# Why LaTex is Superior to Office

If you are a regular reader, you probably saw me mentioning LaTex at various times. I always praise it as the superior solution – one above and beyond the traditional, word processing products. So let me take a minute of your time and explain exactly why I choose to use LaTex, and why you should consider learning it.

Output Quality

The most striking difference between text produced by Word or Open Office and LaTex is the quality of the output. You have to keep in mind that LaTex is not just a mere word processor – it is a typesetting software. It does kerning, hyphenation and all the tricks used by professional typesetters who work in professional publishing industry. This means that your text is always beautifully justified and balanced across the page. Please compare the two screen shots below. This is some random Lorem Ipsum text in MS word:

sample produced in MS Word

Now compare it to the same text sample generated by LaTex:

sample produced in LaTex

They look similar, but you will notice that the LaTex sample just flows better, and looks more professional. Let’s see what happens when I contract some of the words to create really long expressions, and justify the text in word:

justified text in Word

You might be familiar with this situation. Word does not know how to break words across line with hyphens. Nor does it know how to use kerning to bring some letters closer together, and push other ones apart to avoid creating huge white space gaps. LaTex does both:

sample of the same justified text in LaTex

The difference is striking. On one had you have ugly gaps, on the other you have nicely flowing, justified text. Which one do you like more? You be the judge. And this is just the tip of the iceberg. I could show you many cases in which LaTex beats conventional word processing in placing figures, floating text around images, displaying mathematical formulas and etc.

Transparency of Markup

When you write LaTex you work with plain text files. You simply add markup commands to your text. This is very much like writing HTML – just with more features, and more powerful parser on the receiving end. So what do I mean by transparency? You simply always see what is going on. For example, consider the following LaTex code:

Plain Text. \textbf{Bold} Text.

The \textbf command is the equivalent of the HTML <strong> – it makes the text boldface. You clearly see what is going on – the text between braces will be bold, while the text outside will be plain. Word on the other hand utilizes hidden markup. Yes, there are markup characters in word! You can actually see some of them: such as paragraph breaks, tabs, section breaks and etc. Other ones, such as boldface, and font tags are hidden. But they are there. Consider the following situation:

Hidden formating in Word

Note that when I backspace too close to the boldface text, all of a sudden I find myself typing in bold again. This happens because the symbol that ends the boldface “tag” was inserted directly to the left of the space following the word Bold. Deleting that space, deleted the markup symbol, throwing me back into boldface mode.

When I taught a Fluency in Technology course at MSU this was one of the consistent issues that frustrated the students to no end. All the faculty members I talked to noticed the same thing. We know why this happens – but an average person takes it as a weird software quirk, a bug, or some sort of failing on their part. If you ever see someone struggling with Word, look for this moment:

Word paragraph formating quirks

Ask the user what do they think happen, and how do they feel about it. Reactions will likely range from disbelief to death threats addressed at Bill Gates. But this is the same exact problem that I illustrated above. Some hidden formating symbol gets deleted, and messes up all your paragraph format. How to avoid situations like this one? You can control it by being careful with what you format, and where do you put white space. But if someone gives you a file, there is really no way of clearly identifying issues like this.

In LaTex, markup is transparent. There are no nasty surprises. You match the opening brace to the closing brace, or \begin statement to \end statement – and it’s easy to see if one is missing. It saves a lot of frustration.

Ease of Modifying Styles

This is something that happens to you when you try to publish a paper. You write a really long document using one citation and formating style, and then you find out the journal requires a completely different style. So for example, you may need to two columns, different spacing between paragraphs, different ordering of bibliographic references, different style for figure captions and etc. If you are using word, chances are that once you change the font, the margins, the column layout and paragraph spacing, all your figures will end up in weird unexpected places. You may need to move them around manually. Same goes for your page breaks, section breaks and etc. You probably have a lot of work ahead of you.

In LaTex you will usually only have to edit few lines in your preamble. If you are changing to a known style such as IEEE for example you can simply download appropriate templates, toss them to your project directory and add one or two lines to your document – for example:

\documentclass[peerreview]{IEEEtran} \bibliographystyle{IEEEtran}

Or something among those lines. The rest is done by the parser and typesetting engine. It will move around the figures as appropriate, format the text the way it should be, change the the way bibliography and table of contents is displayed and etc. It’s easy, and requires almost no manual tweaking, unless you were doing something very complex and specific. As opposed to word – it just works.

Ease of Debugging

Most of issues with a LaTex document can be fixed by analytical process of analogous to debugging code. The markup language has a strict syntax, and most mistakes will generate errors, and force you to deal with the immediately. A LaTex user usually problems such as:

• What is causing the error in this particular line of text
• What commands do I use to make this line up properly
• Did I miss a closing brace or an end statement here?
• What do I need to put in the preamble to change the spacing and text flow here

All of these problems are analytical problems that can be solved by careful elimination process, or researched via googling the error messages, or warnings and by reading extensive documentation available online. Word users on the other hand, tend to struggle with OMG WTF kind of issues:

• Why does my whole paragraph loose formating when I hit backspace (see above)
• How the hell did this embedded object get corrupted?
• I put some section breaks in the document and now my paging is all messed up
• Why does word merge these tables when I paste them?
• OMG! Everything breaks when I paste this into the multi-column section!

The only way you can debug weird formating issues in Word is by trial and error, and hitting undo many times, until you get it right. You can’t study the code and find out what you did wrong because most formating marks in your text are hidden, and handled internally. Documentation is usually lacking, and chances of finding good hits via google are directly proportional to how well can you describe the issue in a short search phrase.

No Vendor Lock In

Microsoft makes Office to make a profit. They want to lock you into their platform because they want your money. And unless we can make ODF the national standard, they will tweak their file formats with every edition, release half assed API’s and specs and do everything to make interoperability difficult. Open Office and other products will always be playing catchup. ODF is the only way out of the lock in – but the things don’t look so great on this front. My hunch tells me that Microsoft will succeed pushing their OpenXML specification (which, btw is neither Open, nor a specification – more of an incomplete set of purposefully confusing notes with a restrictive license attached) as the de-facto format in the upcoming years.

So thanks, but no thanks! LaTex is completely open, and well documented. It has been ported to virtually every platform and architecture. And it does not require a bloated, slow editor to use. You can edit your documents in vim, emacs, notepad, or even Eclipse. You are not tied to a single company, and you are not tied to a single editor. You can pick and choose. And choice, ladies and gentlemen is an essential component of freedom, and individualism.

Don’t listen to the people who talk about the paradox of choice. If you feel paralyzed and unable to make a decision when faced with plethora of different choices, then you are probably either a indecisive person to begin with, a lazy bum who doesn’t want to do the research, or a brainwashed zombie-sheep. Some people all all of the above. Majority of people are at least one of those. But you and me – we are different. If you read this far in this long post, you are probably at least little bit intrigued by LaTex. And so you probably embrace choice and freedom. LaTex gives you that in the same way using ODF format does. The only difference is that ODF is currently supported by very few Office applications – while LaTex does not require any specialized tools. Just a text editor and the phraser/compiler.

Designed for Excellence

Tex the core of the language was designed by Donald Knuth – a man who made some impressive contributions of the field of theoretical Computer Science, and is hailed by many as a living legend. He is considered a father of algorithm analysis. The man is a genius, and he wrote Tex because he was disappointed by all the publishing software that existed at the time.

Tex was then embellished, and improved by Leslie Lamport (who also has impressive set of contributions of the field) becoming LaTex. Quite an impressive pedigree if you look at it. The system was designed by some of the most brilliant people in our field, to be the be-all-and-end-all of document preparation and publishing. Then it was released into the wild as an open source project, to be picked apart by millions of eyes and hands.

Word on the other hand… It was designed to compete and emulate Bravo – the first original WYSIWYG text editor for Xerox Alto. It was initially developed by Charles Simonyi and Richard Bridie. Simonyi was hired to work at Xerox directly from Stanford, and his crowning achievement before Word was development of the mentioned Bravo editor. Brodie was a code jokey who also worked on Bravo, and more recently a professional poker player. Since then it was slaved over by hundreds of developers on tight schedules, high pressure work environment, and conflicting goals of maintaining backwards compatibility, while preventing interoperability with 3rd party software. It’s not an impressive pedigree. Also, if you think about it, Word has all the qualifying prerequisites for a genuine OMG! WTF??? monster of a corporate monster of a project. One of those that you’d be likely to see on The Daily WTF.

I don’t know about you, but I’d rather go with the open source system designed by legends, than by kludge worthy, proprietary, corporate monstrosity. But that’s just me.

Mature and Stable

LaTex is still in active development (at least last time I checked) but the software is mature and stable. The development process is slow and steady. The current releases of the software are rock solid – I have never, ever encountered, or even heard about an issue with the compiler/parser software. The markup language is throughly documented, and widely used. Whenever you need to do something fancy, chances are that someone already did that before you and either published a complete package or at least a well documented solution online.

Office on the other hand is in constant flux. Each version tweaks the file formats, changes the menus, adds more useless functions, and more bloat. Software is unstable, and prone to crashes, and corrupting the binary files for no reason. Because of the poor design it is used by malware writers as an infection vector.

Open office, while more secure is plagued by the same set of issues. It’s a big application that is constantly changing, trying to catch up to the industry leader. Bugs abound, and interoperability with MS Office is still not where it should be.

Unfortunately, Latex is not for everyone

All of that said, LaTex is not for everyone. The learning curve is steep compared to Word or Open Office. You can’t just pick up LaTex by messing around with the UI. You have to understand the syntax, and learn it’s basic rules before you do anything. Users should at least have basic understanding or programming, markup languages, compiling and debugging software. Thus, it’s probably not something that you’d just give to a novice computer user. It’s a tool for technologically competent people who would rather work with a well documented document preparation system with strict, transparent markup syntax, rather than with quirky, buggy and unstable WYSIWYG setup.

LaTex is not something that would find much use in a corporate office environment. Who is LaTex for?

