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my gripes with Office, & my solution (LaTex, LyX)

Joel has a few sections discussing the great ease of use of various MS programs, yet I find many of these programs the most horrid monstrocities created. Consider MS Office...

I'm not going to talk about how no new useful features have been added for many versions, how it keeps on getting slower and slower and slower, and how MS has idiotically insisted on doing away with the "old-fashioned" extremely fast help-files that popped up as soon as you pressed F1. I'm not even going to comlain about how MS thinks that we're all retards who need a "Clippy-cartoon", and how OpenOffice has copied their idiocy in that respect.

Instead, I'm going to talk about how MS Word positively messes with the user, crashes when documents become long, has compatability problems between the file-formats of different versions, and generally makes you want to stab the computer-screen.

These problems are usually experienced by those of us who have tried to use MS Word for real work, by which I mean: thesis', scientific papers, resumes, and various other documents that are supposed to be professional. If you are writing a scientific paper, managing figures is a headache. There's a joke among some of the graduate students I know that it takes as much time to format a thesis in MS Word as it does to actually write it. Firstly, MS Word likes nothing better than to decide that you really don't mean what you write. Of course, when you typed that asterisk, you really mean to type in a bullet; of course you meant for that minus sign in front of -2 to really be an emdash; and of course you meant to capitalize the first letter of a sentence like: siRNA's are small RNA molecules, which are involved in gene-silencing. But, hey, that's no problem: Who doesn't like pressing CTRL-Z fifteen million times?

Now, let's get to the real headache: Figures. The way in which MS Word messes up figures is almost mind-boggling. Firstly, it seems that for some strange reason, figures are never imported into MS to scale. A 4"x4" picture is imported as something barely larger than a period. Now, because long documents in MS Word are gobbling up so much RAM, when you type some text before a picture, that completely changes the location of the picture -- but because of the slow reaction time, you don't see that until half a minute later. And let us not forget that MS Word has these little fits where it insists that where you put the picture, isn't really where the picture belongs, and it has to zap it back somewhere else.

My absolute favorite is when you start to get into the range of 50 or more pages, and the damn thing crashes after you've added a couple of pages. Yea, yea, it has auto-save -- which is obscenely slow if you have it doing proper saves, and gobbles up lots of hard-drive space if you let it do quick-saves, but still interferes with your operations. The simple fact is, the program shouldn't crash in the first place (not that I can't understand why MS Office crashes: when you have a program with as many bloated useless features as MS Office, it's a statistical certainty).

Finally, let's look at the "quality" of MS Word documents. In short: crap. Because Word, like all Word processors, is WYSIWYG, justification is done line-by-line for speed. This produces poorly justified documents, which simply don't hack it for professional presentation. Hyphenation is also a disaster. Oh, yes, ever tried to produce a web-page document from MS Word? Yuck. And thank you, MS Word, for being the "leader" in that category: OpenOffice, following MS Word, also produces hideous web-pages.

Summarily, MS Word represents a huge leap backwards in useability, though it is surely good for the business of therapists, psychologists, morticians, and Jack Kevorkian. Does anyone here remember an old DOS program called FirstChoice? I used it on a 386. It was a great little program. Quite frankly, I wish I'd never given my 386 to my cousin, because I'd still very much like to use that program again. It was the then-equivalent of MS Office, except it was a good program, and it was in DOS. You had a lovely choice of white text on black background, yellow text on blue background, and some funky orange combinations (ah...the joys of 16 colors). Quite frankly, I got a lot more done in this program than I ever did in MS Word. Why? Fast, fast, fast. There was only one font on-screen, though you could print out in the font of your choice. The menu hot-keys were brilliant: F1 was the first menu, F2 the second, F3 the third, and so-on and so-forth. Why this simple convention has been abandoned is beyond me. The program *never* crashed. And there was one more wonderful thing: I spent most of my time actually writing content, not messing with appearance.

My solution to all of this mess is LaTeX, which has many benefits: see Personally, I use emacs with AUCTeX added to work easily. Some of the advantages are that it *never* crashes. You can even use Notepad to write LaTeX documents. LaTeX takes some time to learn. It is a markup language, like HTML, though much more complete. There is a learning curve with LaTex, but there's also a learning curve with HTML: Yet, it pays to know HTML, instead of using MS Word to create abominations of web-pages. Furthermore, it is much easier to use LaTeX to create professional documents quickly than it is to use Word (which is, by the way, completely incapable of producing documents that could be called "professional").

What does LaTex allow you to do, once you know how to use it? It allows you to focus on content, not typography. Users are not into the profession of typography. They have no idea how to properly format a document. Most users want their documents formatted "like Word documents": 11x8.5, with 1" margins. Yet, 1" margins are too narrow. Ideally, with 12pt font, there should be about 60 words on a line; longer than that, and it is easy for people to lose place when moving from one line to the next. With LaTeX, you select what document type you're creating, and it formats it appropriately. You just enter the text of the title, author, sections, and paragraphs, focusing on the logical struture and content.

For those who want to jump right into it, there is LyX, though it is not a perfect GUI interface, and a GUI introduces some of Office's problems: it encourages users to be typographists, when they are not suited for, nor should they be asked to do, that task. Even if MS Word wasn't so problem-laden, it would still encourage users to waste their time tinkering with formatting, creating laughable documents.

David Heinrich
Thursday, May 20, 2004


Matthew Lock
Thursday, May 20, 2004

Now I've woken up I'll bite. If Latex is so good how come you have used Word often enough to know its foibles?

Matthew Lock
Friday, May 21, 2004

You should spend less time bitching and actually learn how to use Word...

Friday, May 21, 2004

Why should you "learn" word?. When i was doing my thesis, i too had the same problem. What a nightmare Word is.

I too experience most of the horrors that the OP talked about.
The worst part was when i was seeing one thing on screen and the printout was coming with additional spaces. This was for a very large document. As a result, my thesis was  returned back to me. I had to take another printout, bind it once again and give it. And yes, you **Do** spend atleast 10% of your thesis time on formatting a Word document.

Word is bloatware. Sooner or later, Open Office will take over. The thing about Word is that MS keeps adding stuff which is totally unnecessary. This causes crashes and other nuisance.

