Let’s find something better than LaTeX – DEV Community

Mar 17, 2022

Filling my want for a response to Nicky’s professional LaTeX article I would like to clarify why LaTeX is a failed challenge to me. Sure, I’ve robust emotions about this documentation system, however – only for additional reference – not in the direction of its customers as I’m sadly one in all them.

My historical past with LaTeX

Earlier than I begin to clarify why I believe one ought to get as many miles between them and this devilish system I have to inform you about my historical past with LaTeX so you possibly can perceive why my declare has developed over years and isn’t just the results of a pissed off sunny afternoon. However please, you might be free so skip this part.

My story begins even earlier than my first semester a college: I keep in mind how impressed I used to be by the wonderful format of letters a supervisor throughout a faculty internship was capable of print with the best of ease. He solely edited the uncooked textual content, the necessary half, there was no formatting by hand, no clicking and looking out, the antithesis of every little thing I had realized to date about phrase processing (it was the time of Microsoft Workplace 95).

Some years later I attended my first lecture in arithmetic and needed to do weekly assignments. However years of on-line chatting had regressed my handwriting to the look of indecipherable German runes. Being happy with my genius options I typeset each single web page in most fantastic calligraphic formulation with the assistance of the much more genius energy of LaTeX (because of D. Knuth and L. Lamport).

My subsequent noteworthy expertise had been protocols of the sensible coaching in physics that needed to be performed by two or three college students. The crew needed to coordinate the gluing collectively of their items of textual content and numbers, measurements and conclusions, drawings and bibliography. As soon as once more LaTeX to the rescue! Easy textual content was simply transferable from Home windows to Linux to Mac, at all times trying the identical, at all times trying good.

And even now my present employment consists of LaTeX. We’re automagicaly (really quite in a not-to-complicated technique of statistics and a few textual content processing) producing umpteen paperwork containing the outcomes of instructional analysis for ten thousand faculties, its academics and college students. Collectively tens of millions of pages that no military of minions might ever put collectively even with probably the most subtle characteristic of MS Phrase collection letters.

A brief overview of some great benefits of LaTeX

To conclude all of the above I repeat all some great benefits of the superior phrase processing system LaTeX.

• Separation of content material, automated content material and design: There isn’t any want to consider web page numbering, headline sizes, widows and orphans, desk of contents, of figures, of tables, hyphenation, accentuation, font choice and determine placement. All that design stuff you do not know anyway is simply taken care of in an expert method. If you wish to write a letter you begin with “Dear Mrs. Receiver…” and even your last “My best wishes B.” can be auto accomplished by your devoted servant LaTeX.
• Typesetting of formulation: Superset two as sq., integral or sum signal, naturally with super- and suberscript limits, these historic Greek letters you continue to do not know the right way to pronounce (φ and ψ, ζ and ξ, are you able to even distinguish them in your personal handwriting?) and fractions over fractions: LaTeX combines all of them to not a mayhem of numbers, letters and indicators however a bit of typesetting artwork (nonetheless solely comprehensible to the attention skilled in arcane arts as differential calculus and algebraic geometry however however).
• Textual content based mostly: There isn’t any format extra open than the American Normal Code for Data Interchange, the bottom of all (laptop based mostly) writing, no uncooked binary code and every little thing well-defined and deductible. You may simply share your textual content, do a diff of all of the modifications your colleague made and simply spot the corrections of your proofreaders, model management the progress together with all its benefits like branching, leaping in historical past, merging…. Briefly by utilizing LaTeX you have got every little thing we’re used to and count on in software program improvement.
• Mass course of ready: Based mostly on well-established software program you possibly can course of 1000’s of paperwork in an affordable time, every (as it’s based mostly on uncooked textual content) with small or massive variations, generated by your favorable programming language and adjusted particularly to its function.

An extended overview of why I hate LaTeX a lot

However why on earth, you ask, am I complaining about LaTeX even so till now I’ve solely satisfied you to de-install each phrase processor, scratch the DVDs, cancel your Workplace 365 subscription and dwell fortunately ever after?