1. College Students – there is no better software for writing essays, term papers, presentations, and research papers
2. Grad Students – I wrote my Master’s thesis in LaTex. I can’t imagine doing anything like that in Word. It would be a suicide. Don’t do it to yourself. Use the proper tool for this task – that tool is LaTex.
3. Writers – LaTex was designed for publishing, and there is no other tool that will produce high quality almost-ready-to-print documents out of your manuscripts
4. Scientists and Researchers – no other tool makes it so easy to write research papers, books and journal articles
5. Professors – in the past I used LaTex to generate great looking multiple choice exams, lecture presentation slides, lecture notes and etc..
6. Developers – you want great looking documentation and user manual? This is the tool for you. LaTex can also output to HTML so you can easily create googlable online copies of all your documents.
7. You – if you read this far, you probably have what it takes to try it, and use it well.

I don’t know if any of this convinces anyone. But those are some of my reasons for using it. Please feel free to add your reasons if you happen to be a LaTex user. And if you are not, check it out. It’s worth it. Don’t forget to let me know what you think of it once you try it.

If you guys want, I could run few introductory articles teaching basics of LaTex here on this blog. For example, if you are to lazy (or busy) to research it on your own, but you wouldn’t mind seeing some simple examples, and code samples here, please let me know.

[tags]latex, tex, knuth, donald knuth, lamport, leo lamport, word, office, microsoft office, open office, bravo, editor, word processor, typesetting, kerning, document preparation, publishing[/tags]

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### 60 Responses to Why LaTex is Superior to Office

1. Rob says:

I realize this is intended as LaTeX advocacy, but you do sugar-coat the LaTeX story quite a bit. Five of my biggest problems with LaTeX:

It’s a “full-blown” programming language, yet clearly wasn’t designed to be at all good in that job. Standard control flow like loops and if-then can be used in LaTeX, but it’s ridiculously complex, difficult to learn, and nigh-impossible to maintain. (A good markup language along with python or ruby integration for typesetting information like length calculations would be much much easier.)

Despite your claims about being able to recast the same source using a different template, LaTeX does not actually provide a clear separation between logical and physical formatting. In theory I suppose you could hide most of the physical formatting behind “logical” macros, but in practice that’s just not how the language is used. Our understanding of markup (and electronic text in general) has matured quite a bit since TeX was developed. A more typographically-sophisticated CSS would work better.

LaTeX doesn’t have many “bugs” according to the standard definition, but it’s still very very crap as far as software goes. Its command-line interface is absurdly idiosyncratic and inflexible; its output and return values are insultingly difficult to parse and process, and it tries to impose an utterly archaic workflow on you: debugging during the actual processing pass. And what on earth are we doing using a tool that sometimes needs multiple passes over a document, but requires the user to figure out how many and invoke them all manually? It is the most un-unixy standard unix utility I can think of.

The TeX layout algorithm has some fundamental architectural limitations based on the assumptions in place at the time it was designed. As far as I know, all TeX modules are still required to build a page at a time and then move on, which prevents clever re-jiggering of layouts across multiple pages. Ask any researcher how much time they’ve spent making tiny changes on early pages of a document trying to get LaTeX to reflow a paper to fit within some page limit. If TeX could analyze the entire document at once it could work itself to adjust spacings so that a paper made ideal use of space. (Other typographical tweaks, like rhythm-matching across pages, would also be possible.)

Tweaking layouts is *really* *really* hard. Been a steady LaTeX user for a decade? Think you’re okay at it? Write a resumé template from scratch. I don’t know anyone in my department who could do that in less than a day.

Of course, only the last of these complaints contradicts your thesis that LaTeX is a better tool than Word. But it is a disappointment that a better tool than LaTeX has not yet been developed.

2. Craig Betts says:

Well, most people “abuse” Microsoft Office.

EXAMPLE 1
How many people do you know that waste time typing a document in word only to attach it to an email? Why not just type it in your email client?

EXAMPLE 2
Most people don’t use any typesetting at all. Notepad would serve them just fine. For those that need a few more features could use Wordpad which support RTF (both programs are included with Windows).

EXAMPLE 3
I can’t tell you how many PowerPoint slide docs I have that are actually company forms. WTF! I think LaTeX would be the better choice here. Convert to a PDF and you have a non-editable document, suitable for company use (well, some of us know how to crack a PDF).

EXAMPLE 4
Excel as graph paper. We see the people that use Excel for the sole purpose of making pretty lists. Sure, it works well, but do you really need an expensive suite like Office to create them? No. Open Office will certainly meet that requirement. Heck, it can even crunch numbers!

I am one of those sick people that still hasn’t left the eighties. I like my CLI text editors (vi is my preferred program). I even send all my emails in plain text (no HTML). When I have the need for “fancy” typesetting, I pull out Open Office. For my everyday note taking and documentation, I still use vi. Not pretty, but it works.

I was never a math or English major, so I had no need for anything like LaTeX. My only exposure to LaTeX is assisting the engineers I support. I think it is still major overkill for the work I do. If I ever decide to publish anything, I will have a professional do the layout.

I think people need to get back to basics. Learn how to write (communicate) first. After you have mastered this, learn to make it pretty.

3. Luke says:

I agree with most of it. It is what it is – there are quirks, and idiosyncrasies in every piece of software ever written. I just prefer to deal with LaTex quirks than Word quirks because they are usually more transparent, documented and discussed.

And yes – the separation of display and logic is not clear – and writing the packages and style files I mentioned is not easy or straightforward. But it can be done – and when it’s done, it works well in most cases.

Is it time for a replacement? Hell yes. I’d love to see a competing document preparation based on mother technology emerge now. The problem is – no one seems to be working on one at the moment. There seems to be a shortage of brilliant people who would find themselves in the same predicament Knuth did at the time – being disappointed with available solutions.

People now seem to be content with the current WYSIWYG trend. Those who are not, use LaTex for better or for worse. It’s the best we have at the moment. And I personally find it better than word. Not a perfect solution – not by a long shot. But a better one, nevertheless.

Btw, resumes are just about the only think I still use word for. Why? Because when I send people a resume in PDF format they look at me like I’m from space. HR people are not very keen on PDF – it confuses and frightens them. Also, they sometimes like to edit out personal information, trim things down, or reformat stuff when they pass them upstream to the powers that be. So .doc is the de-facto HR standard for resumes.

4. Luke says:

Craig – you are a 100% correct. People use office for everything these days – even when a different format would be more appropriate.

I’m going to write a long rant on this topic at some point, but the flexibility of plain text is very underestimated these days. Office files are harder to search, harder to modify, harder to sort, harder to filter, harder to concatenate, harder to split into parts, harder to parse programaticaly and harder to index, and more prone to corruption. Why do we insist on using them?

Oh, and I agree. Email should be plain text. Period. There is no reason to have HTML and images inside of email messages. The only things these features are good for is spam, chain letters, and corporate advertising and newsletters. We can totally live without the first two, and the last two would be better off sending in plain text anyway.

5. ikaruga says:

I couldn’t disagree more…. Why would a college student care for the visual quality of some term paper? OpenOffice + PDF export is about as easy as pie and looks good enough. Writers/Professors: do you know how hard it is to get LaTex to do what you want? It typesets beatifully but AUTOMATICALLY… try getting it to do custom typesetting and well….you’re in for a world of frustration… It’s way easier to just use OpenOffice/Word for typesetting quizzes and Scribus for writing.

6. Luke says:

ikaruga – but it’s the good kind of frustration. It’s the “I will figure this out if it kills me” kind of frustration. Same frustration you get when writing software – its frustrating when you can’t figure out what causing some specific error, or side effect. But once you figure it out, it’s very rewarding.

I don’t mind debugging, fighting with the compiler, researching ways to accomplish the desired effect. I’m a programmer – this is what I do best. So yes – doing custom stuff is not easy, or straightforward, but it’s interesting and rewarding in a way.

7. Starhawk says:

I happen to greatly enjoy the “I will figure this out if it kills me” kind of frustration. Suppose that is why some people like things like programming or mathematics and others don’t. for me it is more than very rewarding, it is a serious mystical psychedelic like experience, The AH HA!! experience Martin Gardner wrote about.

Luke write about what you enjoy what you feel passionately about and this is a great blog a wonderful argument for the use of latex. I’d love to read more and its obvious Latex is one of your passions. I’ve been meaning to install latex on my ubuntu partition, I’ve used it some in windows. So for the convenience of ubuntu readers

sudo apt-get install tetex-base tetex-extra tetex-bin
8. Dax says:

I’m with Luke on this one. While in school, I wrote several mathematics papers using LaTex and they all were visually stunning and a breeze to compose. Using generic word processing software to write technical papers is a total pain and produces almost unreadable documents. I know that the office suites have improved their abilities to write mathematical and engineering documents in the past few years, but I’ll use LaTeX any day of the week.

9. Stephane says:

Have I already mentionned docbook as an alternative ? ;-)

Docbook has many of the “nice features” of LaTeX (it is text based, in fact XML, so much of the arguments of your post holds true for Docbook as well).

It clearly separates content and rendering, as you type the XML file and the XSLT processor will generate the formatted text (actually some will even generate a LaTeX output !!)

It is open, standardized and well documented.

10. Luke says:

Yeah, I think I remember you mentioning it a while ago. I really need to try it out.

11. What’s with comparing MS Word and LaTeX. Word is a word processor–bloated, to be sure, but just a word processor. LaTeX is for typesetting. While it has a bit of a learning curve–it is, as pointed out above, a programming language–it’s free and gives professional typesetting results in the tight hands. Just like Quark, InDesign, PageMaker, FrameMaker, and a host of other commercial WYSIWYG page layout tools. Not to mention the open-source WYSIWYG layout program, Scribus.

But to compare the two is missing the point that they’re two different breeds. That goes for any of the flavors of TeX and Word.

As for LaTeX and the WYSIWYGs … LaTeX is used by few professional book designers and layout artists as compared to those using Quark and InDesign. That’s not to say it can’t do as good a job–tho’, again, the learning curve for real competency in LaTeX is high–as Quark and the rest. But the plain fact is that most professional book design and layout is done in Quark and InDesign. It will be interesting to see whether that changes anytime soon.