Friday, May 21, 2004

David Heinrich,

I gotta say there are days when I agree with you 100%, but then I also use vim, so no one will listen to my nerdy opinions.

Li-fan Chen
Friday, May 21, 2004

Short answer: laziness.

Long answer...

When I got my first "modern" computer (a Pentium, with a whopping 133MHz), I was rather young, and didn't even know that Linux existed. I was coming from DOS. I'd heard of Unix, but what I'd heard of it from the books I read said that it was very big and clonky, and was very expensive, and required a computer better than the one's I could afford.

Even after I heard of Linux, and had used IRIX through a telnet connection for an account, I still hadn't heard of LaTeX. But the first program on my 133MHz was MS Works. Thus, I became familiar with it's flaws. At the university I went to, the rigid workstations (which were inalterable) only had MS Office, so that was what had to be used to write up one's lab-reports if you wanted to be able to work on them at the library. Also, I still hadn't heard of LaTeX.

I believe I first heard of it about 1.5 years ago. Of course, I didn't learn it right away. I downloaded a guide, and browsed through it, but then forgot about it. There were also many other things I was interested in learning (most importantly, GNUcash and double-entry accounting, along with sed and awk). I also took up a fascination with Austrian economics. I learned LaTeX about 6 months ago, when I was approached to submit a paper to the JLS for the Mises Inst.

PS: I would still rather use FirstChoice any day over MS Office, and that's not just nostalgia.

David Heinrich
Friday, May 21, 2004

Though I prefer OpenOffice to Word, it's still not great (I can't praise software just because it's GPL'ed). In fact, it copies some of Word's worst features (like WYSIWYG). I compiled OpenOffice with memory optimization (-Os), and compiled it for my specific architecture. And it still opens up slow. OpenOffice is much less bloated than Word, but the people at are working hard to make sure it is just as bad as MS Office.

LyX is a good start for making LaTeX easier to "learn", but it needs to move away from the semi-WYSIWYG. What should happen is when you open up LyX, it should ask you: "What kind of document do you want to create?", then list a bunch of options, like article, letter, memo, presentation, report, book, resume, etc. Then, it should prompt you for what specific template you want...e.g,. if you're writing an article, it should ask you if you want a newspaper template, or a magazine template, or a journal template (e.g., the mathematical AMS template for that journal). Then, it should ask you for the title, author, subtitle, etc. And then it should let you create the document, with buttons focusing solely on *logical* structure, not visual structure (e.g., "insert quote", or "insert footnote", or "reference").

PS: If anyone knows of a website where you could download FirstChoice (if anyone here even knows that that is), I'd much appreciate it. By the way, does anyone remember F-19 Stealth fighter: (check out the screenshots for some sweet 16-bit graphics!)

David Heinrich
Friday, May 21, 2004

For all the allegations of Word crashing can anyone tell me one way I can crash my Word 2002 right now? Surely if it's such bug ridden bloatware someone could tell me a way to get it to crash.

Matthew Lock
Friday, May 21, 2004

I hope I never have to work with those "graduate students" who can't even work out Word. I find no problems using Word for complex documents.

Friday, May 21, 2004

Matthew, you give it to someone that has to have a 25 page document ready by 3pm on Friday, printed, collated and so on.

It is almost bound to crash, and crash in such a fashion that it will never be quite the same again, until Monday.

Simon Lucy
Friday, May 21, 2004

Simon - I think that's more of an expression of Murphy's Law than a specific problem with word. 

That said the two regular issues my users have with it are (1) it demanding to install some bit of itself, from the original CD, for no readily apparent reason and (2) exploding - especially if someone's modified it.  Not big issues to fix but they do tend to worry people.

I have tried Lyx (which also has a Windows port) and it is powerful - but I think for general use it needs polish.  It boils down to horses for courses really.

a cynic writes...
Friday, May 21, 2004

Yes, I forgot the :-}

Simon Lucy
Friday, May 21, 2004

I knew noone would come up with any objective ways to crash it.

Matthew Lock
Friday, May 21, 2004

Most problems with word are sorted by turning off auto-correct and automatic style creation.
Other than that I have no problems with it and we've maintained a 400 page manual in it.
I'd prefer it if it had a tag model like ventura and it's still not as nice as lotus manuscript was for technical documents but it's ok.

Peter Ibbotson
Friday, May 21, 2004

I always find it amazing that people that are not prepared to sit down and read a quick "10 minute introduction to Word" style text, then feel compelled to bitch about it for the rest of eternity, especially after they then feel fine studying 500 page tomes about the cryptic inards of LaTeX stylesheets.
By all means prefer a different approach to wordprocessing, but stop confusing vast ignorance with problems in a piece of software.

Just me (Sir to you)
Friday, May 21, 2004

"By the way, does anyone remember F-19 Stealth fighter: (check out the screenshots for some sweet 16-bit graphics!)"

Yep.  Great then, sucks (badly) comparatively now.  Damage model was a joke - you could get hit by 2 SA-2s (size of telephone poles) and you'd be "badly damaged" - virtually impossible to get shot down, really.  A fully juiced up Falcon 4 leaves it in the dust on all levels - playability, realism and immersion.

As for theses, I wrote 2 with Word on Macs and I can't say I stewed over my theses software.  Content of my dissertations, yes - foibles of my software - no.  Noone in my group had any major problems either, so make of that what you will.

If you prefer LaTex over Word then bully for you.  I honestly can't fathom why you think this is of general interest to anyone else.  Really.

Motown (AU)
Friday, May 21, 2004

F-19 Steath Fighter rocked!  Didn't realise anyone else ever played it though.  Those were the days before I was 'online'..

i like i
Friday, May 21, 2004

I worked for several years as a Word expert.  I knew every nook of that application and I could make it do anything I wanted.

However, I have also given up on Word for all the reasons that David Heinrich has given.

All except crashing.  I've not had Word 2003 or XP crash on me.  I've had them completely reformat all of my text 30 minutes before a deadline with no help from ctrl-z, but it didn't crash.

I could spend hours and hours relearning word, but what happens when it all changes again?  My time will be better spent learning LaTex.

