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with emphasis on outside of cs science students & staff

In the "good ol' days" LaTeX was it; mainly because of two reasons, first - it gave such a better quality document that nothing else came close, and second - there was pretty much nothing else as a valid alternative. I'm talking 1985-1995 here.

And because of that, a major part of technical (or medicine, biochems., ... which have a logical way of thinking in them) users (people in general, in those professions) used it for their documents. It wasn't too hard to learn, and gave excellent results.

Nowadays, however, things are a changin, as old Dylan would put it. MS Word** for example as the most common one, is giving quite a nice result, with a much higher gain/pain ratio. For most people, it is good enough. If one wants to create a document for which there is no LaTeX template, pros start to weight even more on Word's side.

So, the question is this - do you think /and why - argument it/ LaTeX & co. has a future outside of cs sciences world (which users are inclined towards programming, and therefore usually take in LaTeX structure naturally, or at least with much less effort) given the recent trends?

** insert your favourite word processor; MS Word was taken just as an example

p.s. This was inspired by one other question that came about recently, but also with the trend I noticed recently, but which has been going for a while now (past few years) that even technical magazines, which used to demand articles in TeX, now ask for them in .doc format (or ...).

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I hear it's used quite a lot in the S&M world... –  Dan Diplo Sep 23 '10 at 19:24

10 Answers 10

Yes. I have friends (though they did take the optional one CS class in college) who have made the full switch from traditional Word processing tools to LateX.

I've noticed that aside from CS students, Mathematics majors use it a lot too. There's a future, but it's not for the faint of heart. I doubt it will go mainstream but it does have a decent following outside of CS.

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I thought Math majors used it more than CS majors.. at least from when I remember. How else are you going to write complex triple integrals, UTF-8? –  Talvi Watia Sep 23 '10 at 7:37
@Talvi Watia - Word+Mathtype, or now its default editor, or that third plugin (whose name I cannot, for the life of me, remember right now) –  Rook Sep 23 '10 at 15:56

Right now I'm writing a book about Google Go. OK, it's still an IT related topic, but outside the university. The publisher allows type setting in TeX and has implemented his own style. For me that's very positve. Simple editing, working with satellite documents, and a very good looking result.

Modern text processors may be ok up do about 50 pages. But larger documents are defenitely better set in TeX.


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Yes, that is a field which LaTeX will hold for a long time, IMHO. It is so much more satisfactory when authors can do their own book, and automatically know the outcome. I know Springer, for example, uses that principle (predefined styles). –  Rook Sep 23 '10 at 15:39
Btw, do let us know when the book comes out, will ya? ;-) –  Rook Sep 23 '10 at 15:53
Yep, I'll do so. It will be around end of the year. I almost finished it so that the internal reviewers will have a look at it soon. –  Mue Sep 24 '10 at 7:21

TeX and LaTeX still lead for typesetting mathematics.

(Of course one could take the view that computer science, the academic discipline—as opposed to software development and systems engineering, is just a branch of mathematics anyway.)

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LaTeX is still the lingua franca in mathematics and I doubt that will change as a result of developments from Microsoft. It's entrenched. In other words, in the math community it has the advantage that Microsoft has everywhere else.

However, there's more to it than that. LaTeX (and markup in general) is just in my opinion a much better way to work. It's the right tool for the job. Sometimes hypertext is the right tool for the job and I use that. Word, in my case, is never the right tool. Someone recently asked me "What if someone payed you to use Word?" My response: "I have been payed to use it. It's not a professional tool, it's a tricycle. LaTeX is a Ferrari."

I've had people say to me "Well, Word now understands LaTeX formulae, so you can just use those in Word." They still don't get it. The reasons I use LaTeX are for its structured markup, its ease of use, the quality of the output (which is still lightyears better than anything Word can produce), and because it's free software. I write plenty of documents that have absolutely no math in them, and if I plan on printing them out, they are always better in LaTeX.

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Agree on several, but not all. As I said, it is not a matter of being "lightyears better", but a matter of being "just good enough". I also know some mathematicians (we had some at my college), who started using Word in combination with Mathtype and some other plugin whose name escapes me now. They were in the minority when I left (not that there were many of them anyways) but they were gaining grounds fast, expecially with newcomers, who just wanted to produce a document quick - it didn't have to be "perfect". I also don't agree with Word being a toy (and instead of a Ferrari I'd put in lets –  Rook Sep 23 '10 at 15:48
say, Audi, since Ferrari is more of "a toy" than most other) - it is a tool which is used by many in industry. I would say that nowadays more documents gets produced in Word format than in any other. +1 nevertheless; these are the kind of answers I was hoping for. –  Rook Sep 23 '10 at 15:50
Okay, to redo my vehicle metaphor: LaTeX is a Caterpillar Front Loader, where Word is a little plastic shovel that belongs in the sandbox ;) –  Joel J. Adamson Sep 24 '10 at 16:20
@Rook: my real point --- that I may have failed to convey --- is that despite the popularity of Word, and even if it's increasing, there are pluses to LaTeX (and other markup systems) that go beyond the ease of writing mathematics. It is way easier to use LaTeX, I find using any graphical "equation editor" to be really painful. However, that's not what keeps me using LaTeX. Mostly it's the separation of structure and content. I was always unsatisfied with Word's structuring tools (and as I said, I did use it professionally for large documents). In LaTeX structure is everything: so simple! –  Joel J. Adamson Sep 24 '10 at 16:22
Yes, I think we can agree on that. Although, I find myself more often using word's Mathtype, when needing a quick way to put something down. –  Rook Sep 25 '10 at 20:34

In the academia, LaTeX has two problems:

  1. It's very hard to write collaboratively with LaTeX, because of (a) no change tracking and (b) all collaborators have to know it.

