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What is LaTeX (was: Re: Offlang suggestion & counterproposal)

From:Christophe Grandsire <christophe.grandsire@...>
Date:Wednesday, April 10, 2002, 19:01
En réponse à Michael Poxon <m.poxon@...>:

> Dear Christophe, > Yes, I found this too - the deadline gradually became even more > extended > (one of two days... a week...) until it became meaningless. I suppose if > you > are working with students you know where they are - but something as > is > being envisaged consists of many people scattered all over the world. > You > can't run up to their rooms and bang on their doors to remind them > there's a > contribution due. At least not literally!
Indeed. But I can fill their mailboxes :)) . Just kidding :)) . I think people here are a little more respectuous than my fellow students :)) . But there seems to be a demand
> for > some sort of publication, doesn't there?
It looks like it. And with the things I've installed, I can accept more and more formats (I still can't do Wordperfect, because the only converter I found is desperately too limited (it cannot handle images for instance), but IIRC Wordperfect can export RTF can't it? As for HTML, I'm looking for a converter that doesn't ask me to install Perl and thirty other things on my computer (Perl is not the problem, it's the thirty other things :((( ). Strangely enough, though HTML is quite a simple format I can't find any good converter for it while I found easily a converter from Word to LaTeX! (which seems to work quite well, even though it's shareware and I can't enjoy its full abilities). On the other hand, converters *to* HTML abound). As I said, when I can do it for free, I don't give limitations :)) . What exactly is Latex? I
> thought it > was something to do with rubber. :-))
Well, latex is, but not LaTeX (mind the capitals, they MUST be there). Let's make a short summary: TeX is a program developped by a Mr. Donald Knuth for typesetting. It takes as a source a plain text file with the ending .tex. This file contains, apart from normal text, instructions on how to make the layout of the page, indent the paragraphs, use different fonts, include images, etc... and the TeX program compiles it into a .dvi (DeVice-Independent) file, which can be read by dvi viewer (easy to find and free, for all platforms). Another program, which is always present with TeX, can transform this .dvi into a Postcript file, which you can then print. Since the display language used by TeX is a little complicated (it's quite low end), some people developped packages, which contain already defined functions easier to use and more self-explanatory (and which can warn when there's a problem at the compilation). The most successful is LaTeX. It contains environments and commands for everything you can imagine (and still grows, people everywhere creating new packages which get into the normal release when they are stable enough). You can put pictures, a bibliography, equations (which look much more beautiful than with Word), footnotes and cross-references are easy to make and are always right, the Babel package allows handling different languages with their own typographic settings in the same document, and that automatically (basically, the whole point of LaTeX is that you never have to worry about the layout. It takes care of it itself, though you can override its decisions), the last release of LaTeX, LaTeX2e, even handles colours (the last big miss of LaTeX). There are even packages to draw figures with LaTeX, though they are difficult to use and quite pointless :)) . And finally, the result looks far better than a Word file (the fonts are aethetically better). As for the TeX program itself, it's one of the most stable programs ever created. It is virtually bug-less. Moreover, there exists now also plenty of other tools around LaTeX, like PDFTex which does like TeX but produces PDF instead of DVI files, BIBTeX which allows to make a bibliography database to use for all your texts, etc... It even comes with Metafont, a program to make fonts, which works like TeX with an associated language, the only problem being that there seems to be no literature about Metafont except one (expensive) book. The last thing about LaTeX is that it's completely free, exists for all platforms, and can easily be installed through Internet (on my Windows computer, I use MikTeX, the most complete LaTeX release for that platform. And it's free). LaTeX is now the de facto standard for scientific publications (all scientific journals I know accept only LaTeX files, no other format). So basically LaTeX is the contrary from a WYSIWYG wordprocessor. You write a text file with special commands in it, compile it, and see the result with another program (like many people do with HTMl too :)) ). I have a PDF file called "The (Not So Short) Introduction to LaTeX", which is better at explaining how it exactly works, if you're interested. Just another anecdote: just like the name has a funky orthography (a capital *inside* and at the end? Well, you should see the real shape of the name :)) ), it has a funky pronunciation. The final "X" should be pronounced [x], though most people (at least the ones which don't have this sound in their language) approximate it as [k]. Never pronounce it [ks] in front of a LaTeX user, or be prepared for the consequences! :)) Christophe. Take your life as a movie: do not let anybody else play the leading role.