Stephen Tiano, Book Designer, Page Compositor & Layout Artist
website: http://www.tianodesign.com
blog: http://www.tianodesign.com/blog

12. Luke says:

True. You are right, they are different tools. But, for me LaTex replaced word in most aspects – so this was my angle here.

Comparing apples and oranges sometimes does have merits – both are fruits, both have similar shape, and etc. And despite being very different, and usually being used with different meals, one can have clear preference of one above the other.

Personally, I think that any time you need a nicely formated text, you should be typesetting. All the other situations that do not require typesetting can be handled with just plain text or maybe HTML…

13. ikaruga says:

When you guys say “a good kind of frustration” you’re a minority in that one…. the rest of the world doesn’t see the value in the trade-off (time for stunning visual quality). I’ll give you an example: you’re just a regular corporate Joe with a report due asap. There’s no point spending precious time tweaking Latex to your liking when OO or Word will do just fine…. (On the other hand, if you’re the type that doesn’t mind mastering Latex in your spare time, that’s another story…)

14. Starhawk says:

I say use the right tool for the job, ikaruga, and I think that is what Luke is saying too. There are occasions where LaTex is the right tool and there are occasions where a simple text file will suffice. In my mind there is nothing wrong with office applications per se, i myself use Open office tho I use it seldom and then only for documents I download online or e-mail attachments people send me where OO or microsoft office is the only way i can view them.

15. Luke says:

ikaruga I think I mentioned that I consider LaTex in a corporate and big business environment as a bad idea. I do not recommend using it. As you put it a “regular corporate Joe with a report due asap” should stay the hell away from LaTex. That report will probably need to be reviewed and edited by managers and etc so it definitely should be written in Word.

But if you are a researcher and you frequently submit papers to IEEE conferences, it might be a good idea to take the time and develop a nice IEEE compliant template for your papers, abstracts and etc.

Starhawk is right – for each job there is a tool that is appropriate for it. I’m just saying that for some jobs, LaTex is better than word. For others (your average Joe scenario) – not so much.

16. Matt says:

ikagura Yeah, LaTeX won’t work too well in a corporate world because of compatibility issues. This whole conversation, unfortunately, doesn’t really have much relevance for the poor folks stuck in corporate environments. It’s really for academic types and writers–people who want control over their writing projects from beginning to end.

That said, if you put a day or two into learning LaTeX + a speedy text editor, you can whip off nice business letters and documents in half the time that it takes to do them in Word. (Even form letters and mail merge type stuff.) And LaTeX converts much more nicely to html than does Word.

Once you’ve gotten the plain text bug, you start to see everything in a new light. You realize that somewhere, sometime, the big software companies took a terrible turn, convincing people that bloated, badly formatted, locked-down, inaccessible, binary(!?!) proprietary documents were somehow the only way to deal with text on the computer.

One example. Let’s say you have all your text files in a folder hierarchy. In a matter of seconds, you can search and pull up all the lines in all these files containing a particular word (e.g., “pumpkin”). This search feature existed 30 years ago for plain text files. Yet for Word docs, it’s still a relatively “new” and still very inefficient and clunky option in the most modern operating systems (OS X, Vista, etc.).

17. Luke says:

Yup. And when businesses moved to those locked inflexible blocked formats, they instantly lost the ability to easily search and sort data. They thought they were getting power (ie Excel formulas and sorting tools) but really, it was a tradeoff.

We traded the ease of searching and manipulating large batches of data for relative ease of searching and sorting files on file-by-file basis.

18. Ian H says:

TeX and LaTeX are the only workable options for mathematics. The important thing isn’t the difference between wysiwyg and wysiwym, although wysiwym is certainly a lot faster and more certain when you know what you are doing. The fundamental difference is that TeX does layout properly – especially for mathematics which is very demanding in this respect. Whereas word and all the others generate unreadible badly spaced garbage.

I personally believe that a great opportunity was missed when HTML was invented. Donald Knuth did an absolutely brilliant job of analysing what was required to do markup properly. He completely solved the problem for all time! His model based on boxes linked with flexible glue dealt with spacing issues and layout issues perfectly. It was a fantastic achievement.

Yet all of that work was completely disregarded by HTML which used an inadequate simplistic formatting model instead. While HTML has been extended repeatedly the flawed original design of HTML means that no extension of it will ever do half as good a job as TeX does at formatting layout properly.

For example no extension of HTML will ever do as good a job in formatting mathematics as TeX. Look at MATHML, a bastard child that should have been drowned at birth. MATHML is a crap language which alone has been responsible for putting mathematics on the web back 20 years. Not only is the syntax atrocious and practically unusable, but I’ve never seen any MATHML application generate anything other than awful ugly mathematical typsetting.

What really gets me annoyed is that the HTML model is being pushed as a standard everywhere – even off the web. Hence document formats are being XMLised. ODF is standard. Yet ODF is built on MATHML which is based on HTML syntax. It is a nightmare.

The problem seems to be that computer science types never seem to LISTEN when we say that TeX and LaTeX are PERFECT answers to the problem of mathematical typesetting. The message just seems to go in one ear and out the other. Some know-it-all will tell us that it we can’t possibly be serious about using latex because it doesn’t handle loops properly, or because it requires multiple passes, or because it can’t be linked to a live database, or some other ridiculous reason that completely misses the point.

LaTeX does mathematics – PERFECTLY. Nothing else does. These other things we simply don’t care about – especially not if they come at the price of destroying that ability to typeset marvellously beautiful equations which you can bear to read without wanting to hurl your laptop through your office window.

Yet the message never seems to sink in. You can almost hear them thinking – poor deluded mathematicians – stuck in the dark ages. They think they like LaTeX but they can’t be serious. We have to get them using something modern with tags and angle brackets instead. So now we end up in the ridiculous situation that the INTERNATIONAL STANDARD for documents containing mathematics is ODF with MATHML, a standard which the majority of mathematicians believe is absolutely unworkable horrible useless complete and utter total crap.

19. Luke says:

Ian, I hear what you are saying but I don’t agree with your characterization of Computer Science people as XML obsessed, LaTex haters.

Computer Science involves tons of math, and writing long (boring) papers with formulas, formal proofs and etc. We appreciate LaTex because we run into the same exact crap that math people do.

Software Engineering on the other hand concerns itself with being Agile, Xtreme, putting shit on rails, and adding XML to every single application in sight.

At most universities the undergraduate curriculum contains a mix of both. Some schools lean one way or the other, but in most cases the goal is to teach students as much CS theory as they can handle, but at the same time train them for a job in the software development industry.

But in general, Computer Scientists are the people who design new innovative approaches, algorithms and paradigms, while software engineers are the people who abuse the hell out of them.

Sadly, software engineers usually love buzzwords and new exciting stuff. And unfortunately they are the people who design and develop the tools for us to use.

20. Let’s take this again from the top. Word is Ni>not a typesetting tool. It’s a word processor. TeX, in all its flavors, is a programming language for typesetting. If programming is your bag and you use some form of TeX to make books, go with God.

But being a book designer and layout artist, and having typeset math textbooks and other books heavy with equations, I’ve typeset beautiful math using Quark with the Mathable XTension and even humble PageMaker with MathType for my equations.

TeX is just another brand of screwdriver. They’re tools, boys. When you do such work to earn a living, you use the tool that suits you. This is as productive as platform wars.

21. Matt says:

I’d like to second Stephen’s point about LaTeX being one among many tools. In the same way, many GUI tools, such as Quark and Photoshop, are every bit as user-unfriendly as LaTeX.

IMHO, what I think people are trying to suggest here is that it’s a tool that should be more widely used. A lot of people in the corporate and (non-scientific) academic world aren’t even aware of its existence as an alternative. Not that all of them would benefit from it, to be sure. But some might find it a more flexible and powerful alternative to MS Word, at least.

And I don’t believe LaTeX is just for mathematicians. As someone who writes articles and books, LaTeX affords me elegant, global control over the organization and layout of my documents. No more fiddling with those buggy and abolutely impossible MS Word styles! And indexing and footnotes are an absolute delight.

Face it: Word processing is inevitable. Most people won’t give a d*mn about LaTeX–and rightly so. Most people use their computers as glorified typewriters, calculators, and communications devices (and, increasingly, media players).

(I confess: I do the same, except I’d like to think that my pimped out Vim, LaTeX, and Mutt combo is a typewriter on steroids, a typewriter that would fail every performance enhancement drug test in the world.)

Here are my peeves:

1) Academic and corporate institutions that enforce the use of Word. (E.g., school dissertation layout specifications generally presuppose word processing software.)
2) The lack of awareness of open source alternatives–i.e., the people who give you a blank, uncomprehending stare if you say you don’t use Word.
3) The idea that one should get powerful, professional results without having to learn anything.
4) Word pros who think they are at the cutting edge of typesetting technology because they fill their documents with fancy fonts.
5) The myth that Word is user-friendly.

22. Luke says:

[quote comment=”5435″]But being a book designer and layout artist, and having typeset math textbooks and other books heavy with equations, I’ve typeset beautiful math using Quark with the Mathable XTension and even humble PageMaker with MathType for my equations.[/quote]

Stephen, I don’t doubt that Quark and Page Maker are great tools. However, unless you are in publishing business, you are probably very unlikely to use them. Why?

Quark Press 7, Full – $749.00 Mathable 2.0 –$589.00

Adobe Page Maker – $499.00 MathType –$95

LaTex is not only really good at what it does, but it is also free, and available on just about any platform. I’m sure you could get similar, or better results with Quark but the price tag might be prohibitive for some.

[quote comment=”5436″]3) The idea that one should get powerful, professional results without having to learn anything.[/quote]

I LOL’d. This is 100% true and goes for every kind of technology – not just typesetting. It’s the “but why do I have to learn this, isn’t that why we have IT for?” attitude that kills me.

[quote comment=”5436″]5) The myth that Word is user-friendly.[/quote]

I think some of the examples in this post clearly illustrated that Word is anything but friendly.

23. Starhawk says:

Ian H

the INTERNATIONAL STANDARD for documents containing mathematics is ODF with MATHML, a standard which the majority of mathematicians believe is absolutely unworkable horrible useless complete and utter total crap.