Ged Byrne
Friday, May 21, 2004

Check out DocBook. There are commercial toolchains that work well. Setting up and OpenSource toolchain can be tricky but not impossible.
DocBook separates content from presentation, but you still have some possiblilty to change the presentation by setting the variables you want to chage in a XSL stylesheet. DocBook has many variables that can be redefined, giving the document a different look.
It is all text and can be kept in CVS.
I have used it for several documents, but I do not work with documentation professionaly.
One gripe I have heard about it might be hard to get technical writers to use a texteditor and use XML tags. I have used Emacs, which has some good modes for editing XML, but I understand that Emacs is not for everyone. aim to provide a XML editor anyone can use but I have not used it.

Fredrik Svensson
Friday, May 21, 2004

Dear Matthew,
                      You can't get Word to do anything reliably, and that includes crashing.                     

Stephen Jones
Friday, May 21, 2004

Spend 10 minutes in "Options" to disable the autocorrections, then type away your dashes and asterisks and 1/2s...

Excerpt from the LyX webpage:

actually works, if you put the dictionaries in the right place (lyx/lib/aspell and lyx/share/aspell). See for further info. You only need the dictionaries, the aspell executable is useless for LyX.

As an example, here are the English dictionary files: lyx_aspell_dict_en.rar. Follow the directory structure in this file.

HUHH? Can I just click "Next" 10 times and be done?

What's that, you say? Oh, I should take time to *learn* it first...

Friday, May 21, 2004

That's a problem the sysadmin has to face, not the typical user. But i think we're all getting away from what i think was David's best point, and it's not so much against Word but against the whole culture that it (and Powerpoint) have created:

People get bogged down worrying about how their document is formatted, rather than its content.

In a way, that's a step backwards from, say, 1960, when people would type it up on a typewriter and then leave it up to a professional printer to typeset it. (Yes, i know that in most other ways, today's situation is better)

Mike Schiraldi
Friday, May 21, 2004

David is quite right to gripe. As Ged has said, the problem is not that he or his grad students are not capable of mastering something as simple as Word, or that:
---- "people that are not prepared to sit down and read a quick "10 minute introduction to Word" style text, then feel compelled to bitch about it for the rest of eternity" ------
but that Word had a myriad of problems, and those that do not notice them are those that don't use it enough. This has been bought up in other threads, not least by me, and I'll list a couple here for the new reader.

There is one mistake people like David make when they talk about Word, and that is to claim that the problem is 'bloat'. They then give a list of all the features they'd like to get rid of. The problem is that amonthst the things they'd like to get rid of, are the ones that another user finds indispensabe. Those that complain of bloat will then suggest a minimalist interface, whose implementation will of course involve adding a couple more features.

The problem about Word has been dealt with by Joel in his essay on leaky abstractions, except that Word is not so much a leaky abstraction as  an open sewer. I think I've mentioned the fun you have trying to keep justified formatting in ordered lists when you want a space between them. The problem is that although, as David remarks it only justifies the line (see the comment at the bottom as to why it doesn't do the whole paragraph) the unit of justification is the whole paragraph, and that paragraph has been given an invisible style that you don't even know about. There is no doubt an equally arcane explanation as to why when I cut and paste a whole page from JOS discussion it will fformat it as Ariel Unicode MS  even though the font on Joel's page is Times New Roman and the font on my template is Times New Roman. Indeed you can have fun. Cut and paste a few lines from this thread and paste them into a blank word document with Times New Roman set as the default text. I get Ariel Unicode MS. Now go and paste the lines from Joel into Notepad and copy them again and paste into the blank Word document with Times New Roman set as the default font. You get Times New Roman.

Let's look at the paradigm, as it appears on the surface
Times New Roman --- Times New Roman = Ariel Unicode MS
Times New roman --- Lucida Console default Notepad font ----- Times New Roman.
What's happening. The answer of course is that when you paste from Notepad what is on the clipboard is unicode and Word applies its own template font, but when you paste directly from the web Word decides for you that it is a web page and therefore it will apply not the font you have asked for on the page but the font it has assigned to you for an Normal (Web) style you didn't even know existed.

Word is not a WYSIWYG editor. It's a WTFITIMG ("What The Fuck Is This I'M Getting") editor.

Now one can get round many of these problems, as Philo and others have pointed out, by treating Word as a kind of CSS editor and using Styles for everything. But this begs the question; if all I want to do is write a document why do I have to develop a set of "coding" skills more difficult than writing HTML pages by hand  in Notepad.

The fact that people are deciding that this is not worth it, is the reason they go to LaTex and other arcane tools from before the GUI days. Two days ago I had crash all the time. I then got the default which has none of the toolbar shortcuts I use all the time. As it takes me over half and hour to set up Normal .dot as I like it, and I didn't want to waste time navigating through all the menus every thirty seconds I needed to format something, I printes out the list of keyboard shortcuts and started to use them. The two or tthree I needed, bascially Crtl+1 and Crtl+5 and Crtl+E are really useful and I found a keyboard shortcut for a feature I didn't know existed Crtl+shift+w for underlining words only and not spaces, but the point is that there are a dozen or more A4 pages of keyboard shortcuts and why I should have to put in the same effort to commit them to muscle memory I would have to put in to learn basic Chinese or Tamil or Hindi I don't know.

There is a way round most formatting problems for Word, but you have to search and scramble to find it. Sometimes you never do. I have seen highly competent secretaries given a two- page document to format, and you will go back three hours later and they still have the same document on the screen because they haven't found out the work-around.

Eric Dubois described the problem with Word perfectly, albeit talking about another subject.

"You open the fridge door and electrocute the dog."

PS Looking for the JOS other links about Word's defects I came across this quote which probably explains the reasons behind David's gripe at Word jjustifying text by line only.
---"I used to wonder why text systems didn't always just use Knuth's TeX algorithm for flowing text.  The answer isn't performance, it turns out.  Some Gnome hackers tried adding this to their text editor, and it turns out that reflowing an entire paragraph after every line typed drives users crazy."

Stephen Jones
Friday, May 21, 2004

Back in the day when I worked help desk, I'd get calls from users with corrupt word docs all the time.  Nine out of ten times it was either a long document (>10 pages) with a lot of formatting.  (For some reason people think the look is more important than the content - sounds like the Microsoft way of thinking - so they format it six ways from Sunday).  The other documents that were problematic were documents that were used like templates.  Open and change it, next week, next month, change it a again.  Seems like word documents that are opened, closed, added to and expunged from share a lot of commonality with the Windows registry.  Sooner or later it will get crufty enough to cause problems.

