4.0035 TeX and LaTeX (56)

Elaine Brennan & Allen Renear (EDITORS@BROWNVM.BITNET)
Fri, 11 May 90 16:48:15 EDT

Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 4, No. 0035. Friday, 11 May 1990.

Date: Fri, 11 MAY 90 11:30:50 GMT
Subject: Tex and Latex: Cons and Pros

TeX and LaTeX: Cons and Pros

Reading the high praise of TeX and LaTeX, I feel the picture is not quite
complete. TeX and LaTeX are very good tools; handled well, either can
give very good results. And so far as their capabilities for
typesetting Maths, both score very high indeed. But there are some
hefty drawbacks:

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.
On the Macintosh it is possible to access other typefaces. It is also
possible to set the system up so that it will work with postscript or
other fonts, but this is a very large undertaking.

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
not look good. 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.

3) LaTeX produces structured documents. It knows about different levels
of headings, and different parts of documents. It can, with the
greatest of ease, produce lists of figures, tables, tables of contents,
abstracts, and many other things. Cross references are a doddle. 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.

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

As for TeX: with TeX, really anything is possible. Someone, it seems,
can always write a macro to do whatever it is that you want. And TeX
gives you wonderfully fine control over the white space on a page, and
this, I believe, is one of the crucial factors in really good
typesetting. But not only do you need the sometimes highly skilled Tex
experts at your elbow, you also need a good sense of design (or,
preferably, to have your document professionally designed), and the
discipline (experience?) and eye for detail to see it through. Bearing
these things in mind, yes, TeX is maybe a dream. But beware, dreams can
become nightmares...

Catherine Griffin
Oxford University Computing Service