Hell yeah i agree glad somebody said that.

Luke I’ve always consider CS to be Math. It grew out of Computation theory and mathematical logic and has its roots in prehistory (Euclid’s gcd was known well before Euclid’s mathematical holy book.) To be sure modern computer science has areas of intersection with many disciplines outside of what is considered traditional mathematics, even ranging into psychology (AI) biology (genetic algorithms) and even philosophy (The Object oriented craze and complexity theory are after all very philosophical.) But the same is true for Math and meta logic no subject exist in isolation.

I suppose there will always be some “hostility” between the pure math crowd and the more pragmatic engineering crowd. SO I’m going to have to add your quote below to the better known quotes i collect on this clash of two cultures, lmao

But in general, Computer Scientists are the people who design new innovative approaches, algorithms and paradigms, while software engineers are the people who abuse the hell out of them.

hell yeah i agree with ya tho i’ve probably been on both sides of that fence. lol

Stephen Tiano I’ve already said use the right tool. Whatever works for ya dude. My problem with Quark and stuff like that is it cost money :( La Tex doesn’t it’s simple as that. Being a being a book designer and layout artist you probably have the need for software like that and by all means use it. In your case its a business expense someone maybe you or your company is paying.

And Matt I agree wholeheartedly with every damn thing ya said. In fact your first point really hits the nail on the head:

Academic and corporate institutions that enforce the use of Word. (E.g., school dissertation layout specifications generally presuppose word processing software.)

Corporation I can perhaps understand tho not agree with but Academic institutions not using more open standards now that really gets to me. To quote danah boyd totally out of context (LOL):

In evoking hegemonic, I’m referring to work done based on Gramsci’s ideas of hegemony. He argued that power in society is not just maintained by force, but through indoctrination into values that will help perpetuate the status quo. Institutes like schools and mass media help perpetuate views. The maintenance of hegemony is always subtle and nuanced, variable and fragmented. People play different roles in upholding hegemony, often without realizing their position in the process. ResponseToClassDivisions

Academia should not be perpetuating the status quo academia should be challenging it. I would raise absolute hell if i were in college and documents were crammed down my throat in MS office format. I raised hell over less when i was in college, I am after all a product of the 60’s. The younger generations just seem to me to lack the motivation to care about things or perhaps More accurately to act upon their ideals. Clearly not all do so this is overly general forgive me for that. But people need to not just accept social injustices but to challenge things raise hell and even go to jail if necessary. Hopefully jail wouldn’t be necessary over a format issue but nonetheless it is a serious issue tho in my mind.

24. Starhawk says:

Luke i agree 100% :D

Producing professionally looking documents without shelling out close to $1k on software – priceless Exactly my point in my last comment which your spam filter must of ate. lol. And no complex piece of software or technology is completely user friendly they all have a learning curve. I imagine some cave men were upset they had to learn how to work with flint and make baskets outta weeds, oh wel lsuch is life. lol 25. Luke says: Starhawk – ditto on the academia point. It’s stupid to enforce something like that. Fortunately, at my school most instructors didn’t care what format you submit your papers in. Those who would require physical submission of hard copies would usually be impressed by the pleasing aesthetic look of my work. Those who preferred electronic submission usually didn’t mind. I guess I got lucky? Oh, and btw – if you insert more than 2 links into the comment you automatically get held in moderation queue because WordPress thinks you are link flooding. I can probably change that to 3 or 4 links per comment. :) 26. Daniel Kirkwood says: I’m sorry, sir, but I can’t agree with you. I won’t say a word against Donald Knuth himself–I cited one of his results in my dissertation–and, while he may be obsessed with typesetting, every man needs a hobby. But why in the names of Babbage, Lovelace, and Turing must seemingly every math department in the Western world insist that everyone else must share his obsession, or act as if he/she does, in order to complete a dissertation? I spent four hours this evening trying to understand why I can’t put a \\ in the middle of one single subsection heading which is running into the right margin. Apparently I need to \protect the \\ command, because it is “fragile” (this part sort of makes sense, since it has to be brought into the document template and the Table of Contents), but protecting it DOESN’T SEEM TO DO A #@&$! THING–I still get the asinine “Something’s wrong–perhaps a missing item” error, which even The LaTeX Companion concedes is very badly named. (Inserting braces, or trying to use a \vspace command, instead, gives other errors, such as “extra }” or “runaway argument?”). If you have any advice, I’d
love to hear it.

I can’t imagine why any human being who wasn’t already obsessed with typesetting would use LaTeX by choice. (Beings with a life expectancy over 200 years might feel differently, I suppose, as I will concede that the results, if done right, look pretty.) The LaTeX Companion is a 1000-page book with a 100-page index, and yet it doesn’t even bother to give definitions or format usage for the overwhelming majority of the commands in it. Not to mention the stupid comment about stealing sheep: if you don’t know what letterspacing is, the book doesn’t even bother to tell you; it just implies that it’s bad. (Of course, for all I know, “stealing sheep” actually has some technical typesetting meaning like “widows” and “orphans” do.)

I thank you for reading this. I mean you no personal disrespect: LaTeX is fine for those who actually want to use it. I just wish they would leave the rest of us alone.

27. Luke Maciak says:

Let’s agree to disagree. I think its a good thing that math and science students are getting exposed to LaTex. My university didn’t require that, and I always thought it was a mistake. Letting people hung themselves with Office is just cruel.

Do you really think that writing complex mathematical formulas in Word is easier than in LaTex? I’ve grown men break into tears after trying to make their 7 page proof including nested integrals, divisions and all kinds of crazy acrobatics barely presentable. The person ended up using photoshop to “draw” their formulas, only to get it rejected for obvious reasons.

And yeah, there is software that will make this easier, but most of it is not free. So you either pirate it, or buy it – but the school won’t provide you with shit, because they damn well know that reasonable people will simply use LaTex.

Btw, the problem you are having has probably something to do with your document or a style file you are using. I just tried doing \protect\\ in a \subsection in my plain vanilla MikTex install on Windows and it worked like a charm. Look closely at the code that deals with formating section headings. By default they should:

1. fold over to the next line using normal text rules (ie. break on a word border or use popper hypenation)
2. respect the \protect\\ combination just fine
3. never run into margins

Something changed that in your document. Try it with a blank document – create a subsection and put \protect\\ in it. It will most likely work. If it doesn’t you may have a different version of LaTex than I do.

But you are right – every complex piece of software will have problems and quirks. It’s just that for me it’s much easier to debug code that mess around with a WYSIWYG interface.

28. Matt says:

Daniel,

I would agree that LaTeX has a steep learning curve (at least initially). But I would also argue that Microsoft Word has a very steep learning curve if you want to do anything more advanced than use the program as a glorified typewriter. I’ve worked and worked with Word in the past, and I still haven’t figured out how to get styles to work correctly.

I’m not in mathematics, so I don’t have to worry about formulas. Rather, I’m in the humanities. But I will say that I can whip off of student handout or a paper using vim+latex much faster and more efficiently than I could ever do with Word.

The way I see it, you’re going to have to put in a bunch of time if you’re going to do any advanced “word processing/typesetting,” whether Word or LaTeX. With LaTeX I find I get a double benefit: I not only learn the inner workings of the program (thus allowing me greater control), but I also end up with prettier and more elegant output.

29. wbkang says:

Yup. And when businesses moved to those locked inflexible blocked formats, they instantly lost the ability to easily search and sort data. They thought they were getting power (ie Excel formulas and sorting tools) but really, it was a tradeoff.

It really isn’t a trade-off.
As far as searching goes, Microsoft Office does provide IFilters for doc and docx files, which means that you can press your Windows key and type “ext:doc what-you-want-to-search.” For 99% of the population, this is much easier than find, xargs, grepping through your files. I am really not sure what is impossible with doc files in terms of searching and sorting that you are referring to.
Besides, the specs are public. In the worst case, unzip docx files, use an XML parser to extract data out of them. Done. It’s not like Microsoft has control over your data like Kindle in which Amazon can remotely delete your data.

Quark Press 7, Full – $749.00 Mathable 2.0 –$589.00
Adobe Page Maker – $499.00 MathType –$95
LaTex – free

LaTex isn’t really free. Virtually no one in a typical office knows LaTex. It means they need to be trained. Never mind it’s almost impossible to teach programming to general public. Training isn’t free. Wasted man-hour for the training isn’t free, either. Consider, one gets paid about $20/hour. For the company it costs at least$800/person/40 hour. For a small company of 20, that’s already $16000/week. That’s just the labor cost. What about the work they could do? So wasting a week for the training that might teach them LaTex neither does it really make any sense, nor it is cheaper than any other alternatives. It’s not about free vs. non-free. It is about the cost and the benefit. While LaTex is superior in typesetting compared to Word, as others pointed out already, this is more like apples to oranges comparison. The title of this post is unnecessarily provocative. 30. says: wbkang wrote: As far as searching goes, Microsoft Office does provide IFilters for doc and docx files, which means that you can press your Windows key and type “ext:doc what-you-want-to-search.” For 99% of the population, this is much easier than find, xargs, grepping through your files. I am really not sure what is impossible with doc files in terms of searching and sorting that you are referring to. You are assuming you are running Windows Vista. Can I do this on my linux based server where the files might be stored? And without paying out of the ass for a Microsoft license of some sort or a windows only third party tool? Can I do it without having Microsoft office installed on my system? Can I use the same tool to actually search, modify and re-sort the data stored in all these different files? Can I get data from two excel documents, rearrange it then append it to a Word document without actually doing any heavy duty programming? I can search and manipulate plain text files with just basic shell scripting. To do the same to Word and Excel documents I need to grab specific libraries, and probably a real programming language. wbkang wrote: LaTex isn’t really free. Virtually no one in a typical office knows LaTex. It means they need to be trained. Never mind it’s almost impossible to teach programming to general public. Training isn’t free. Wasted man-hour for the training isn’t free, either. Consider, one gets paid about$20/hour. For the company it costs at least $800/person/40 hour. For a small company of 20, that’s already$16000/week. That’s just the labor cost. What about the work they could do? So wasting a week for the training that might teach them LaTex neither does it really make any sense, nor it is cheaper than any other alternatives. It’s not about free vs. non-free. It is about the cost and the benefit.