I've often though if people typed in a simple editor the content would be better because they aren't trying to pretty the thing up as they go.  WYSIWYG is not all it's cracked up to be.  Unfortunately for most, it's too late to take the pacifier from the baby.

In college I was a mac guy.  Used MacWrite Pro, and ClarisWorks.  ClarisWorks could pop a spreadsheet into a word processing document and not require a lot of ram to do it like MS office did.  Prior to that I used appleworks where you typed and used markup codes to format documents.  Those were the days.

Friday, May 21, 2004

The reason that Word really sucks for writing theses is that Bill Gates dropped out of Harvard after a year :)

Indeed, when it first came out it got nowhere because it either didn't bother with footnotes or didn't get them right.

There are certain things you can do to make life less of a pain. Firstly remember that Word isn't a desktop publisher, so if you are trying to do booklets or some complicated mix of graphics and text use another tool. My secret tool for this is Corel Draw, which comes with spell checks for about forty languages, full VB scripting support, still the best vector graphics program around, and a highly competent and semi-integrated bitmap editor. Get an older version (the present cheapo is version 9 I think) and you get the lot for less than an additional MS proofing dictionary.

However for theses you have a problem, because while they do include graphics, are often the length of a medium-sized book, they also require things that are only present in a Word processing program (or its add-ins) such as outline numbering, footnotes, charts and equation editors.

So, you may be stuck with Word. Here are a couple of pieces of advice. When adding figures (which will be objects or images in Word terminology) you must remember that there are a lot of options as to whether they follow the text or not, and where they are anchored. Choosing the wrong one of these, is why you often find pictures seem to appear or disappear, and completely mess up all formatting. It's best to right click and then play around with the options. Where possible, always hit the enter key twice before inserting a figure (and of course hit save so you can be sure can get the prior formatting back). This will mean that the figure is on its own, and thus should be fairly easy to size or resize, without messing everything else up. Only try complicated text flows around the image, if you have a couple of weeks before the deadline.

Where you need a complicated layout with graphics and text either go the DTP way and use Word text boxes, or go the HTML way and use Word tables. Both are useful layout tools, when you eliminate borders and shading and as long as you remember that they have default paddings you may wish to change. Only use them when absolutely necessary however, and this brings us to my next  two important points.

Use page breaks at the end of each chapter and USE SECTION BREAKS LIBERALLY. This means that you are only liable to mess up a small number of pages instead of the whole document. I'd even consider playing safe by backing up each section to a separate word document and keeping them in a folder called "Disaster Recovery".

Wherever possible type in print view, and go to Tools|Options|View|TEXT BOUNDARIES and turn it on.

You will be printing out your thesis the night before the deadline. Well before that time max out your credit card and buy loads of replacement ink cartridges and a few reams of paper. You might even consider buying a second printer. You may well need it.

Stephen Jones
Friday, May 21, 2004

For a thesis there's just no way around LateX.

To turn around the "why isn't it used more then" argument (million flies can't be wrong...), show me one even slightly complex (100+ pages, formulas, pictures/diagrams, footnotes, ...) thesis made with Word and still good looking.

Friday, May 21, 2004

Stephen, thanks for the MS tips, but there's really nothing that I need Word for that can't be done in LaTeX (and if I do, I'll use OpenOffice). I'm sure, however, that it'll help anyone who's resolved on banging their head against the wall when trying to write papers or thesis' using Word...

Of course, there's also the litany of bugs and problems with Office, even within the WYSIWYG paradigm. The one I hate most is how pressing F1 brings up a slow html help-file which resizes your window and takes over your computer screen. Note: MS help files from Win95 were much better than are help files from WinME, Win2k, Win2002, or WinXP. Someone else asked me how it is possible to crash Word 2000, and another user responded. But what I'd like to bring up is that users shouldn't have to pay a hundred bucks for an upgrade with extra "features" that they neither need nor want, just so that the program doesn't crash. Yes, MS is a business and, as an anarcho-capitalist, I can't criticize them for trying to make money; that doesn't mean I have to buy their products, or should advocate buying their products.

The real problem with Word, as  Mike Schiraldi  emphasized, is that it encourages people to focus on formatting and typesetting, not the actual content and logical structure of their documents. The fact is that most people are completely incompetent in properly formatting documents, and even if they were competent, why should they have to waste their time when a good computer program can do that perfectly for them? Consider what the average user does for articles. 1" margins, which means long lines, which means the document is hard to read. People format documents as if they are pictures to be hung on walls and admired.

I think that if your needs are so primitive that the "quality" of documents that MS Office produces are "good enough", you would be better off using a program that's the equivalent of WordPad, except with justification. Or even plain-text. However, if you actually need to produce a "complicated" documents that should be professional, then Word simply doesn't hack it (there's a reason why the AMS wants their submissions in TeX). Take a look at some of the stuff in the TeX showcase ( ). MS Office could never produce documents of the quality there. There's also the other benefit of LaTex, which is that it is ASCII, so you can work on your document wherever you go, and it'll probably fit on a 3.5" floppy. Furthermore, it being in ASCII, there's no need to worry about compatability problems. You can work on it in your web-mail aplet, if you want to.

LaTeX is nearly perfect for it's paradigm, though there are a few problems I could identify -- why does it assume that you want ligatures, like shelfful, where the two f's are joined into one letter, instead of automatically providing a little bit of space between characters that can run into eachother? However, those problems are problems that are also in Word (if you want to get rid of a ligature in Word, you have to enter a 2pt space between two ff's). TeX, the underlying engine, has been frozen for a while, so a LaTeX document will produce the same output dvi or pdf file, no matter what.

LyX, however, is another story. LyX is some sort of hybrid between WYSIWYG and WYGIWYM (what you get is what you mean). That problem can be fixed by doing what I suggested in the initial post, which would be prompting the user for the document type, a title, author, etc, forcing the user to focus on content.

David Heinrich
Friday, May 21, 2004


An easy way to crash a Windows 2000 box is to point the infrared port to the infrared port on a Linux based box, and using the IrDA "ping" command from the Linux box.

Instant BSOD.  Hardly a graceful failure.

