTF-8 and use OpenType fonts directly from your system? Shame on them!

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