• Clumsy Syntax LaTeX relies on slashes, braces and sq. brackets. However you by no means know whether or not one thing is an setting or a operate, which parameter is non-compulsory (therefore sq. brackets) and which required, named or assigned by place. There isn’t any earlier information you possibly can construct on neither for syntax nor the large vocabulary. Be ready for a livelong journey of studying and do always remember.
• Package deal dependence The ability of LaTeX (itself an extension of TeX) comes from some highly effective packages that will localize your complete doc, can help you write chemical structural formulation of sophisticated natural molecules or simply make very nice tables. However they’ve a draw back. Moderately than rigorously extending its energy, staring probably the most used and greatest supervised packages, pearls lie subsequent to filth. The myriad of badly programmed, documented and deserted packages which can be the one solution to archive that tiny characteristic MS Phrase would have handed you within the blink of an eye fixed are bringing down the entire ecosystem. And as an icing: these packages may work together with one another producing both full nonsense, some unusual trying, fragile butterfly or only a damaged doc that will not compile. You’ll be that script kiddie simply throwing collectively items of code somebody really useful on Stack Overflow however by no means understood to succeed in your required end result.
• Design abduction I by no means even heard of somebody who might fashion a LaTeX doc. Is there a designer that may actually use this via and trough logical markup and make one thing stunning of it? Do not get me mistaken, LaTeX itself produces outstanding outcomes however nothing fancy, nothing new. You’ll acknowledge a thesis typeset in LaTeX even by the scrap items popping out of a paper shredder. Each manner I do know to make one thing look completely different in LaTeX is brutally tearing down the barrier between content material and design and never designing itself.
• Objects floating away LaTeX guarantees to put all of your non-text objects like tables, graphics and pictures on the actual proper place in order that textual content and non-text are balanced completely. The truth is that each one that stuff will find yourself proper on the finish of every chapter like your weekend procuring hitting your windshield after you hit the brakes to arduous. Whereas the idea of floating objects may sound smart in actuality, you most frequently simply wish to put your diagram subsequent to the textual content describing it.
• Spiderweb of Error(?)-Messages Like every (laptop) language LaTeX is construct on lexical guidelines defining how a command is written and which symbols are positioned the place in addition to semantic guidelines concerning the placement of instructions in or after one another. And naturally you’ll break these guidelines repeatedly. To make you be taught sooner LaTeX will punish you fiercely each time. The cryptic error message(s) can be hidden in a gibberish of debugging messages, meaningless outputs of web page numbers, overfull hboxs and nonsensical anecdotes of the compiler’s childhood reminiscences, spitting out textual content of each degree of verbosity like a drunk toddler hitting keys on a toy piano (the quilt picture reveals an full output of an error message for one lacking }). You’ll seek for hours for forgotten braces, environments closed to early or to late and for parts that simply will not work collectively. And that isn’t even contemplating exterior packages. You’ll cry, significantly take into consideration rewriting your complete thesis on a kind of mechanical typewriters and promise your self to by no means ever ever contact LaTeX once more.
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Looking out phoenix

So what’s the resolution, what is best, what’s the least unhealthy solution to crowd edit, always overview and mass produce lengthy, stunning doc obeying to the intense guidelines of typesetting perhaps even with formulation and graphics inside them?

There’s are new era of markup languages like markdown a lot lighter
in syntax that I am not ashamed to ask our workers to make use of. There are highly effective techniques just like the HTML & CSS, scriptable by JS. A lot of the huge browsers have some type of headless mode that could possibly be changing HTML-documents to PDF with just some tiny options lacking (like CSS areas, please?). An excellent introduction into the present state is the Record of CSS options required for paged media.

I wish to thank the creators of LaTeX as a result of a lot knowledge and so many ideas went into this astonishing advanced system. However solely as a result of their generosity all that algorithms are free and open supply. All that thirty 12 months previous code, balancing symbols in formulation, phrases in strains and features in pages will not be restricted to LaTeX any extra however already lives in fashionable Phrase Processors and will be nonetheless construct into new, hopefully higher software program (e.g. MathJax).

We’ve got all of the instruments we want for a brand new era of documentation techniques adjusted to present wants. Can we please let LaTeX be the device of its time and transfer on to new ventures? As soon as once more dwarfs on the shoulders of giants could possibly be the brand new giants.