Friday, May 21, 2004

Out of the box, the output from Word just can't compare to that of LaTeX for "serious" documents.  You can dink around with Word with acceptible results, but all of the features and settings mask this.

As someone mentioned earlier, DocBook is looking like a good compromise: it has content and layout seperation, but the syntax is simpler than the pre-SGML [La]TeX, and much more familiar to most people.

Friday, May 21, 2004

I'm afraid David that your born-again geek atitude is not convincing me.

First to suggest that: "There's also the other benefit of LaTex, which is that it is ASCII, so you can work on your document wherever you go, and it'll probably fit on a 3.5" floppy. Furthermore, it being in ASCII, there's no need to worry about compatability problems." is truy asinine. ASCII means INCOMPATIBLITY. The joy I had when I was able to install Office 2000 on Windows 2000 and realized that I could print any document on any computer that had both of them regardless of whether the machine or document used Arabic or not, is something you can't imagine. LaTEx obviously does Unicode, but apparently not by default.

Standard Word margins for Letter are 1.25", not 1". I always change the defaults to 1" or less. For a business letter or memo or form 1" is fine. Only a small minority of users use Word for 'articles' and changing the page setup is something you can expect all but the most inexperienced user to do.

If you want top class print typesetting than you use a DTP program. I see little in the gallery that cannot be done with Quark Express or Adobe software. The point is though, that when you require that professionalism in  a print document you are probably going to be sendiing the document off to a professional publisher anyway. I find that the quality of Word formatting for any kind of memo, letter, exam paper or printed form is fine. The problem is doing the formatting in the first place.

Word does mean too much attention can be paid to formatting. If you are writing a long document the secret is to write the whole document first and then format it at the end. However, what happens is that we are used to writing short documents, where the opposite approach is suitable, and as a result flexibility suffers.

Stephen Jones
Friday, May 21, 2004

I'm a big LaTeX fan.  Unfortunately though, it does what it wants when it wants just like word does.  And when this happens, I spend the next four or five hours digging through some examples on the web trying desperately to figure out how to get things to align how I want them too.

As far as focusing on content and not worrying about formatting goes, for scientific documents, it's great.  For anything serious though, fine formatting details have to be hard coded into the markup which flys in the face of seperating the layout from the content.  In these cases, simply import your text/images into something like InDesign or Quark and produce something professional that you have full control over.

Either way, Word was never designed to be a typesetting program.  If that's what you're doing then there is no sympathy here.  You may as well be trying to hang sheetrock with a ballpein hammer. . . doable, but your results won't be pretty and the frustration will be high.

Friday, May 21, 2004

"For a thesis there's just no way around LateX."

There are LIBRARIES full of theses NOT done in LaTex and done in Word/Clarisworks/whatever.  FFS, what's all this BS about requiring software X for "professional"/"serious" documents?!  Professional/serious works are done by professional/serious authors, not WP/DTP packages.  Geez .....

Mike Schiraldi put it best :-
"People get bogged down worrying about how their document is formatted, rather than its content." 

If the package you write your thesis is a major concern then you have serious priority issues.  All this geekoid-elitism is quite frankly tiresome chest-thumping and completely orthogonal to writing a good thesis.

Motown (AU)
Friday, May 21, 2004

I don't think I know Word quite as in-depth as many of you seem to.  I use it for fairly simple things.  The most advanced I get is creating outlines.  The outlines thing is quite a pain.  Whenever I use it I am nervous that I am going to make some kind of mistake and throw it into random formatting mode.  I don't really know what the problem is.  I just think that a program this old should do the basic things well and in a fairly intuitive manner.

What is wrong with WYSIWYG?  I agree that one shouldn't spend quite so much time formating but what is so wrong with trying to make the document on the screen look approximately like it is going to print?

name withheld out of cowardice
Friday, May 21, 2004


Your complaints about compatability problems with LaTeX is non-sense. LaTex (.tex) files are simply plain-text. The only possible compatability problem you can have is the differences in line-break code between Windows, *nix, and Mac. There are no compatability problems. You can copy and paste the text and send it in an e-mail, and it would be fine. I've had problems with compatability between computers and OS' for MS' sloppy binary-code documents. I've never had problems with compatability for plain-text documents.

As for your joy at the "compatability" of Win2000 and Office 2000, I can only deduce that you are either joking or are simply stupid. Your own sentence contradicts itself. If you have to have Win2k and Office2k to view the document without problems, then it does indeed have compatability problems. As it happens, Word 2000 can't even always properly open up Word 98 files. In my book, that's crap.

You seem to have missed the point on formatting, which is that users shouldn't be doing it, because: (1) Many of them don't know how to format documents correctly; (2) It is a waste of time, when a computer program can do it for you; (3) It diverts their attention away from the important task of writing content.

Quark Express and Adobe software can do the job almost as well, or as well, as LaTeX: If you want to pay good money when you could get the same functionality for free. QuarkExpress 5.0 for the Mac costs $770, something you conveniently neglected to mention. So, the question is, is it really worth it to you to pay $770 dollars so that you don't have to spend the time it takes to learn how to use LaTeX? That is not the kind of money that could buy you an entire system (at the University of Rochester, we're offered 2GHz systems for $300). There's also the caveat of requirements for a specific OS and hardware.

David Heinrich
Friday, May 21, 2004

"Quark Express and Adobe software can do the job almost as well, or as well, as LaTeX"

Is the entire publishing world using inferior products then?  The benefit of these programs is that they allow you to easily make minor adjustments to the typesetting of the document.  This isn't easily possible in LaTeX and when possible is discouraged. 

Friday, May 21, 2004

Dear David,
                  Plain text in what language? I live in a country where a computer can be said up for Arabic only, English with Arabic support, or just English, and that's before we take into account Farsi, Devanagari Sinhala and Tamil scripts, to name just a few of the more common other scripts used within a kilometre of my house.

                  LaTex will take Unicode with little problem, but the supposed advantages of fitting everything on a floppy are non-existent, and you can't even guarantee the machine will have a floppy drive anyway.

                If users shouldn't be doing formatting, what are they pissing around using LaTex for? And I very much doubt that you can do a business letter or form as quickly in LaTex as you can in Word. And I doublt if mail merge works as well either.

