LaTeX is beautiful=>MS Word Sucks!

I cannot get more explicit! After having silently suffered my entire life writing out stuff in Word, LaTeX (pronounced Lay-Tek) came to me as one of the best discoveries of my life!

Many people discover LATEX after years of struggling with wordprocessors and desktop publishing systems, and are amazed to find that TEX has been around for over 25 years and they hadn’’t heard of it! It’s not a conspiracy, just ‘a well-kept secret known only to a few million people’, as one anonymous user has put it. Perhaps a key to why it has remained so popular is that it removes the need to fiddle with the formatting while you write. Although playing around with fonts and formatting is attractive to the newcomer, it is completely counter-productive for the serious author or editor who wants to concentrate on writing ask any journalist or professional writer. In reply to a new TeX user’s concern about his slow pace of learning, sample this statement by a seasoned TeX user:

“No, the harder part might be writing, period. TEX/LATEX
is actually easy, once you relax and stop worrying about appearance as a be-all-and-end-all. Many people have become ‘Word Processing Junkies’ and no longer ‘write’ documents, they ‘draw’ them, almost at the same level as a pre-literate 3-year old child might pretend to ‘write’ a story, but is just creating a sequence of pictures with a pad of paper and box of Crayolas — this is perfectly normal and healthy in a 3-year old child who is being creative, but is of
questionable usefulness for, say, a grad student writing a Master’s or PhD thesis or a business person writing a white paper, etc. For this reason, I strongly recommend not using any sort of fancy GUI ‘crutch’. Use a plain vanilla text editor and treat it like an old-fashioned typewriter. Don’t waste time playing with your mouse. “

All thanks to Prof.Yogananda, former HOD of Maths at IISC. He held a workshop at Engineer’07 about LaTeX and its uses. It was there that I first got initiated to the new world of TeX.

And since then, there has been no looking back! I got hold of a large number of pdfs from the net and LAN and started studying it by myself. To my surprise, I found that it was too easy to learn! And moreover, it was actually helpful!

One of the most significant aspects of LaTeX is that it gives you complete control over how you want your document to look. So when you are writing something important, you dont have to worry whether you are typing it in the right place or not or whether the formatting is right! Essentially a programming language, TeX has many unique features in itself. Like the fact that it will create the Table of Contents, List of Tables, List of Figures, Index-all by itself! You have so much flexibility that you can insert a whole new chapter in between two existing chapters without changing a single section or chapter numbering anywhere! It is truly an ingenious and versatile software.

And moreover, all the Ebooks about LaTeX are very informal and friendly in nature. They speak to you rather than just tell you what to do, which really helps. But I strongly advise all of you to have a number of E-books about TeX rather than just one or two. All are freely available on the net. One of the reasons as to why learning TeX can be a breeze is because you can learn only whatever you need to know! And save everything else to a later date.

Like one seasoned TeX user put it, “The important thing is that it is beautiful and at the same time really useful!”

For all you MS Word fans out there or those who simply do not know what LaTeX is, trust me when I say that every student on this planet should know LaTeX!

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About Akshay N R

Civil Engineer by Profession; Dudeist by Religion. Also allergic to mediocrity.

Posted on August 17, 2007, in LaTeX, NITK. Bookmark the permalink. 34 Comments.

  1. Hmm…I’ve never heard of this before…I will check it out..

  2. I have tried many times to use latex, I hate it. It is so backwards. Our research lab has a ban against Latex. Word is heavily use because of the review (tracking changes) and commenting capabilities while editing a draft with multiple authors. We usually write the draft of papers in double space – single column using courier new font. When the draft is done then we do the typesetting/formating which is a trivial activity. Not so much typing all the latex commands in a text editor)

    • No, it is backwards to use Word. Word can f*ck at the most annoying times – and since the files are binary, they can be difficult to save when hell breaks loose. LaTeX combined with some SVN-solution is so powerful, you wouldn’t believe it. Give LaTeX a shot again, it takes some practice to do the coding, but when you’ve mastered that (it took me only 2 weeks of spare time tinkering), it will be even easier than Word.

    • Frank Reddington

      Good for your research lab! Sounds like a smart bunch of hardworking folks. Unlike TeX-lovers, who have all the time in the world to waste on formatting and diddling around with form over content and memorizing thousands of commands, Word users are off and running, doing the important work their business or university needs to get done!

      • I am not surprised that there are many people on this planet who do not like TeX just because they had a hard time learning it. But read the post again. The central idea is that when you are writing, you focus on the writing. And with a WYSIWYG software such as Word, this is never possible. Spending time learning TeX the right way can definitely turn out to be useful when you eventually begin the writing part in TeX. It is plain obvious that if you do not know how to use LaTeX, then you are bound to feel frustrated while using it. And you are really very badly misinformed about the extent to which people use TeX. Next time, I suggest you make an informed comment. And perhaps, more importantly, you will find a lot more “Microsoft Word Sucks” forums than “TeX sucks” forums if you look enough.

