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Old 10th November 2008
DrJ DrJ is offline
ISO Quartermaster
Join Date: Apr 2008
Location: Gold Country, CA
Posts: 507

The answer is "it depends." Lots of help, right?

But it does depend on what you want to do: what sorts of documents you want to produce, the parties with whom you collaborate (if any), and where those documents will go. Either troff (used generically) or TeX produce decent documents, even getting html or pdf from them. That's easy.

Where both of the shine is in producing complex documents, like technical reports that include heavy math and tables and the like. That includes things like technical publications or proposals. If you want just a PDF at the end, use either. If you want to submit an article to ACS or APS (for example), go with TeX. Many publications from the Royal Society or Elsevier accept PDFs and massage them directly. But honestly, most are geared, even in this space, more for Word.

If you collaborate with all but a few of us nerdly types, don't bother. Just use Word or OO.o. And there is no good way to take a troff or TeX document and convert it to Word and back.

I'd suggest you learn both troff and TeX, at least at a rudimentary level. They are in many ways very similar in how they do their jobs, but the specific statements are of course a bit different. It is like picking up a new programming language -- at first it seems like it is hard, but after you know four or five, picking up a new one is just no big deal.

You don't have to learn all of the low-level troff stuff -- I did, and it helps, but it is by no means necessary. Most people can get by just fine without it.

These days I write in troff, use a translator to convert it to TeX, and then massage the code so that it formats properly. OKO probably does something similar, but in reverse. I probably should learn TeX/LaTeX better, but honestly it just does not seem worth the time.

If you are set on only learning one, TeX is probably the better choice these days. It is used in more places, and more people seem to know it well. You probably won't see much difference in the output quality unless you do *really* heavy-duty math (mostly in the symbolic area). In this case TeX is better. It is also better for writing non-Roman documents (like in Arabic). For western documents it makes little difference.

On the other hand, the introductory troff + preprocessor documentation is really outstanding, and just feels like Unix. TeX feels more like Pascal when you are used to troff's C, or the GNU command-line options ("-this_option_is_really_long") when you are used to BSD ("-opt"). That's an aesthetic choice, and not one of functionality or usefulness.

One example might be the number of options to control font size. LaTeX has five (or more?) options to make fonts larger. Most troff macros have one, since it was geared to writing standard patent applications. I usually just use the direct font-size commands from raw troff, so it doesn't matter to me in the slightest.

I hope this ramble has been of some use. If you want to share more of what your needs are, we can certainly discuss it.
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