                I never suggested people went off and bought Quark Express, which is a hideously complicated piece of software to use anyway. What I did say is that if you are seriously concerned about the precise placing of your print output you should be taking it to a print shop and getting it set by experts anyway. I honestly can't think of any time you would need to unless you were printing a book or a newspaper. For pamphlets or catalogs then Publisher or equivalent is more than enough.

As foir theses in the unlikely event that anybody but your supervisor would want to read your thesis he would access it through the web anyway.

Stephen Jones
Friday, May 21, 2004

Elephant, nice try at ad populum, but even that fails since TeX and LaTeX are widely used in the publishing world (see the showcase I linked to). They are almost universal in the technical fields, such as physics and mathematics . No, they aren't using inferior software. They're just paying a whole lot of money for something they can get for free. As you can see from the showcase, you can do just about anything with LaTeX (or at a lower level, TeX). Also, there are many polished UI-front-ends for TeX (see Mac's TeXtures).

David Heinrich
Friday, May 21, 2004


Again, in that case, pointing to office as a virtue of compatability is still laughable. Different versions of MS Office even have compatability problems with eachother (something which is most hideous). And, as you noted, LaTeX supports Unicode. However, most people talking about computers are mainly concerned with English, or languages which use the same characters (like German...the umlauts are unnecessary, and can be represented by ae, ue, oe, ie).

The point on the thesis' isn't only that Word thesis' look like crap. It's also that MS Word makes people want to bang their heads into the wall. The nice thing about LaTeX is it allows you to produce professional documents for free, which is necessary outside of the thesis area and for individuals in more than just math and science (e.g., economics journals, philosophy journals, politics journals). When writing a paper, the headaches of Word also show up (and writing papers is what those in academia do all their lives, remember). There are also benefits in the business environment, such as superior compatability and cost.

And, simply put, once you know how to use LaTeX, you can indeed write just about any document faster with LaTeX. That's because of the headache's of Word formatting, even with short-cut keys. Even for the minimal document, like a letter, you only spend a little bit longer in LaTeX entering the document-type information (etc), and the result is a letter that is simply of higher quality.

David Heinrich
Friday, May 21, 2004

"However, most people talking about computers are mainly concerned with English, or languages which use the same characters (like German...the umlauts are unnecessary, and can be represented by ae, ue, oe, ie)."


Ross Sampere
Friday, May 21, 2004

---"There are also benefits in the business environment, such as superior compatability and cost. "-----

If you're suggesting that businesses use LaTex, then you sure must live in an ivory tower. There's only one kind of latex most business people know about, and some are so clueless they still need the manual to find out how to put it on.

Stephen Jones
Friday, May 21, 2004

In languages that use accented characters, the accents are NOT unnecessary. Yeah, there are workarounds from the typewriter days, such as oe for ö; but that doesn't mean "fuer" is a correct way to spell "für". Office 2000 and up are very, very nice for the sort of multi-language setups that Stephen talks about. (The other day my dad needed to write something in Russian. I added [actually, more like "turned on"] the appropriate keyboard layout in Windows, and ta-da. No messing with fonts, no dealing with obscure keyboard shortcuts; it just worked.)

I know next to nothing about LaTex, so I can't comment on it. I do know that most complaints about Word stem from bad habits, such as direct formatting. Unfortunately, a lot of the out-of-the-box settings in Word actively encourage bad habits. I know the first thing I do with a newly-installed copy of Word is to turn off EVERYTHING in the AutoFormat dialog. I also go through all the styles in and make sure Automatic Update is turned OFF (all the while cursing the evil bastard who set it to be turned on in the first place).

Should I have to jump through all those hoops just to end up with a semi-usable program? In an ideal world, no. But after adjusting for the real world we live in, Word used the way it's supposed to be used (i.e. styles for almost everything, especially for longer documents), and with the understanding that it is a word processor, not a desktop publishing program, is a very nice piece of software.

Friday, May 21, 2004

> An easy way to crash a Windows 2000 box is to point the
> infrared port to the infrared port on a Linux based box, and
> using the IrDA "ping" command from the Linux box.

That's a way to crash Windows not Word.

Come on! Since it's such a forgone conclusion that Word crashes so easily somebody must be able to demonstrate a way to actually make it crash that I can reproduce. Infact I'll send US $5 by Paypal to somebody who can give me a step by step way to make Word 2002 crash.

Matthew Lock
Friday, May 21, 2004

The OP mentioned "FirstChoice". I remember this program: it was the very first computer program that I learned how to use (on a 286).

It had a word processor, spreadsheet, and I believe some kind of filo-fax like flat file database.

I also remember being then transfered to the home office of the company I then worked for, and sitting down at my new desk and turning on the computer: a 286 running DOS 3.3.  It had some program called WordPerfect. Once started I couldn't figure out how to exit the program; there weren't any menus. I pressed every key on the keyboard (except of course F7) trying to exit the program.

So I did what any self respecting newbie user would do: I turned off the computer (praying that I hadn't broken something).

Those were the days all right . . .

Bill Ramsey
Friday, May 21, 2004

Stephen: "LaTex will take Unicode with little problem"

Suprise: it won't. David apparently has never even heard of Unicode but I know that (La)TeX is restricted to ASCII. There are cumbersome add-on packages that attempt to make TeX Unicode-compliant but this is complicated by the fact that TeX also cannot use modern font formats; this is another thing that must be worked around with various kludges.

TeX systems come with a couple of default fonts designed by Donald Knuth but they're butt-ugly and ruin the visual appearance of TeX documents, making the system's advantages in fine typesetting moot.

Lack of painless support for Unicode and arbitrary fonts are two of TeX's biggest problems, along with the fact that you essentially have to learn programming if you ever want to define your own styles. Well, and of course the lack of a good WYSIWYG editor.

Also, when you do try to learn TeX you have to put up with people like David and his ridiculous messianic attitude which, quite frankly, was by itself reason enough for me to look for an alternative...

(I particularly loved how he first ranted at great length about TeX's high-quality typesetting, and then seriously suggested using "oe" instead of "ö"! Way to go, David. Whatever TeX cannot do is unnecessary anyway, right?)

By the way, anyone who is looking for a reliable way to edit long technical documents (and can live with the risk of having your software discontinued) might want to check out Adobe FrameMaker. It's also the only affordable WYSIWYG editor for the DocBook format, although that takes a lot of effort to set up.

