Sunday, September 16, 2007

LaTeX

Hah! I got MacTeX going on the new MacBook. I've missed being able to crank out decent-looking documents... It used to be that LaTeX of one form or another was the first thing I'd install on a computer. This time I've been slow on the draw. Still, the MacTeX installation is extremely complete, and I'm finding I have to do very little customization to make it work the way I want it.

What is LaTeX? It's a document preparation system based on Donald Knuth's legendary TeX. Rather than a word processor, it's a type-setting system. So it works a lot like HTML in a web page: you input plain text commands into a file, then run the LaTeX system against it. The system produces the document in an image-based format (I always generate PDF, but DVI or PS are common), which prints predictably on any decent printer (unlike, say Microsoft Office documents).

People who use TeX, LaTeX, or their ilk hold them in deeply religious awe. They are truly the ultimate in document preparation. Rather than using a word processor, which is designed to let you type out pages; you're using a type-setter, which is designed to produce books. So LaTeX documents have kerned, ligatured output.

I first learned LaTeX when I was unemployed and broke, but needed to generate some decent documents. I couldn't afford to buy a word processor, but I had plenty of time on my hands, so I downloaded LaTeX (which is free) and invested a lot of time learning it. It's not necessarily easy: there is a learning curve involved; but I had more time than money then, and I've never regretted the choice I made.

I still find all word processors primitive, inadequate, and kludgy. Pages is better than most, but even that's no LaTeX.

Anyhow, I've spent some time making sure all the fonts are in place, etc. and now I'm ready to get back to the world of nice documents...

7 comments:

Michelle said...

See, I actually understood most of that! :)

Trev said...

You have peaked my interest, Mr. Ox. I must investigate further.

Gwen said...

We used to use LaTeX as well, but we've found much better methods since then.





Don't pretend you didn't expect at least one of these comments.

Ames said...

GASP!!

clumsy ox said...

You're selling yourself short, Michelle. I just tend to be drawn to the esoteric and obscure. Being the unix guru at a couple different jobs helped establish a persona as the guardian of arcane knowledge.

Chuck said...

"Unix guru."

Any relationship there to the Upanishads?

clumsy ox said...

Well, our Holy Writ is more along the lines of documentation written by Kernighan and Ritchie or the blue books from O'Reilly, but it's the same idea.