  2. Several journals in many fields (biology is a prime example) don't accept LaTeX documents, and require the document to be sent in an editable form (so converting to PDF is out).

Until 1 is fixed and 2 changes, LaTeX is not going to be an option for the majority of people in fields that are traditionally non-mathematical.

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Good points. But why 1.No change tracking <- what about source control? 2. Editable form <- one can always send the .tex file, no? –  Rook Sep 23 '10 at 15:43
As I said, they don't accept TeX. So it needs to be in an editable form that they accept, which is typically .doc and .rtf . Also, convincing a collaborator who isn't super tech-savvy to use source control and diff is always going to be an uphill struggle. –  Chinmay Kanchi Sep 23 '10 at 17:24
I have to disagree with number 1 - For anything, if you want collaborative editing, source control is a must. Anything else simply isn't powerful enough. Although Chinmay is right that people generally won't take kind to the idea, I think they should learn to it. Its sad that our would continues to become less computer illiterate. –  alternative Sep 23 '10 at 20:07
I also disagree with the other part of number 1, now that I think about it. Its true for all methods of writing documents - If I'm using MS Word (to stick with the example established in the question), then anyone who wants to work on it needs to know MS Word. Same scenario. –  alternative Sep 23 '10 at 20:07
@Chinmay Word has a much higher learning curve because you have to figure out how to make it know that you know what you want, and it does not. –  alternative Jun 3 '11 at 0:07

LaTeX is still the most popular tool for typesetting physics papers, as well as (as others have mentioned) mathematics.

Edit: Rook wanted to know about the trend. On the one hand Physical Review (a group of high-profile physics journals) apparently started accepting MS Word submissions in 2003 (see here), so the fact that there was a demand for this suggests an increasing use of MS Word in the last decade.

On the other hand, I finished a physics grad program less than two years ago, and everyone I knew was using LaTeX for their papers and dissertations. (The real nerds even used LaTeX to typeset their homework papers.) I suspect that's the case at most U.S. institutions anyway. Perhaps things are different overseas.

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I'm not questioning that. I'm interesting in the trend; what in your experience do phys. newcomers take? LaTeX or some of them are switching to Word (processors)? –  Rook Sep 23 '10 at 15:59
@Rook: Edited to address your question. –  Tim Goodman Sep 23 '10 at 18:40

I have a friend working as a Senators aide and he writes all his papers with LaTeX. He says that having all of his custom macros is invaluable.

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It is still very difficult to automatically generate Word for high-volume use. In truth, LaTeX isn't nearly as easy as groff. People could say that troff is dead too, but billing systems and other high-volume page outputs are scripted with these types of programs. OK, granted I don't know of anyone producing invoicing or bills with LaTeX...

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In Germany, the Bahn AG (servicer of trains) generates the bills with LaTeX. –  Owe Jessen Feb 24 '12 at 14:28

Word? You must be kidding.

It would take days to set up even the most basic functions you get for free with LaTeX in Word. Automatic section numbering, references, indexes, list of figures, tables etc., floating figures and tables, to name a few.

LaTeX source can be maintained in source control systems. Word-Files cannot (that's why one often has a manually written "Revision history" somewhere near the top (that is barely ever maintained properly)). You can have a main document that includes several sub-documents and let n people work on n different subdocuments (think: Chapters) at the same time and yet have the full document with one button click.

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Once I started to write a paper with a .doc template from IEEE. I did not have LaTex and feared its complexity. So, I used Word because I was used to it. The first couple of pages where fine. But then I began to include figures into the text... The mess was absolutely incredible.

Now, I use LaTeX instead and everything works fine. The figures are placed in nicely, the tables are aligned with the text, etc. without any effort. Not only the result is impressing, but also the ease of use of LaTeX. After some time, I even began to write scripts that do some tests and then produce LaTeX output which is directly included into the paper. Absolutely amazing. Try this with Word! (You'd better forget it.)

But there is also the other side of the medal: If you don't have a template or want to change it - good luck. I don't know how to solve this riddle yet, but I am working on it.

After having used both worlds, I can say: give LaTeX a fair try. It is worth the effort. There are so many GUI Subversion clients out there, that version management is also no problem. Because LaTeX is pure ASCII-text, it can be modified with any scripting language. Of course, the work-flow is different from writing a single page business letter. But this enables much more powerful procedures that are not possible with Open Office and Co.

In my point of view, LaTeX has a future and things are shifting towards it not away. A couple of month ago, a new LaTeX user group was founded in my area. I appreciate that very much, because there is someone to ask, if an annoying problem occurs. Where is your next Word user group?

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