FrameMaker has a rather dated interface and cannot handle Unicode, like TeX, but it's otherwise much easier to use and its documents are basically indestructible.

Chris Nahr
Saturday, May 22, 2004

Follow-up about the oe/ö thing: David is actually wrong here, TeX fonts do include umlauts and accented characters although you need a "tuned" system to be able to enter them as such. (Otherwise you need to use a cumbersome multi-character sequence like "o or \"o, depending on setup and context.)

However, TeX definitely cannot do things like Arabic characters. You'd have to create a font mapping that translates ASCII characters or user-defined TeX commands into Arabic characters. Good luck...

Chris Nahr
Saturday, May 22, 2004

          I presumed Unicodee wouldn't be too difficult because the page David pointed too had some doucments in Hindi, Arabic  and other scripts using an add-on called Omega. Of course, not difficult to the OSS fan isn't quite the same as not difficult to the rest of us.

            Word users have bad habits like "direct formatting" when they use a word processor. Jeez! Won't they  ever learn? Next thing they'll be trying to turn the computer on.

            If you have to use Word like a CSS editor, then it really is broken, particularly when the help files are all about doing it the other way. And even more so when two thirds of the time you have inherited the files from someone else.

Stephen Jones
Saturday, May 22, 2004

As noted by someone else, LaTeX can support Unicode. To those who said TeX can't support Arabic ("TeX definitely cannot do things like Arabic characters" -- Chris), If you are going to declare something, you had best not be contradicted by a link that I provided.

LaTeX can do Arabic:

It can do Hebrew:




Beer Bottle Labels:

Interactive periodic tables:

Musical notes from Andante KV 315, W.A. Mozart:

Award-winning books:

And custom-made chess-fonts for figurine notation and diagrams:

Also, I never said that LaTeX could not do umlauts. I said that you can represent them by ae, etc. As an above poster noted, there's a control sequence for characters like that. The same somewhat-ignorant poster who declared that TeX "definately cannot do Arabic", also declared that it can only do characters like umlauts through "cumbersome multi-character sequences," like \"o. Lets see how "cumbersome" it is to type in that sequence, allowing you to leave your fingers on the keyboard, as opposed to having to take your hands off of the mouse, pull down the Insert menu, then click on "Special Character", then scroll through a list to find the umlaut.

Yes, you can define short-cuts in Word, but how is that any different from the "cumbersome multi-character sequences"? Oh wait, apparently, Chris gets to have it both ways: When you type in \"o to get an umlaut in LaTeX, it's cumbersome; but when you define a short-cut in Word so that CTRL-SHIFT-o puts in an umlauted o, that's "convenient". Oh yea, lest I forget, you can *also* define short-cuts for any LaTeX commands that are really cumbersome when using Emacs and AUCTeX. And that combination actually allows for "command-completion" once you start typing in LaTeX commands (operates similar to file-name completion).

Returning to the comment by Matthew about how to crash Word 2002, you don't get to stack the deck in your favor, picking out one specific version, since many people are using older versions, and should not be asked to pay good money just so that MS' crap-ware doesn't crash on them. I haven't used Word 2002, so I can't answer your question on how to crash it. However, I have used Word 2000, and that is crash-susceptible, as I have found from my own experience and from watching individuals bang their heads against the wall while trying to write scientific papers using it.

LaTeX and TeX are obviously not "programs", but a bunch of macros for a markup language and a markup language, so to speak of it as "crashing" is non-sensical (there is also the TeX engine, which renders TeX documents...I haven't heard of anyone having problems with it crashing, but even if it did, it would be irrelevant, since you wouldn't actually lose any work). Thus, when working with TeX and LaTeX, you will experience crashes as often text-editor your working with crashes. As I use AUCTeX and emacs, the answer to that is never. Likewise for those who use vi. Even if you use MS Word to write LaTeX code in, it will not crash as often, as you'll just be using one font (new courrier, if you're smart, so characters line up), with no formatting. And, by the way, in the event of a stability problem with a version of FS/OSS, you do get to have it both ways, because upgrading or downgrading is free.

Finally, I return to the non-sense about Word's compatability. Even on two computers with Word2000 on Win2k, you still only have compatability if both have Arabic installed, which is not necessarily likely. Most people who do not need foreign characters will not install them. Thus, when you try to bring up such a document, you will get "please insert Office 2000 install CD 1". Furthermore, MS Office isn't even compatable between different versions of itself.

David Heinrich
Saturday, May 22, 2004

Dear David,
                  If you read your links a little closer you will find that some of the foreign scripts you link to work using the Omega add-on for Unicode, and others have been done by the way Chris recommended font mapping. This does appear a little more difficult than just changing the language on the language bar on your desktop, which is all you have to do in Word or Windows. To quote:

----"note that you don't see anything like \includepackage{CJK} in the LaTeX source, since it has to first be exported in cjk-encoding by Emacs, at which point the appropriate commands are inserted. The process is described in the file. The tight integration of CJK and Emacs makes it especially easy to mix and match different scripts and/or character sets."----

Word has quite enough failures without you inventing new ones.

---" Even on two computers with Word2000 on Win2k, you still only have compatability if both have Arabic installed, which is not necessarily likely. Most people who do not need foreign characters will not install them. Thus, when you try to bring up such a document, you will get "please insert Office 2000 install CD 1""-----

Most people who read Arabic will have installed it by default. As for the insert CD message this only happens if you didn't do a full install (which is the obvious thing to do with the size of modern hard drives) or installed of the CD in the first place. I learnt many years ago to always copy both the OS and frequently used programs to the Hard Drive firs t and then install from there, precisely to avoid that kind of stuff.

As for your comnents on the umlaut and keyboard shortctuts, it seems you don't have the least idea about iinternationalization. You don't insert symbol, or use a keyboard shortcut for the umlaut or for any other language, you simply change the default keyboard., which you do either by clicking on the language bar or setting up a shortcut. You type the umlaut just like you type any other letter.