  3. You saying LaTeX is backwards? I think you should be referring to the fact that YOU Yourself are backward in nature-not able to come out of the WYSIWYG formatting! people who don’t like LaTeX say so because they just don’t spend enough time learning it or because they are already too damn comfortable with this disgusting thing called Word.
    I have never seen anyone who has known to use TeX going back to use Word. IF your lab has a ban on this beautiful invention, then it is truly your lab that is backward! Who told you you cant track changes or review in TeX? If you think that is justifiable enough for you to hate TeX, then i think i am just wasting my time here trying to point out who is exactly backward here!

  4. What do you think of http://www.lyx.org/ ?
    It’s LaTeX with instant rendering.

  5. I came here from a search trying to find what was so great about LateX, and found it amazing that this author writes “TeX has many unique features in itself. Like the fact that it will create the Table of Contents, List of Tables, List of Figures, Index-all by itself! You have so much flexibility that you can insert a whole new chapter in between two existing chapters without changing a single section or chapter numbering anywhere!”
    Umm, sorry, but Word does all that too. Looks like your time would have been better spent learning how to use the Word styles and citations features, than moving to a more primitive word processing system.

    • I am not really sure what exactly you know about LaTeX, if at all you do that is. The features that I have mentioned in the post are those that are easy to spot. But the whole crux of TeX lies in being able to focus just on the writing part instead of worrying about formatting. And I say this from experience. My writings have been more substantial while writing in TeX than in Word. And of course, there is really no parallel to TeX when it comes to typesetting mathematical equations. But make no mistake, I still use Word whenever I need something short and quick. But when it comes to elaborate or important writings, I would always use TeX. I suggest you make comments only if you have used TeX extensively and still find it “primitive”.

  6. Jan-Paul Bultmann

    I have used it extensively and still find it primitive.
    It was truly a revolution and a revolutionary idea when it came out on the PDP-10, ahh the good old days when we only got some few k of hard drive.
    But today it’s just obsolete, I’m not pro word, not at all it sucks, but and that is a very very big BUT.
    But do you find it adequate to write your text and then ¡compile! it with a compiler that was written in turbopascal!
    Knut had this awesome idea to produce a format that would still be usable in the future as long as there is a compiler for it it would always reproduce the same output.
    But that is exactly the point it produces ONLY the same output because there is ONE compiler.

    We have the year 2010 and not 1970 anymore we have learned a LOT of stuff since then. For example the web and hypertext which had not been thought of when they wrote it.

    I think we should move along as the rest of the world did. XML may be misused today as a language for data storage but its still the Extendible Markup Language.

    Write some custom DDT or use DockBook and voila, you have something that is portable cvsable and looks optimal everywhere.

    Because the is this little thing you missed about latex, tex was made for the printing press and not for modern day ebooks, maybe it is desirable to get the best layout, but wouldn’t it be more desirable to get the best layout on EVERY screen not just A4, because with a dynamic layout you can do this with a latex generated pdf its even hard to do some proper highlighting.

    Oh and btw the latex markup system is turing complete, you guys who love the cvn stuff, you know what that means for union and complement of the resulting file?^^

    Latex may still be better than word because everything is better than word even pen an pencil,
    but were in 2010. Tex was awesome back then and latex pushed it a bit forward but just think of how much we have learned since then and that should have been considered when we were to build a tool for today.

    Yours Jan

    • I am not sure you have the right information about TeX. Presently, TeX is the official typesetting appln for most of the technical journals and all over the world, dissertations are preferred to be written in TeX. I do not deny we have learnt a lot since 1970 but u shud realize that TeX has grown with time. I appreciate your effort to point out all these. I prefer to use TeX anyday over any of the typesetting applns available mainly because I am actually comfortable with it. If you find yourself comfortable with something else, feel free to use that.

  7. LaTeX is used by technical journals but it’s not used by book publishing companies. Let’s face it, LaTeX is old compared to other options (no, Word is not the only alternative out there).

    • LaTeX is definitely old. That doesnt make it redundant or obsolete. Also, you are not well informed when you claim that book publishing companies do not use LaTeX. Just take a look at Harry Potter books. Hows that for an example?

    • Many book authors prefer to use Latex, they then send the PDF produced from Latex output to the publishing company,Publishing companies rarely ask for the source document and when they do Latex is quite often expected and used.

