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Old 10th November 2008
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Oko Oko is offline
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Originally Posted by drhowarddrfine View Post
These are the sort of discussions that leave me confused as to what to study. On my list of things to learn is troff/groff/nroff/tex/latex and I'm not sure what to choose or where to start.
I will second Dr. and J65nko. You have to have clear idea of what your long term needs are before you getting deep into the business of typesetting.
Bare in mind also that you can not learn typesetting system by reading manuals. To paraphrase Dennis Ritchie and Brian Kerringan from their famous book C programming language:"The more you use particular typesetting system the more you will learn it".

I am a mathematician. Since the start of my undergraduate studies in 1991 LaTeX was and is de facto standard for publishing in Mathematics, Physics, and Astronomy. Many professional Journals will not only insist that the content is submitted in LaTeX but will also provide a mandatory templates. So if you are interesting in those subject you will naturally start with LaTeX. LaTeX is actually a set of macros and document styles which were written in late eighties by Lesly Lamport (professional mathematician) in the desire to simplify the use of TeX which much like row Troff is very capable but somewhat difficult to use. Think of LaTeX as macros for TeX.

Once I started using LaTeX soon I started understanding that for real mastery you must know pure TeX so I started more and more hacking pure TeX. Since, I am doing it from 1991 (actually since 1988 to be honest) I got a hang of it. LaTeX is presently the huge set of different macros which will enable you to do anything. As with all big things chances are small that you will explore all different corners.

There are also less know macros. The most famous general purpose (means sucks with Math) is ConTeXt. If you are trying to typeset a middle ages religious book you should probably start with Memoir class.

As Dr. J suspected my road to Troff was in some sense in the backward direction comparing to his. Once I started learning Unix in systematic fashion from the textbooks I started wondering what were all those strange chapters at the end of every serious Unix book about Troff. Also it was very strange that the authors didn't have any words of gratitude for Knuth for using his typesetting system to write the book. They claimed that those beautiful pages were written in Troff.
I got so curious that I started learning Troff. The truth of the matter is that I probably do not need to know any Troff do conduct my professional life but I like to use it when writing Exams, memos, and letter. It is just very elegant and so small that I do not have to worry if it will be available on any Unix or Unix like system. It will also work blazingly fast on any hardware no matter how old it is.

If you were computer developer who needs to write man pages probably the statement will be reversed. You do not need any TeX/LaTeX.

If your objective is to write a single page long letter than I am afraid that
M$ got it right and you will probably not need anything except word.
But if you want ever to write anything serous even a cook book better get something serous on your computer.

Most kind regards to everyone for this interesting discussion.


Last edited by J65nko; 10th November 2008 at 02:35 AM. Reason: I don;t want to found by google ;)
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Old 10th November 2008
DrJ DrJ is offline
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I agree with what OKO wrote.

The irony is that if you deal much with text, you just have to know a lot about all the various software. Regularly I use Word, WordPerfect, troff, TeX, Acrobat, ghostscript, Acroread, Evince, Imagemagick, various graphics programs (like grace and clones), Refbase, bibtex and a whole lot of others that I have not mentioned. It is its own world.

On top of that you should know the grants submission systems (they vary from US department to department) and the input formats accepted by the publications in which you are interested. And what the people with whom you work use (invariably, Word).

And others if you want to do OSS documentation.

There really is no *right* answer.

That said, knowing both troff and TeX is worthwhile. They are both tool chains that have integrity, and both are worth knowing. They are similar in concept, different in execution, and each has its own strengths and weaknesses.

Would you give up PHP to know Ruby?
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Old 10th November 2008
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Originally Posted by ephemera View Post
so why did Knuth create TeX if troff was already available at the time?

> I preferred if he worked on improving Troff instead of waisting 10 years of his life to code TeX from the scratch.

the man is known as the father of computer science and his intellect/achievements exceeds that of all of us combined. do you really think he would "waste" 10 years of his life creating TeX without a compelling reason for doing so?
Originally Posted by DrJ View Post
I'll not let facts get in the way of healthy speculation, but I would guess that Knuth simply got interested in text processing and thought he could improve the state-of-the-art. Academics are free to do that -- there need be no real "reason". That troff was closed at the time was likely a motivation.
Far be it from me to try and second guess the likes of Donald Knuth (who I greatly respect), but in my personal opinion: his decision to create TeX likely involved a desire to employ literate programming techniques, a love of algorithms and the finding and solving of interesting problems, along with a desire to eat his cake and have it too by the end of it.

I personally use LaTeX for most of my documents that are desired for printed form. I almost never print anything, but I consider PDF/PostScript output to be like a "digital paper", so to speak. I generally gave up on word processors and the hole WYSIWYG paradigm - I need a system that I can rely on to print what I want, how I want, and not to require a lot of hand tweaking between different editors, printers, and displays to keep it that way. LaTeX generally offers that, or "close enough" to it, that I can just work on content and structure, without care about final appearance until after the document is written. Not having to (ab)use the M4 macro processor and Perl to maintain larger documents involving indexes and references is also a great help (and why I stopped using HTML/CSS for this). Most of what I do, is built around toolkits. A set of tools that I can use together to create something larger, without a headache in the process; LaTeX has proven to be extremely useful but I would never rule out other tools.

For anyone wanting to learn TeX/LaTeX I would suggest buying a good book and finding an online reference. I never bought a book, but you can find some of the links I use on my ma.gnolia profile - the first of which is the main kind of docs I needed to learn. For troff the best I've seen is the old troff users manual and a tutorial by BWK, there's also a few other things on here that DrJ has referenced, and your *nix systems should have documentation on the various macro packages and pre processors.

Originally Posted by DrJ View Post
That said, knowing both troff and TeX is worthwhile. They are both tool chains that have integrity, and both are worth knowing. They are similar in concept, different in execution, and each has its own strengths and weaknesses.

Would you give up PHP to know Ruby?
Well spoken ;-)
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Last edited by TerryP; 10th November 2008 at 06:28 AM.
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Old 10th November 2008
drhowarddrfine drhowarddrfine is offline
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What I would most be interested in would not be man pages but more toward publishing, with pretty printing and images, either one-off or magazine publishing, though it sounds like magazines don't all accept that anymore. I had decided that TeX or Latex was what I wanted and it still sounds that way.

This discussion leads me to believe that publication houses have dumbed themselves down to accomodate the masses and their Word systems. As an aside, the well known co-author of a book about mySQL hates Word and prefers OO.
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docbook, groff, latex, tex, troff, typesetting

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