Yeah, yeah – I heard the TCO speach about a million times and you know what? It’s bullshit. I will tell you why:

When we talk Microsoft office vs. open source alternative Microsoft fanboys yell TCO at the top of their lungs. But by that logic migrating to Office 2007 should have higher TCO than migrating Open Office. After all OOo.org was designed to look and feel just like Office 2k3, while Office 2007 completely changed the toolbar structure and the work flow.

So somehow, switching to Open Office requires MILLIONS OF MAN HOURS OF TRAINING, while switching to Office 2007 requires none. Cause you know – it’s still Office. It doesn’t matter that no employee will fucking know how to do anything. No training necessary – they will just figure it out. In facts, Microsoft reps will actually bend over backwards and somehow calculate that switching to the new Office version will actually save you money.

That’s how I know that TCO is bullshit. So let’s not even start this discussion because it is pointless.

Let’s look at the facts:

1. Latex is free
2. Most of the other tools are not
3. Most people are too fucking dumb and lazy to learn latex
4. Therefore we need to spend money because the workforce is saturated with technologically inept individuals

Is anyone actually trained to use Word on the job? No. It’s a required skill. If LaTex was the de facto standard for general purpose documents most people would have functional knowledge of it by the time they actually apply for their first job out of college. They would have lot’s of practice of typesetting their homework’s, essays and their actual resume.

What I was saying in this post is that we fucked up in the past by choosing convenience over power and functionality and it is a bit late now to turn around and start doing things the right way.

I’m not really saying “let’s ditch MS Word today”. I’m saying that we are stuck with the wrong tool.

wbkang wrote:

While LaTex is superior in typesetting compared to Word, as others pointed out already, this is more like apples to oranges comparison.

Of course it is. On one hand we have an excellent technology with a steep learning curve, that can be used for building great looking documents with little effort. On the other hand we have crappy technology that can be used to create crappy looking documents with little effort (great looking documents requiring tears, blood, sweat and identical setup in therms of fonts, plugins, printer drivers and etc.. on every single machine that is going to even touch it). Of course they are different.

wbkang wrote:

The title of this post is unnecessarily provocative.

Hey, don’t knock it just because it works. It got you to read the post and post a comment didn’t it? I think that this proves that the title is fitting. :)

31. Matt says:

Wow, nice to see this blog post is still alive and kicking two years later!

Luke Maciak wrote:

4. Therefore we need to spend money because the workforce is saturated with technologically inept individuals
Is anyone actually trained to use Word on the job? No. It’s a required skill. If LaTex was the de facto standard for general purpose documents most people would have functional knowledge of it by the time they actually apply for their first job out of college. They would have lot’s of practice of typesetting their homework’s, essays and their actual resume.
What I was saying in this post is that we fucked up in the past by choosing convenience over power and functionality and it is a bit late now to turn around and start doing things the right way.

This is precisely the problem. I’ve worked at companies where low paid workers manage complex databases and accounts in Excel by copying and pasting by hand. At these same companies data from one proprietary file format was printed out in the thousands of pages only to be entered manually into another database. Excel and Word may require little training — but that’s because most people use them as little more than type-writers and account registers.

The only reason LaTeX, OpenOffice, etc. are more “expensive” is because companies are so heavily invested in Microsoft. If the playing field were level, I doubt the opportunity cost of learning open source tools would any more than that of learning Microsoft Office. The problem is that the playing field is far from level. Good grief, all the computer training sessions for students and faculty at my university are for Microsoft products. In effect, the university is offering Microsoft a free service.

32. wbkang says:

You are assuming you are running Windows Vista. Can I do this on my linux based server where the files might be stored? And without paying out of the ass for a Microsoft license of some sort or a windows only third party tool?

Yes, the specs are public. You can probably write an indexer that unzip -c the file, pass it to a DOM parser, and take the innerHTML of it or something. You get the plain text.
Besides, what is so wrong with paying for softwares that someone spent their effort so that even a “fucking-dumb” users can use it? (other than the Free software ideology)

Can I use the same tool to actually search, modify and re-sort the data stored in all these different files? Can I get data from two excel documents, rearrange it then append it to a Word document without actually doing any heavy duty programming?

You can use Excel to do that. You just copy and paste. It’s called Object Linking and Embedding. It’s been there forever since 1995. You will need to use Excel functions (with the friendly help) but that’s totally different from learning entire programmers’ toolset.

I can search and manipulate plain text files with just basic shell scripting. To do the same to Word and Excel documents I need to grab specific libraries, and probably a real programming language.

Again, I can search them by a single key stroke, too. Honestly, if anyone had an aptitude to use LaTex, it’s probably not a huge deal to do the other one, anyways.

When we talk Microsoft office vs. open source alternative Microsoft fanboys yell TCO at the top of their lungs. But by that logic migrating to Office 2007 should have higher TCO than migrating Open Office.

I am dismissing this because I was talking about Word vs LaTex not MSO vs OOo. Let’s stay on topic.

Let’s look at the facts:
1. Latex is free
2. Most of the other tools are not
3. Most people are too fucking dumb and lazy to learn latex
4. Therefore we need to spend money because the workforce is saturated with technologically inept individuals

1-2. I understand that.
3-4. You know, there is another huge section of academia-Human-Computer Interactions. Don’t tell me that LaTex is so human-friendly and easy to use that there is no chance that there can be a typesetting software that is more user-friendly and at least as powerful as LaTex…

Calling users fucking dumb and lazy to use your fucking hard-to-use program (or, a programming language) is just irresponsible and absurd at best. It’s the RTFM sort of mindset that frustrates users. It’s not about TCO or whatever the business bullshit is called. Usability does matter.

I’m not really saying “let’s ditch MS Word today”. I’m saying that we are stuck with the wrong tool.

Maybe we disagree on this. I’d like to say that they are different tools for different tasks.

And I guess your title worked as-per-your purpose. :)

Take care,
wbkang

ps. Office 2007 ad poped up right below the comments section. What a juxtaposition….

33. says:

wbkang wrote:

Yes, the specs are public. You can probably write an indexer that unzip -c the file, pass it to a DOM parser, and take the innerHTML of it or something. You get the plain text.

Yes. Or I could just use plain text files with tab delimited or comma separated data and accomplish it in 3 lines of perl, awk or whatever.

To do what you are saying would require me to:

1. Find or write a library to extract zip files
2. Find a decent DOM parser
3. Go through the few hundred pages of OpenXML documentation
4. Write code that extracts the data from the XML files

That is a whole project – depending on how familiar you are with OpenXML it may take you anywhere from one day to few weeks. This is much more difficult than say writing 5-6 lines of perl to manipulate the plain text files.

wbkang wrote:

Besides, what is so wrong with paying for softwares that someone spent their effort so that even a “fucking-dumb” users can use it? (other than the Free software ideology)

Nothing. Nothing at all… Except Word is really not a good tool for creating documents. I mean it is easy to write a basic document, but truly mastering it requires you to understand the way it works – that there are invisible markup characters in certain places, and that’s why when whole paragraphs can sometimes change size, font and color just because you pressed delete or backspace on the keyboard.

I’ve seen people struggle for hours trying to get a document look a certain way. Each time they would get the top of the page working, something would happen to the bottom. They had paragraphs with different top margins. They had tables that wouldn’t align. They had section breaks that would make the first page header appear on page 8 because a table was too close to the bottom of page 7.

The causes of all these issues are invisible to a regular user. They get angry. They call the IT department and yell at our help desk because their word is broken. Half the time we need to dispatch a tech to walk up to a desk and press delete a few times.

In LaTex everything is VISIBLE. Yes, at first it is scary, intimidating and etc. But it all makes sense. You can actually see the markup and when something looks wonky, it is usually pretty straightforward to debug it.

And LaTex is not programming. I would actually say it is probably only a little bit difficult than HTML. And I teach HTML to non-cs majors every semester and they get it. I really think I could teach them LaTex if it was in the curriculum.

wbkang wrote:

You can use Excel to do that. You just copy and paste. It’s called Object Linking and Embedding. It’s been there forever since 1995. You will need to use Excel functions (with the friendly help) but that’s totally different from learning entire programmers’ toolset.

Yeah, I get it. I can search Excel document with Excel – that’s a given. But I can search a plain text file with vim, emacs, notepad, word, wordpad, awk, perl, textmate, kate, notepad++, editplus… Oh and also awk, perl, python, java, c, c++, ruby, lisp, scheme and even cobol if I’m so inclined.

The point is, that plain text files are easy to use and don’t tie you to a single tool. I can edit and process them with whatever I’m familiar with. No need to learn excel – I can apply the skills I already have to processing the text data.

wbkang wrote:

I am dismissing this because I was talking about Word vs LaTex not MSO vs OOo. Let’s stay on topic.

Of course – I wouldn’t expect anything else. I have yet to see a Microsoft supporter try to argue that one. I was just trying to point out the double standard Microsoft supporters use.

My point is – let’s take a group of 100 people who have never used either Word or LaTex and split them in half. The first half will be trained on Word for a week. The other will be trained on LaTex – and we will allocate exact same amount of money for each of these training programs. After a week, I suspect their level of skill would be comparable.

My point is that saying that using LaTex is really not more expensive. If you had to train all your staff to use MS Word it would cost you roughly the same amount of money and man-hours. But you don’t train people to use Word – you put “ability to use MS Word” in the job description.

If I only hired people who know LaTex at my company I probably would have to spend lot’s of money on training to migrate to MS Office. So you really can’t use this argument against LaTex. Training costs you money because you already have a workforce that’s familiar with Word but unfamiliar with LaTex. Like Matt said – if the the playing field was level, both tools would have similar TCO.

wbkang wrote:

You know, there is another huge section of academia-Human-Computer Interactions. Don’t tell me that LaTex is so human-friendly and easy to use that there is no chance that there can be a typesetting software that is more user-friendly and at least as powerful as LaTex…

Word is deceptively easy. Arguably, learning LaTex made me better Word user because it helped me to understand how the “invisible markup” really works. The point is that it is not supposed to be user friendly.