      Microsoft Word is much older than some word processors but these newer word processors are no better than Word, what is your point of the Oldness of something?

  8. I have to disagree that latex allows the user to focus on the writing. After you write smth you compile the document and always check if the figures are were they should be if the text spelling is right, to see if you did not forget some part of your equation (in case you may have many indents or so).
    Latex is nicer when it comes to how the equations look, maybe the citations and also because it allows document splitting. But when you have tables it really sucks!!!
    I know that you can have them but still you are so limited. And to get the document how you want is a tremendous effort, writing all the instructions >>> this is exactly NOT Focusing on the Content!!!
    >>The content is not to check the spelling, or where your figures and tables are<<<

    I wrote papers and thesis in latex and I do not really recommend it. Of course MSWord should not be the option, but at least OpenOffice can do very well.

    • I have to agree the one drawback i have faced with TeX is with regard to tables. But I have been pretty happy with everything else. Its just the very idea of WYSIWYG that puts me off from Word.

    • Just start with a nice style template and write.
      Write first and then fine tune when the writing finishes.

  9. The Sultan of Programming

    Anything that is not WYSIWYG is worthless for any form of typesetting and presentation whatsoever. WYSIWYG IS the revolution. It IS the giant leap forward in the history of computers. There is no logical sane reason one would go BACK to writing code in 1s and 0s from the ground up. If you want to waste hours and years of your life scrambling all over the internet, looking in vain, for the one piece of code or command to make a subscript and to spend all your time worrying about what your math formulae look like rather than focussing on the content, then by all means: choose TeX and all its mutant variations.
    However, if you want to actually get MATH DONE: go with Design Science’s Mathtype and Microsoft’s Word. I have used both (MS Word 2000, Mathtype 6.2) since 1997 and produced a 275-page doctoral dissertation in mathematics for Rutgers University in Piscataway, New Jersey in 2000, and 5 published papers in 2 peer-reviewed journals. 7, if you include arxiv.org. And countless papers for students in my math courses. If you really desire a mass of unitelligible code, MS Word has a feature that will instantly translate your MS Word – Mathtype document into a mass of TeX code, about 20 times as long by page count. But, there’s no way to transform it back.
    I have used and am still using Mathtype and Word and could not be happier for my job (biofuels and renewable energy) and math research.

    • Exaggerated nonsense!! Non WYSIWYG document processing systems are needed over WYSIWYG word processors even today in many cases.

      When you use Latex you are not entering binary code directly, you use a text editor to enter human readable text and markups, the important markups are easy to understand if you take some time to find out what they do, any tool you use to produce documents, the need arises to find out how it works, even Word.

      Subscripts can be easily done with latex Which Latex are you are talking about?

      I spent a couple hours looking at Latex math examples available all over the Internet and I can assure you that now I do not worry about what my equations will look like, they just look good.

      Thousands of technical people all over the world use Latex to produce their works like the ones you describe.

      If you make a meaningful attempt to learn Latex and you have trouble with subscripts it begs this question: How did you manage to do the things you spoke of?

      In you effort to unfairly discredit the tool you made yourself look mentally challenged, a common mistake I would say.

  10. I personally love LaTex. Started to use it during my master and carried on writing my PhD thesis with it (theoretical physics). I work as a financial engineer now and was so bummed when my former boss told me he wouldn’t accept anything other than Word documents (fortunately my new boss is completely OK with it…).

    But I think it’s important to keep in mind what you want to use Latex for. If you just want to type a memo or some document containing mostly plain text, then you’re probably better off with Word (and that would probably be my first choice). If you want to type something more scientific, I’m sorry but nothing beats Latex. I haven’t seen any equation editor on Word that is not a giant pile of crap (and I’m being really polite here) and tables are handled so poorly. Plus you can use Latex environments, such as TeXnic center (http://www.texniccenter.org/), which make everything really simple.

    The most common complain I hear about latex is how it takes to learn it… yes and? isn’t everything worthwhile like this? it’s like saying that if I was given a chance to learn for free how to pilot a submarine or a space shuttle, I’d rather give up because I’d have to scratch my head for more than 5min to get things to work…

    The thing is it DOES take some time to get to know latex. Once you do, there is nothing you can do with Word you wouldn’t be able to do in latex better, tidier and faster. Plus you don’t end up with gigantic files of several megabytes (most of it being useless junk) and you don’t have to deal with a software that crashes every now and then. Latex works and is consistent on any platform (windows/unix/Mac…). Word works on Windows and any other Word knock-off (like open office) will basically mess up your layout (so much for the WYSIWYG)…. And it’s free…

    So if liking latex for those reasons make me backwards, it’s a sad world we live in 🙂

  11. The Sultan of Programming

    I have made tables only once in my life: for the special index for my dissertation: not the table of contents nor the bibliography, but a table I added specially for my dissertation to enumerate all the theorems and lemmas in my thesis. Yes, MS Word has been greatly frustrating at times with its inexplicable font and heading shifts. However, it sure beats spending ten hours unsuccessfully trying to write

    or however one would write a summation over many variables with a linear constraint, guessing in vain for the exact syntax.
    I’ve attempted TeX and its hideous variants at least ten times in my life.
    Every single time I am sickened to my stomach to come to the conclusion that I have wasted yet another 3 hours of my life.

