4.0051 TeX (89)

Elaine Brennan & Allen Renear (EDITORS@BROWNVM.BITNET)
Tue, 15 May 90 17:25:51 EDT

Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 4, No. 0051. Tuesday, 15 May 1990.

Date: Tue, 15 May 90 13:59:40 bst
From: Sebastian Rahtz <spqr%ecs.southampton.ac.uk@NSFnet-Relay.AC.UK>
Subject: Re: Tex and Latex: Cons and Pros

Catherine Griffin's note on "TeX and LaTeX: Cons and Pros" in HUMANIST
4.35 passed before my eyes in a circuitous way. Its a long time since I
left HUMANIST, but I can't resist sending you a quick reply.

I highlight a few points

> 1) The fonts they use. Both come with Computer Modern fonts; these are
> fonts that have been designed especially for TeX, using the related
> program Metafont. Computer Modern is not a very attractive typeface.
> possible to set the system up so that it will work with postscript or
> other fonts, but this is a very large undertaking.

I agree with Catherine that Computer Modern Roman isn't an attractive
typeface, particularly at low resolution. And I would concede that TeX
and CMR have been unhealthily associated for too long now. But I would
certainly *not* agree that using other fonts `is a very large
undertaking'! It is essentially trivial. I have been producing books,
reports, handouts etc with TeX for the last four years, and I have yet
to use CMR for my final draft. The last three books I have done were in
Baskerville, Lucida and Times. I have used three different ways of
getting TeX in sync with PostScript fonts, and I could set any of them
up on Catherine's computer in half an hour. No, I don't use a
Macintosh! LaTeX 2.10 will, by the way, provide a much easier way of
setting up new font families.

> 2) TeX is very 'low level'. You have to tell it almost everything. It
> has no notion of a structured document. If you want all the headings
> etc to be treated in the same way, it is up to you to write a macro to
> do this. The result is that the majority of things typeset with TeX do
this is a non sequitur, m'lud
> not look good.

This is an argument against all known typesetting systems...

> Most people who typeset their own papers, documents,
> books do not yet have the knowledge or the discipline to produce a
> well-planned, well-laid out document.

Criticisms at this level apply to the whole, spurious, field of `desktop
publishing', not to TeX.

> BUT again you rarely see something produced with LaTeX that really looks
> good. This is because while it is easy to use the style sheets
> provided, it is notoriously difficult to alter them.

Again, Catherine is right - there is a lot of hideous stuff produced
with LaTeX; there is a zillion times more produced with Macwrite,
Pagemaker and Ventura. Blame the craftsman, not the tools! It is not
`notoriously difficult' to write new LaTeX styles (nor is it fair to
criticize Leslie Lamport for creating default styles which suit
American, not Oxford, taste), but neither is it *supposed* to be easy to
do a designers job.

> These considerations are undeniably important; this is shown by the
> amateura look at many documents produced by TeX and LaTeX.

The amaterishness comes from the designer, not LaTeX. Last year I did a
book in PostScript Times Roman using LaTeX for Oxford University Press.
Since OUP specified all the parameters of the layout, who is to blame if
you don't like the result? - OUP for the layout, and Adobe for the
font, but not LaTeX.

> If you are expert enough to write your own style sheet, and knowledgeable
> enough to design a good layout, and preferably use a system which employs
> fonts other than Computer Modern, LaTeX is an excellent typesetting

a bit like all other typesetting systems, then?

> Bearing these things in mind, yes, TeX is maybe a dream. But
> beware, dreams can become nightmares...

Yes, of course. But we are in the context of computers here. Computers
and their software are *general purpose tools*; that is their horror,
and their excitement. To criticize a program which embodies all that is
best and worst in computers is a swipe at the fundamental assumptions of
our business!

When someone points me at a program which allows me the control over
typesetting that TeX provides; is free; runs on every computer I use; is
almost infinitely extensible; whose source comes with it; which has
almost no known bugs (that is not to say it is perfect!) - then I'll
have one, thanks.

Sebastian Rahtz
Southampton University