Not all user friendly things are good. Yes, we can talk about usability until we are blue in the face but that doesn’t change the fact that the most powerful and flexible tools out there are nothing but user friendly.

Have you ever watched an expert vim user at work? Or an expert Emacs user? It’s almost awe inspiring what these people can do. Once you learn a little bit of vim, MS Word starts looking like a shiny fisher price toy. All it is good for is for putting colorful fonts and fancy borders on your documents. But when it comes to editing – it basically just offers you basic copy and paste and some limited search/replace features. I mean, it doesn’t even understand regular expressions.

wbkang wrote:

Calling users fucking dumb and lazy to use your fucking hard-to-use program (or, a programming language) is just irresponsible and absurd at best. It’s the RTFM sort of mindset that frustrates users.

Actually, I just extrapolated that from what you said. You said it is impossible to teach regular people “programming”. LaTex is not really a programming language – I’m pretty sure it is not Turing complete. It’s a markup language – not unlike HTML. I can teach a classroom of 25 people the bare bone basics of HTML in about half an hour. Some people struggle with it more than the others but most can create a simple HTML website from scratch at the end of the class. I could do the exact same thing for LaTex.

But if we assume that a given group of people is too stupid or to lazy to actually make the effort, then it totally makes sense to pay upwards of $200 per seat for MS Office licenses for them. And again – MS Office may look easy to use, but it is not. Once you try to do something sufficiently advanced you run into a brick wall. Have you ever tried to write a thesis or dissertation in Word? Couple of my friends were writing their Masters Theses at the same time I was and I think I heard them say “I hate Word” 20-30 times a day. I’m not saying that writing my 150 page thesis in LaTex was a piece of cake. No, I actually had to look a lot of stuff up, and learn quite a bit about the language. It has a consistently steep learning curve. Word on the other hand has almost no learning curve – until you reach the brick wall where you actually have to fuck around with fields and bookmarks and write VBA macros to actually get what you need. Been there, done that – I’ll stick with LaTex. 34. You guys crack me up, arguing which screwdriver’s “better”. Fact is, for most people, especially people in business to earn money, commercial software is easier to use than learning a programming language. Never mind that LaTeX is overkill for simple word-processing chores, making it an additional time-waster for a business person. As page layout software, LaTeX is adequate, tho’–curiously–folks who use LaTeX turn out books that are less artful and more mechanized typesetting. That is to say, a LaTeX book is not likely to illustrate the art of making books. (And some of us do still value that, geeks or not.) Watching this discussion erupt again, like boils, makes me think there’s a serious inferiority complex among LaTeX users. Sounds like a pointless argument about who’s pointer’s bigger. I say again: If LaTeX is our chosen tool, enjoy the experience. But I have various phases of two different books to get out this weekend–ones on wind technology; the other’s a teacher’s guide to a package for teaching reading. They each require different thing–many equations to the wind tech book–and for me there’s no doubt that the distinction between technically fine pages and pages that reflect the art of making books swings solidly in the direction of InDesign/Quark/Photoshop/Illustrator/MathType, like that (but not limited to those software packages). And the expense is part of the legitimate cost of doing, something a businessperson ought to be prepared for or else not in business. 35. Matt says: Stephen Tiano wrote: You guys crack me up, arguing which screwdriver’s “better”. Ah, we have a flame war… and now we have the inevitable censorious, morally superior rebuke. The whole point of flame wars is that they are fun — what is so wrong about a little bit of enjoyable dispute? I.e., what is the fun of learning an esoteric program with a steep learning curve if you don’t get to grouse about all those “inferior” mainstream users? ;) As page layout software, LaTeX is adequate, tho’–curiously–folks who use LaTeX turn out books that are less artful and more mechanized typesetting. That is to say, a LaTeX book is not likely to illustrate the art of making books. (And some of us do still value that, geeks or not.) Have you used the memoir package? Just because a lot of visually illiterate mathematicians use LaTeX doesn’t mean that it’s not capable of beautiful typesetting. Watching this discussion erupt again, like boils, makes me think there’s a serious inferiority complex among LaTeX users. Sounds like a pointless argument about who’s pointer’s bigger. Ah. And here we have the inevitable dismissal of flame wars as a form of phallic rivalry. If only I had an extra \vspace{1in} for every time someone used this line…. 36. Rob says: I’m bewildered that anybody could look on either LaTeX *or* Word as anything but legacy technologies. They’re two different ways of putting ink onto dead trees, and it’s abundantly clear that the vast majority of users need to do that less and less. The electronic .doc and .pdf formats businesses and researchers are currently shipping around are pure cruft. Arguing that LaTeX is the future because it has better typesetting than CSS makes you look like one of the many who dismissed the train or the automobile because they weren’t as fast as the fastest racehorses: not terribly relevant at the time, and unlikely to be true for long. Font embedding on the web should address one of the biggest handicaps HTML has had compared to LaTeX—lack of well-designed symbols. I’m sorry to be the one to break it to you, but javascript and CSS are as powerful as the core TeX layout routines. A layer for equation layout still needs to be implemented on top, but whether this is based on MathML or just a bunch of CSS classes is beside the point; web content is written in Markdown or Textile or any of a dozen other lightweight languages, any of which are trivially extended with a TeX-like equation language. It will be twenty years before page-oriented layout dies off for things like academic publications, but any business trying to shift their workers to LaTeX is investing in a dead technology. Web-based (think wiki-style) document production is where things are headed now, with page layout left to professional graphic designers. 37. Joe says: There is a need for a new word processing package that takes lessons learned from LaTeX and Word/OOo. I don’t think either approach is the ultimate, but there is wisdom to be learned from both. 38. says: @ Matt: Your comment is so full of win I don’t even need to post a response to Stepen. :) Rob wrote: I’m bewildered that anybody could look on either LaTeX *or* Word as anything but legacy technologies. They’re two different ways of putting ink onto dead trees, and it’s abundantly clear that the vast majority of users need to do that less and less. The electronic .doc and .pdf formats businesses and researchers are currently shipping around are pure cruft. Soooo…. What do you suppose we use? Cause I’m all for going back to plain text. :) You can’t really say these things are legacy because we don’t yet have anything to replace them. Rob wrote: Arguing that LaTeX is the future because it has better typesetting than CSS makes you look like one of the many who dismissed the train or the automobile because they weren’t as fast as the fastest racehorses: not terribly relevant at the time, and unlikely to be true for long. LaTex is unfortunately not the future. But it doesn’t mean that you can’t look into the past and use the things that worked then, and still work now. Rob wrote: It will be twenty years before page-oriented layout dies off for things like academic publications, but any business trying to shift their workers to LaTeX is investing in a dead technology. Very unlikely. I can’t for example imagine reading novels of the screen this way. The dead tree book industry will be around for a long time because there will always be people who like to read in a bath tub, on the toilet, on the beach and etc… I mean, maybe if someone starts selling a Kindle like device for like$20 people will switch over to electronic media completely.

Rob wrote:

Web-based (think wiki-style) document production is where things are headed now, with page layout left to professional graphic designers.

And wiki based online tools have what? Markup! Just like LaTex – but simpler. You either have to use HTML or some simplified form of markup to embed images, emphasize text and etc. That’s exactly what I’m advocating here.

Seriously, I’m all for this. Again, I don’t particularly care where do we go from here – as long as we get away from the MS Word model which is obviously broken.

39. says:

@ Joe:
You mean like Lyx?

40. @ Luke Maciak:

But Word is only a word processor. LaTeX is for full-blown page design and layout. How are they proper comparisons? Those who say Word is for layout are just missing the mark. Compare LaTeX to other page layout packages–that would be meaningful.

And I’m mindful that LaTeX accomplishes layout. I’m just saying, as a programming language and no WYSIWYG without an add-on, rather than a software package, it’s learning curve is way higher. Additionally, as a programming language, it’s favored more by techie types than book makers.

But it still comes down to what you like to use, the comfort level yyou have with whichever tools you choose, and whether you know what words ought to look like on the printed page.

41. Rob says:

You can’t really say these things are legacy because we don’t yet have anything to replace them.

For complex mathematical equations, I agree there’s currently no good replacement. For 99.9% of all “business” writing? Trivial HTML is sufficient.

LaTeX is unfortunately not the future. But it doesn’t mean that you can’t look into the past and use the things that worked then, and still work now.

For all their flaws, HTML, CSS, and Javascript are based on a design orders of magnitude cleaner and more robust than LaTeX. You may as well argue that Ruby isn’t any good, and the future languages should look back to Fortran. The lessons are already a part of the vocabulary. Move on.

I can’t for example imagine reading novels of the screen this way. The dead tree book industry will be around for a long time because there will always be people who like to read in a bath tub, on the toilet, on the beach and etc… I mean, maybe if someone starts selling a Kindle like device for like \$20 people will switch over to electronic media completely.

Beyond a disagreement over how quickly people will accept digital tablets over paper, think about how many users are currently producing the final proofs of novels in Word and LaTeX. The argument isn’t whether paper still exists; it’s whether regular users still need tools designed explicitly for producing paper output.

Markup! Just like LaTex – but simpler.

Uh…no. They are fundamentally different. You could equally argue that plaintext is just .doc, but simpler.

But Word is only a word processor. LaTeX is for full-blown page design and layout.

Neither one is a real design tool like InDesign, but Word actually comes closer. LaTeX is just a layout engine with a bunch of stock designs and an open format for adding new designs; it doesn’t have an interactive interface (beyond the ancient debugging silliness). Word is a hybrid between a design interface and a text entry interface.

The single application which has killed “word processing” is email. Simple web authoring tools are finishing the job. I expect that attempts to migrate the Word front-end to web authoring will be a lot more successful than attempts to adapt the TeX back-end to HTML generation. (The TeX style for encoding mathematical equations, of course, may well outlast us all.)