    On a similar theme: Maple and Mathematica are not much better. I wrote some programs in Mathematica for my dissertation that produced some VERY large output. But, one cannot make much use of the deeper features, such as logical conditions, because these languages use no logically consistent syntax for when and where to break lines. One is forced to write only the simplest of programs.

    • My attitude would be to say that if you feel comfortable with word, then go for it. In the end, that’s the only thing that matters. There is a choice so people can be free to decide.

      That said :), saying you’ve used it ten times and gave up reminds me of people saying they’ve given up on doing any sport because they tried a few times and it made them tired and sore. No pain no gain….

      As a sultan of programming you should know that it can take an awful lot of time to master some programming languages along with their logic and quirks (don’t even get me started with C++ for example…). But once you get to know those languages, you can see all their possibilities.
      I don’t consider the learning period as a waste of time. Anything that is very easy to grasp is in general dumbed down. The software may make it easy on you, but it’s just because it’s taking control and only let you do a few pre-programmed thing. Latex is much less user-friendly but puts you pretty much entirely in charge (and this is very typical of linux mentality as opposed to Word/Windows – not every is comfortable with it, I’ll give you that) .

  12. The Sultan of Programming

    Ten times is a lot of times. These words of yours are worth repeating.
    I think we all agree with them:

    “My attitude would be to say that if you feel comfortable with word, then go for it. In the end, that’s the only thing that matters.”

    Problem is: there is a strong bias against MS Word / Mathtype users that TeX users do not experience. For example, one cannot post to Mathoverflow except in TeX. They should at least allow one to post attachments in PDF somewhere.

    I am glad you consider a learning curve not a waste of time. On a somewhat related topic, I wish the public had the same general opinion about academic degrees. Academic degrees are no less a waste of time and energy and money than is the time spent trying and failing to learn a new computer language or human language. They are in no way “useless” or “worthless”. There is no standard way of defining how much some activity is “useless” or “worthless”. In fact, academic degrees (in any field, not just in computer science) have far MORE worth than knocking ones brains out trying to get TeX to produce anything of value other than random indecipherable code gibberish, because, in the former, one builds up upon what others have already proven and known.

  13. Sultan of programming, what on earth do you program?
    I too have come to the realization that when you want to produce long good looking documents easily no word processor can stand up to Latex.

    You may be a sultan of programming but you certainly belong to the plebs of document production.

  14. The Sultan of Programming

    Although I agree with the other TeX-haters that Word is not perfect, either, and Word HAS caused me GREAT distress with its ever-changing font sizes – I think Jan-Paul Bultmann said it and implied it best: there are TONS of other WYSIWYG word processors out there today, besides Word. No need to use 1970 TeXnology!

    • You are certainly not serious, there are many old technologies still used today, people do not abandon a technology because it is old, you have the misconception that a word processing system can easily replace a Latex system in all cases.

      You are failing to grasp that there are many things Latex can do at much less cost than Word processors, such as embedding PDF in a document as well as embedding flash videos. Latex has changed like any other technology to handle modern requirements.

  15. What some people don’t get is that sometimes old=good. Especially in software. Old means it has been thoroughly debugged, and it uses only proven technology.

  16. 1) Only in geekdom would LaTeX be pronounced without the “X” sound. This kind of utter stupidity is why everyone else laughs and points at you and doesn’t invite you to parties.

    2) Learning LaTeX is for the kind of pretentious dorks who learn Klingon. Sure, it may make you look smart at Trekkie conventions, but it’s not particularly applicable to the real world.

    3) If you don’t realize that using LaTeX puts you in the category of people who use pocket protectors, brill cream, and slide rules, there’s no hope for you.

    4) We’re in the third millennium now. Get with the program.

  17. LaTeX is horrible. I’ve been using word processors since DOS – since before either MS or Mac OSes, and there is no more bass-ackward tool than LaTeX.

  18. LaTeX is a great concept, but it really is a shitty language. What we need is a better language that makes sense, consistently.

  1. Pingback: Why your should LaTeX your dissertation; or, why you don’t have to write your dissertation in Word. « AmShazam.

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