[next] [prev] [prev-tail] [tail] [up]

1.3 Importance 

From the computer science point of view TeX and Metafont are big research achievements in how software engineering should be done, if not for the literate programming way of software design and creation. Top-class algorithms for line-breaking, hyphenation and page make-up have been incorporated. It is designed to be device-independent. That Knuth succeeded so well in his basic research can be concluded from the many publications which have been built upon his Computer and Typesetting works, and from the many honorary degrees he has received.

From the users' point of view TeX etc. is relevant because of the quality which can be obtained when used as a formatter, and because it is a high-quality, stable, open and freely available system. That Knuth succeeded here can be distilled from the many organized users of (La)TeX world-wide, and from the tenfold who just use the system.

Its weakness is that TeX proper does not have easy user guides. This weakness has been compensated for by efforts like LaTeX, amsTeX/LaTeX, and the styles from publishing houses and their user and installation guides. Of late manmac and developments since have been provided with a users guide called Publishing with TeX.

Perhaps an unexpected side-effect of TeX is that it is so heavily used with alphabets different from Latin, and even with scripts which run from right to left (Hebrew) or scripts which run vertically (Japanese), not to mention specific hyphenation patterns. That TeX allows for these usages might give an idea of its power.

From the publishers' point of view TeX has the potential of being used for producing complex scientific documents cost-effectively. This is the current practice of the ams, and the American Physical Society, APS for short. They supply authors with

The advantages 

The advantages can be summarized as


Are there any? Of course there are. But it is questionable whether one should talk about disadvantages. Perhaps one should talk more in terms of incompleteness.

What is felt like an omission can be added, because it is an extensible system.
To fill up the gap for manmac.tex - Knuth's macros for formatting his books - I provided BLUe's format system, based on ManMac and which also accounts for developments since, as well as a user's guide called `Publishing with TeX.' Of course there is the TeXbook - the bible for the TeXies - but that does not hide the details - it is all there, for the beginner as well as for the advanced macro writer - which is confusing and simply too much for a novice. In summary So its incompleteness is a challenge to all of us, to fill it up.

It is true, however, that professionals have found some niches which deserve further research and development. Surveys on these items are provided in the e-TeX paper by Mittelbach, and the New Typesetting System (NTS) efforts initiated by the German-speaking users group Dante e.V.. Also noteworthy is the effort to improve LaTeX trough the so-called LaTeX3 (better known as lxiii) project.

One can also argue that delving into these details is sub-optimization, concentrating too much on the mapping onto paper. Bigger issues are related to the multi-media aspects, let us say to represent information in a flexible way such that it can be processed by various technologies, into forms suited for various users, their circumstances and their tastes, limited only by their senses. I like to call this real applied information technology: information to be accessed by the masses.

[next] [prev] [prev-tail] [front] [up]