42. says:

Stephen Tiano wrote:

But Word is only a word processor. LaTeX is for full-blown page design and layout. How are they proper comparisons? Those who say Word is for layout are just missing the mark. Compare LaTeX to other page layout packages–that would be meaningful.

Ok, I’ll give you that – it is not entirely a fair comparison.

Stephen Tiano wrote:

And I’m mindful that LaTeX accomplishes layout. I’m just saying, as a programming language and no WYSIWYG without an add-on, rather than a software package, it’s learning curve is way higher.

Completely agree. All I’m saying is that a steep learning curve is not necessarily a bad thing. For example look at Vim and Emacs users.

Rob wrote:

For complex mathematical equations, I agree there’s currently no good replacement. For 99.9% of all “business” writing? Trivial HTML is sufficient.

You might be right. Then again if you already know HTML then learning the basics of LaTex should be trivial. It is just a different markup language.

Rob wrote:

For all their flaws, HTML, CSS, and Javascript are based on a design orders of magnitude cleaner and more robust than LaTeX. You may as well argue that Ruby isn’t any good, and the future languages should look back to Fortran. The lessons are already a part of the vocabulary. Move on.

You are right HTML when done correctly is structured – you can navigate the DOM and etc. LaTex doesn’t have that, and it’s compiler often needs two or 3 passes to actually generate a proper document. Still, the two were designed with very different goals:

LaTex was designed to make good looking printed documents.

HTML was designed to look good on screen – printing, leaves something to be desired. Have you ever tried to make your web pages print a certain way on every browser? It’s a hassle.

And let me tell you – people loooooove to print out tables and reports from web applications.

Rob wrote:

Beyond a disagreement over how quickly people will accept digital tablets over paper, think about how many users are currently producing the final proofs of novels in Word and LaTeX. The argument isn’t whether paper still exists; it’s whether regular users still need tools designed explicitly for producing paper output.

Btw, LaTex can create great looking PDF documents too. And last time I checked PDF is one of the prefered e-book formats out there.

Besides, never claimed LaTex is popular. It is not. Most people don’t use it, because they don’t know about it, or are intimidated by it. My post was simply trying to show people that it is not an obsolete tool – just an under-appreciated one.

Rob wrote:

Uh…no. They are fundamentally different. You could equally argue that plaintext is just .doc, but simpler.

Well, they are structured differently, but there are parallels. Both are stored in plain text files. Both use a specifically formatted commands to mark up formating:

<!-- in HTML you do bold like this: --> <strong>bold stuff</strong>

Compare with:

% in LaTex you do bold like this: textbf{bold stuff}

The syntax is different, but the idea is the same. It’s just that LaTex has all the stuff that you would normally do with CSS built into the regular syntax.

Granted, HTML is cleaner. And again – if we can make HTML the default for creating documents then we do not need LaTex.

Rob wrote:

Neither one is a real design tool like InDesign, but Word actually comes closer. LaTeX is just a layout engine with a bunch of stock designs and an open format for adding new designs; it doesn’t have an interactive interface (beyond the ancient debugging silliness). Word is a hybrid between a design interface and a text entry interface.

True, but it makes it perfect for people who just want to create good looking documents but are not graphic designers or layout specialists. The layout design tools are great when you know what you are doing. LaTex will attempt to create a nice document by default. Then you can tweak it to get away from the standard designs.

I wouldn’t use it to create colorful brochures, or write something like House of Leaves. For that I would use one of the tools you mention. But it is perfect for my needs. I used it for my Masters Thesis and all the papers I wrote. If I was writing a book, I’d use LaTex.

Rob wrote:

The single application which has killed “word processing” is email. Simple web authoring tools are finishing the job.

I don’t agree. I see the business world is still reliant on Word and Excel. Email is merely a tool to exchange these file. I don’t see people migrating to online tools for stuff like creating written reports or tabulating data.

Rob wrote:

I expect that attempts to migrate the Word front-end to web authoring will be a lot more successful than attempts to adapt the TeX back-end to HTML generation. (The TeX style for encoding mathematical equations, of course, may well outlast us all.)

This has already happened. Most blog engines and a lot of new wiki tools have WYSIWYG editors built in. It doesn’t mean they are a good thing though – it’s just something that majority of people want. I always switch these things off though. I prefer to write my posts in HTML – yes, HTML. And I don’t think LaTex would be better for this – HTML is a web language and is perfectly suited to the task after all.

43. Ian H says:

Rob wrote:

I’m bewildered that anybody could look on either LaTeX *or* Word as anything but legacy technologies. They’re two different ways of putting ink onto dead trees, and it’s abundantly clear that the vast majority of users need to do that less and less. The electronic .doc and .pdf formats businesses and researchers are currently shipping around are pure cruft.

Formats for documents are formats for documents. Whether or not the document is subsequently printed or displayed on a screen is irrelevant. And you can always convert between formats – for example doc to odf and back again. Of far greater importance than how the document is stored or output is the manner in which it is input, and this you largely ignore.

Arguing that LaTeX is the future because it has better typesetting than CSS makes you look like one of the many who dismissed the train or the automobile because they weren’t as fast as the fastest racehorses: not terribly relevant at the time, and unlikely to be true for long.

CSS is unweildy. Website designers use it. People who write documents don’t. The tool is not designed for this purpose. Maybe you can use CSS and javascript to format documents. I certainly cant.

Font embedding on the web should address one of the biggest handicaps HTML has had compared to LaTeX—lack of well-designed symbols. I’m sorry to be the one to break it to you, but javascript and CSS are as powerful as the core TeX layout routines. A layer for equation layout still needs to be implemented on top, but whether this is based on MathML or just a bunch of CSS classes is beside the point; web content is written in Markdown or Textile or any of a dozen other lightweight languages, any of which are trivially extended with a TeX-like equation language.

None of this technology is currently functional. Your layer for equation layout does not yet exist, although I wish it did. Furthermore it isn’t a trivial problem as you pretend. If you want MATHML as your internal format you have to supply the information that MATHML demands. That information then has to be present in your input language. And MATHML is utterly ridiculous in what it demands.

MATHML is a format with pretensions. It wants every symbol be explicitly assigned a type every time you use it. It demands to know the meaning of every operation used. For academic mathematics – which is the main type of mathematics people want to put on the web – this is absurd. In order to get MATHML to display what I want it to display I have to lie to it about the nature and meaning of the symbols and operations I am using because MATHML insists to be told this stuff but is too thick to understand mathematics much beyond high school level.

For example MATHML arrogantly takes it upon itself to automatically and silently convert the input dx^4 (used to denote the differential on a 4-D manifold) into the (ridiculous in this context) 4x^3dx because it thinks you are talking about high school calculus, the only kind it understands. Indeed there is no easy way to get it to actually display the correct dx^4. A user of MATHML has to be constantly alert to this kind of silliness. You just can’t trust it. And the whole idea of trying to control a document format by carefully lying to it is just nuts.

It will be twenty years before page-oriented layout dies off for things like academic publications, but any business trying to shift their workers to LaTeX is investing in a dead technology. Web-based (think wiki-style) document production is where things are headed now, with page layout left to professional graphic designers.

LateX isn’t a dead technology. It isn’t suitable maybe for poorly skilled workers and some office applications, but it is far from obsolete. People will continue to write documents in LaTeX because it is a human input language that meets an important purpose. Those of us who use latex don’t care whether or not the document is converted to some other format for display or printing. We are used to doing that.

The problem for us is that Latex2HTML conversion is still very poor, especially when
it comes to mathematics. This is due mostly to MATHML silliness and weaknesses in HTML formatting methods. If MATHML were scrapped and something more sensible perhaps involving css was used to deal with mathematics and formatting, then accurate LaTeX2HTML conversion might become possible. The objective in my opinion should be to develop a version of HTML suitable for faithful and accurate rendering of vanilla latex input, so that we could simply run htmllatex just as we currently run pdflatex, and be confident that our document would be rendered in a reasonable fashion.

Trying to convince existing LateX users to learn another inferior language is going about things the wrong way.

44. ikaruga says:

Wow, I can’t believe this thread is still going! Couple of observations, I’ll try to be brief: (1) LaTeX is the undisputed king of math. But that’s it — please do not try to argue that you can use it to make “pretty” or “artful” books. (2) The reason is because custom layouts i.e., anything that is not a research paper is incredibly difficult to do. And what you can do is very limited. For example, try to set a two column list (1, 2, 3,…) with sublists (A, B, C, D) and make sure that items along with the sublist stay together on the same page and column. (Yeah, that’s a little tricky because LaTeX typesetting engine gets in your way.) (3) LaTeX is a dead technology or at most limited to academia. “Inferior” technologies like Word are playing catchup every year. For example, has anyone here heard of MathType? It actually suffices for high school math.

45. Matt says:

ikaruga wrote:

The reason is because custom layouts i.e., anything that is not a research paper is incredibly difficult to do.

The memoir package is not difficult. And, if your heart so desires, you can do anything you want with conTeXt.

But this is missing the point. The point is that LaTeX makes it incredibly easy to create professional looking research papers (and with bibtex or biblatex, to automate citations). That’s what it was designed to do — and it does a bang-up job of it, if you ask me. If you don’t write such papers, then LaTeX obviously won’t appeal to you. But what’s wrong with serving a niche market? Though I’m glad to create web pages with html and css and whatnot, I’m not about to produce my research papers with them anytime soon.

(3) LaTeX is a dead technology or at most limited to academia.

Why do people keep talking about “dead” technologies here. Last I checked LaTeX still had a large body of users and a fairly active community. Just because it doesn’t rule the corporate world doesn’t mean it’s a dead technology. By that criterion desktop Linux would have been “dead” a long time ago. This type of talk irks me almost as much as the folks who say that anyone who doesn’t use Gmail and other “cloud” services is retrograde.

I think there are really two conversations going on here. One compares LaTeX and Word, which is a quite limited comparison. But I think the real debate is between plain-text markup (which is usually open) and closed gui, binary file formats.

I use simple markup (e.g., Markdown, emacs muse, etc.) that I can export to a variety of formats (LaTeX, html, docbook xml, conTeXt, etc.). For me, it’s an issue of empowerment: plain text is best way to retain control over the whole process, the best way to ensure ownership of my source text. I’m less concerned about the “prettiness” of the output than about whether I’m at the whim of a software company.

