The two pennies


Latex is the junk yard among the ›DIY warehouses‹. It can indeed do anything, but I barely know a task more tedious than the work with Latex (this may be due to the fact that I’m only recently forced to work with Linux). I have to add that I dislike MS Word even more, but this doesn’t save Latex. ›Here‹ someone else let it all out, it is very satisfying and I have few things to add:
  • No Unicode, no ttf (except via XeLaTeX, which entails further trouble)
  • I won’t even talk about the fact that one has to “compile” twice to four times in order to view incremental changes. But why does it take so long!? HTML is rendered on the fly and can often be way more complex.
  • Multiple line breaks can cause a “There is no line here to end!” error
  • ›/dddot looks stupid‹
  • Figures float dunno where. Of course, this can be adequately configured via appropriate configurations, but the way I want it could just be default :-)
  • Being a ›Turing complete‹ language, Latex is damn ugly concerning variables, conditional parts, loops and functions. Yes, I know, this is not its primary focus.
I also like discussions with pro-Latex people. They often end with “Well, you shouldn’t want that. Let Latex do it the way it likes.”

However, I don’t just want to moan and complain. If typesetting simply was a pain in the ass by its very nature, one had to live with the fact that there is no better way. Buhut:

To me there is a hard contrast to Latex and the whole tool and package tree that comes with it: HTML and SVG. These two standards and their tools demonstrate how such work can also feel. Maybe it’s due to the fact that I learned HTML during a phase in my life when I wasn’t a embittered and conservative User who dismisses everything new, but working with with it is much easier for me. I don’t have to use google everytime I want to create a table, not even if I want to merge rows or colums. Here some further advantages that come to my mind:
  • Not created by thousands of tinker-dudes, everyone putting in the own funny humor and style. Instead, it is designed and standardized by one central organization and this can be felt on every edge.
  • XML looks well-structured and uniform.
  • In order to create a document, one needs a text editor and a browser.
  • Pain-free Unicode support
  • Interpretation and rendering of HTML feels like it takes half a zeptosecond.
  • Although JavaScript is an extra thingy with its own syntax, it’s still both usable and mighty.
  • Since HTML5, vector graphics and equations can be included via SVG and MathML. That is no advantage compared to Latex, but it is no longer a disadvantage that it is not possible. But I have to admit that in comparison to Latex, MathML sucks dickballs from a straw.
Well then. So why do I not use HTML to create text documents? Sadly, HTML allows almost no print formatting. It’s suited for infinite, virtual canvases and not for pages of paper. Many things would have to be tinkered in JavaScript: page numbers, an automatic table of contents, an automatic references section, header, footer, ...

I hope that the W3C will take this last step in the near future and I can abandon Latex. The largest obstacle (as far as I can tell) is already tackled: text flow. It means that elements get filled with content until they are full. Then another element gets filled with the further content. This is not necessary on webpages but it is essential on space-limited paper pages. I already tested the new feature in Google Canary and it rocks: ›CSS3 regions‹.