[Tex/LaTex] missing in LaTeX


I have been reading this article and started to think about the position of LaTeX amongst the current competitors. Currently, I am using it (or XeTeX) even for ‘casual writing’ and sometimes I spend free time by exploring its possibilities and various solutions based on specific packages. When I have to write an article or a report, I consider it to be quite easy (well, in a geeky Open Source way) to use and as I am not an expert on typography (rather an advanced self-learner), the microtypography features via microtype appear to be professional enough. However the article mentioned hereinbefore states otherwise.

Therefore I would like to ask you, the experts, what is your opinion on these points (I am quoting from the same article):

  • Typography rules are not supported well.
  • Microtypography ("all lines on fixed page positions") is not professional.
  • Hyphenation is bad and hard to use.

In short, Latex misses two things: (1) Ease of use; and (2) Quality of
typesetting is not as good as it could be.

Does the LaTeX3 project aim to solve any of it?

Best Answer

I think the author having written a very nice book in LaTeX, is entitled to his views and has some valid points. I agree with some of them but disagree with most of them.

He has valid points on ease of use and the lack of a GUI. However, he misses the point that to incorporate the 100s if not thousands of commands available to a user via the basic TeX engine, LaTeX and the few thousand available packages plus an author's specific macros will provide the most complicated and frustrating GUI possible. It will also not be quicker to find these commands. A GUI works well if everything is available two clicks away, anything deeper and you will battle to find it.

Spell checking is provided for most users via the editor. Grammar checking never worked in Word and is a frustrating experience to have to deal with it.

Figure placement has never been a serious issue for me, neither getting them at the top 20% of the page (see for example https://tex.stackexchange.com/a/35162/963).

I agree with the author that fonts and tables are difficult to use. I don't see an easy way out on tables, but font management could certainly be improved.

I disagree on his comments for hyphenation and index production. I actually view these as part of the strengths of LaTeX. I also disagree on his views of firstly the importance of micro-typography and secondly I have doubts in line with Joseph's comment if he actually was referring to grids or micro-typography as most of us understand it.

He has valid points that LaTeX out of the box does not follow typographical trends. The problem with typography is that it is a very broad term and like fashion it changes. Where typographical rules could be deduced Knuth did incorporate them. He also set the standards for mathematical typography.

If the author can define the typography rules, I am sure that he will end up with a number of styles. How do you define typography for a glossy magazine, a photography book or a dictionary? If these rules can be deduced, they can be programmed fairly easily.

So is there no room for improvement? I think his idea of funding is good. I think from a user point of view multi-column layouts are not what they should be. There is huge room for improvement here. Font management can be improved and perhaps simplify the user interface. The LaTeX3 project needs to give serious thought to a syntax that I am sure will not go well with programmers. A sugary super-set of all commands will be necessary. Thought should be given by the community in developing more templates and classes rather than packages.

Having said all that I need to add, that I have seen and used all the word processing packages from HP specific packages, wordperfect, all versions of word etc. and I have been with (La)TeX since my student days and that is a long time ago. You sacrifice a few things, but (La)TeX also gives you stability. You also don't throw away your knowledge but rather add to it with the years. The only program that now competes with LaTeX is Adobe InDesign. If you are prepared to write your pages using LaTeX, page by page (similarly to a graphic designer) or the way web pages are developed you can achieve the same if not better results.