“Inferior” technologies like Word are playing catchup every year. For example, has anyone here heard of MathType? It actually suffices for high school math.

“Suffices for high school math” is a not exactly catching up.

46. LaTeX user says:

Well, although I use LaTeX, and I am very happy with it. I have to be fair with word processors. There are many things about word and OpenOffice, that are not fair in the comparison:

1) Both word processors may split words at the end of the row.
2) It is possible to define different kinds of tags for headings, body text, etc., that is equivalent to \section, \subsection, \begin{itemize} …. \end{itemize} in LaTeX
3) Both are capable of predefined styles, that include margins, font faces, tags for headings, emphasizing, etc
4) Both can generate table of contents, index and at least OpenOffice can handle bibliographies.

Whether or not it works as it is suppose to do, is other discussion.
Someone above wrote something like: people is already trained to use word, because it is an standard requirement to get a job.
How many people do you know that uses word with all the features I mentioned above?

The main reason that Word is more popular than LaTeX is because it is a sophisticated
typewriting machine. For the almost extinct job of secretaries, it was a needed skill, and it was ease for them to move from that to use a word processor.
That is part of the work in any office.

On the other side, TeX/LaTeX was originated from the need of Don Knuth, a mathematician to typeset his books. It was created to ease the typesetting job.
To write books with lots of formulas, later for many different subjects like musical scores, biology texts, chemistry, and other specialties that some TeX/LaTeX users wrote packages for, and SHARED them.

TeX is a typesetting language, is well documented, you can write extensions like LaTeX, AMS, etc if you wish to do that.
A more practical use of knowing the rules to use the markup macros, is that you can write a program to format its output including TeX/LaTeX macros.
More over, you can write beautifully typed and very well documented programs. in a style known as Literate Programming, an idea from, …, Don Knuth.

When I wrote, my BS thesis, I used msword under msdos in a computer less powerful than the cellphone in your pocket.
But it did not work as the documentation said, I defined my own style, i.e. a set of new labels and redefinitions of headings. (in the Format menu as far as I remember, it was a long time ago.)
After that experience I learned LaTeX, I am not an expert, I mean, I am not skilled to write a new style, just very simple \newcommand macros that I need.
Nevertheless I get very good results. It works fine for articles and presentations.
Although beamer is a very good package, it is based in pgf/tikz this package is very powerful for graphics, but it is difficult to learn, even for experienced programmers of all purpose languages like me.

Office working people do not usually write books, or articles. They write letters, catalogs, sales presentations mainly including many images, not formulas or diagrams like parse trees. Financial reports with pie charts, and bar charts.
And all that stuff used to convince you to buy their products.
I do not see a good reason to insist that employees in offices should use LaTeX,
although, all that things may be beautifully done with LaTeX.
Other issue is the cost of ms-office licenses, I would prefer to use OpenOffice, instead, in a business environment, but encouraging the boss to support the project donating money. It is very easy to move from one word processor to other. The learning curve is not heavy.
I will continue to use LaTeX, but from time to time I receive writings in .doc format, that I open in OpenOffice and convert to pdf, when I need to redistribute them after inserting my changes. That is the other issue, documents and presentations may be converted to pdf, but many users do not know how to do that. Spreadsheets are also used as a data file format, for that reason it is not always a good idea to convert them to pdf.

Well that is all I can say for this discussion.
I’ll wait to see your answer.

47. LaTeX user says:

Dear moderator in the previous message where it says:

But it did not work as the documentation said, I defined my own style, i.e. a set of new labels and redefinitions of headings. (in the Format menu as far as I remember, it was a long time ago.)

should say:

But it did not worked marking and changing the fonts on each part, but as the documentation said. I defined my own style, i.e. a set of new labels and redefinitions of headings. (in the Format menu as far as I remember, it was a long time ago.)

As it seems that I cant do the correction, could you please insert:

ed marking and changing the fonts on each part, but

after:

But I did not work

Please it really change the meaning,
Thanks.

48. trlkly says:

@ Ian H:

HTML was never supposed to have anything to do with layout. It’s not a design markup language, but a text markup language. We’re actually moving to less and less tags.

If you design HTML like you do printed content, you are doing it wrong. It’s the reason why so many webpages are broken for anyone who uses anything other than the default settings on their browser.

I also find the concept of enjoying tracking down bugs to be really weird, and I do program. That’s my most hated part. And there’s no reason there shouldn’t be a good WYSIWIG editor for LaTEX.

And Word has a button that will allow you to see all symbols.

49. says:

trlkly wrote:

I also find the concept of enjoying tracking down bugs to be really weird, and I do program. That’s my most hated part.

I would say it is a frustrating but often satisfying experience. I hate being stuck trying to find a weird logical error plaguing my code, but the “AHA!” moment when you find it is incredibly rewarding.

trlkly wrote:

And there’s no reason there shouldn’t be a good WYSIWIG editor for LaTEX.

The WYSIWYG editor for LaTeX is called Lyx. It’s actually WYSIWYM editor which is a much better concept. Still, I prefer to write my LaTex code by hand using a nice Tex IDE like Kile, Texmaker or TeXnicCenter.

trlkly wrote:

And Word has a button that will allow you to see all symbols.

No, word has a button that shows you some of the symbols. Word Perfect from Corell had a button that would show all the symbols – like boldface starts here and ends here. Font size increase starts here, ends here. Word just shows spaces, line breaks, paragraph marks, tab indents and section/page breaks.

50. euromix says:

Did you notice how most web site about LaTex praise the quality of the printed material with LaTex while having little care of how good looking is the web site itself ?
(and i’m not talking about this blog)
That always puzzled me

51. Dave says:

Dude, how do we tell you about typo’s in your articles? They are usually very good and I read them everyday, there are usually however a few spelling or grammer errors. If you don’t care about them then thats fine, but if you would like to correct them then should we post about it in the comments (which seems pointless as once you have fixed the mistake then there is still a comment about it, or will you delete the comment?)

That being said, there is an issue with the first paragraph in the section titled “No Vendor Lock In”. The word “attacked” should be “attached”, isnt it?

52. says:

@ Dave:

Thanks. You can always email me or send me a direct message on Twitter, G+ or Facebook message. My contact info is listed here.

53. Victor says:

The only thing that I disalike is that it isn’t easy to type CJK characters in LaTeX. Well, I am Chinese and I need to type Chinese articles. It doesn’t supported CJK by native, so I have to install CJK for LaTeX, which is such a hard job that waste a lot of time. Why doesn’t LaTeX support all encodings by native? What’s worse, installing CJK for LaTeX is not enough! I need to install special Chinese fonts for LaTeX even if the operating system has already been installed Chinese fonts. This is very strange. Why can’t LaTeX use the Chinese fonts which have already been installed in the operating system?

54. Hongying says:

@ Victor:
Hi,

Right, It’s a pain to type CJK characters, but just for pdfLatex or LaTex, please try xelatex .

Actually, it’s XeLaTeX does what you say in your quesion “Why can’t LaTeX use the Chinese fonts which have already been installed in the operating system?”

Try to put the following in your “test.tex”, and compile it by
xelatex test.tex

Hongying

55. Hongying says:

Thanks for your post.
I’m just twinking the layout, and notice the discussion here.

My reasons:
Personally, I like latex because that as I know and trust latex will give me a beautiful document, I can always totally focus on the containt part when I’m writing a paper or some thing. (Sometimes we do need to change de default layout of some template class, and it takes times, but it’s rewarding.)

And YES it takes much time to write a template class for MOST people.
But on the other side, think about how we fall into the group of “most people”?

Recently I rewrote the “inline-math-completion” and updated my fork of Latex-box, a vim plugin for latex writing.

It takes me 3-4 nights. But when I finished it, I notice that I just typed one huandred of lines in total at most. How comes that I spent so much time!
Because I’m not farmilar with the buildin functions and regex, and what’s worse is that I did not ever think I should remember the ones I met (though I like Vim, and have been using it for 3 years).
And I think that’s the difference between me and other plugin authors!

Then I tell meself that I should try to prevent such situations for the things that I really care about in my life. Remember things and familar with tools that can make a big difference.
To become professional, start from remembering.

Hongying

PS: Derek Silvers’ ideas of remembering things with Anki.

56. Hasan says:

Thank you for the clear comparison and the objective opinion, I believe that Microsoft word is better than LaTEX when it comes to writing simple documents with graphics. And when writing technical documents such software and IT documentation. I think LaTEX is better for research houses and mathematical documents. Anyway I did an analysis about LaTEX and Microsoft Word for IT organization please have a look on it : http://www.jaftalks.com/wp/index.php/latex-or-microsoft-word-in-it-org anization/
I will be waiting for your opinion, kindly post your agreement in the comment.
Thank you

57. quink says:

I know this is an old post, google sent me to here. I want to learn how to use LaTex, but my boss will shoot me to dead if I give him a paper written in LaTex. The world of Windows XP(piracy) and Windows office 2003(piracy) is the only world my boss wants to stay with.

58. Cody Harrington says:

@ Rob:

Been a steady LaTeX user for a decade? Think you’re okay at it? Write a resumé template from scratch. I don’t know anyone in my department who could do that in less than a day.

I did this very recently, actually. Although you are right in that it took me longer than a day, overall it wasn’t that painful or that much longer, and I’ve only been using LaTeX for about a year.

59. LuaLaTeX user says:

Do note that LuaLaTeX (allowing the native use of Lua), the successor of pdfLaTeX and LaTeX3 are in active development.
To the best of my knowledge no other program can easily break, for example, wrongly placed ligatures.
In LuaLaTeX you just have to enter \usepackage{selnolig} and you’re done.
The microtypography of LaTeX (note that \usepackage{microtype} should always be used) is also unmatched, the last comparisons I know of with Adobe InDesign were quite striking:
http://www.zinktypografie.nl/latex.php?lang=en
LuaLaTeX in combination with fontspec allows also the easy use of system otf fonts, so it surely is not “dead”.