There are two ways of represeinting non-ANSII scripts in Windows (and on any other OS). The first is to load a code page which maps the code to the letters of the language you want. The problem with that is that you have to load the code page at start up with Windows (and  I am sure it's not much easier with Linux) and often you will find that the OS doesn't allow it. It is certainly impossible to combine different scripts unless you use bitmapped fonts. The secon way is Unicode which still manages everything within its 16 bits. You can change from Japanese to Arabic to English in the same paragraph, or even within the same line. As Martha says, changing your script is one keysrroke or mouse clidk away.

Open Source Software is notorouos for patchy Unicode support. See Joel's rant about Unicode and PHP on his site. For tens of millions of users Unicode support is sufficient in itself to decide what tools or OS you use.

Stephen Jones
Saturday, May 22, 2004


It was claimed that you can't do Araibic in TeX. I countered otherwise. Considering as the focal point of computers is on English and German, it hardly seems like a significant point to me (I couldn't care less whether a program supports Chinese, Tibetan, or whatever other 15,000-character language you can think of).

You are placing focus in the wrong area on internationalization. The German alphabet is barely any different from the English alphabet -- the only difference is the addition of umlauted characters. This is trivial. When talking about internationalization, the real challenge is these languages that are "backwards" (at least from the point of computer efficiency) and that have thousands of characters. There is no keyboard for Chinese, because the Chinese language has some 20,000 or so characters. Likewise for the many languages like Chinese. For these reasons, the only reasonable way to enter these language's characters into the computer is by some kind of as-you-go OCR. This will *never* be as efficient as us Americans typing our English.

Yes, people who read Arabic will have it installed by default. How do you know it's going to be installed on the computer at location X where you may be visiting? Many people do *not* do the full install, because they don't want all of the extra junk that comes with MS Office. When I was using Office, I only installed what I needed -- which was probably less than 40% of all the stuff that was available.

And, of course, that *still* does not resolve the problem that different versions of Office have compatability problems with themselves. You don't get stack the deck.

PS: Regardings your point that you can just "change the keyboard language" and then type an umlaut just like any other letter, I'd like to ask you something. I'm using a QWERTY keyboard (but this objection wouldn't be different if I used a DVORAK). If I go into Windows, and "just change the language", how can I type an umlaut just like "any other letter"? For every English letter, there is *one* key I have to press. In German, there is a u, a U, and the umlauted u and U. So, does changing my keyboard in the software somehow make an extra key pop up?

David Heinrich
Saturday, May 22, 2004

I think one important point that is being missed is that Word used to be up to the job.  It wasn't a DTP app, but then it wasn't supposed to be.  For simple things it was great, and you could stretch it a little bit further if required.

The problem is that Word has now become an absolute nightmare to use.  Sure, you can spend a few hours fixing the settings to the way you like it, but what happens when you have to move to another machine.  Say your frient loads it and tries to add a point to your finely tuned bulletted list and Word decides to 'fix' it for you.

At some point a product manager at Microsoft said "Our software is very clever, but our users are stupid," and ruined the product.  It was by giving users what they wanted that made Microsoft's products so good. 

It seems to me that Microsoft has now adopted the foolish approach of 'Give the users what we think they should have' for themselves.

Ged Byrne
Saturday, May 22, 2004

---" PS: Regardings your point that you can just "change the keyboard language" and then type an umlaut just like any other letter, I'd like to ask you something. I'm using a QWERTY keyboard (but this objection wouldn't be different if I used a DVORAK). If I go into Windows, and "just change the language", how can I type an umlaut just like "any other letter"? For every English letter, there is *one* key I have to press. In German, there is a u, a U, and the umlauted u and U. So, does changing my keyboard in the software somehow make an extra key pop up? "----

You know David, I used to work with a guy like you. He decided he wanted to type in Arabic so he bought a second keyboard from the shop to take home with him. I didn't tell him what I'm going to tell you David; but the letters you put on top of the keys on your keyboard don't make a blind bit of difference to the computer. When you change the layout then the keys are remapped. When you have German enabled then you keyboard is like this



As you can see the letters iwh an umlaut have their own keys. With other keyboard layouts and diacritical marks you sometimes hit the key for the accent or diaresis and then hit the latter you want it to go over. The Spanish keyboard for example works that way.

It is also worth pointing out David that you may not care less about non-Latin scripts but one billion Chinese, one billion Indians. 200 million or more users of the Cyrillic alphabet, 250 million Arabs, 120 million Japanese, tens of millions of Koreans, and tens of millions of Thais and no doubt many more all do.

Stephen Jones
Saturday, May 22, 2004


You missed my point. I know damn well that the letters on the keyboard don't make a difference to the computer. I could switch to dvorak without changing my keyboard (hell, if I wanted to, I could even rearrange the keys to make it "look" dvorak).

Perhaps I wasn't clear enough in previous posts. The point is, *there aren't enough letters on a standard keyboard* to do German. In German, there aren't just umlauted a's. There are also normal a's. Thus, the standard keyboard has FIVE too few keys for a German-speaking person to use a keyboard "just like we use our English keyboards". Now, simply redefining some keys to add umlauts doesn't really help -- there are only so many keys on a standard keyboard, so you are necessarily taking away other characters.

The real "problem" for languages *similar* to English (European languages), but with a few extra characters, is that keyboards were not designed for that. This somewhat minor problem becomes insurmountable when we start talking about a language like Chinese -- imagine a keyboard with 20,000 characters. For languages like Chinese, the only way to solve the problem is through OCR, sort of like what our PalmPilots do.

For those who care about non-Latin characters, there is always Omega, as you yourself noted. By the way, most of those billions of people you mentioned are too poor to have a computer in the first place, and if they did, they'd be too poor to afford MS' over-priced products.

David Heinrich
Saturday, May 22, 2004

Dear David,
                  It's hard to know where to start. As you can see from my post above there are quite enough keys to cover what is needed in German. How do you thiink Germans managed to type letters before computers came along.

                      Now when we get to you talking about Chinese it becomes laughable. First of all as a graduate student you might consider doing a little research. Just a little - nothing possibly beyond your capacity, like going to China, or learning Chinese, or talking to a Chinaman, or even looking in the library for a book about Chinese-- just going to Control Panel on your computer and opening the Regional Settings applet. You will then find that you can configure your computer for Chinese, and Japanese and Korean and Thai and lots of other "backward" languages. when you've done that and restarted your computer like I've just done (which is why this post is separate from the one before it) you will find that you have not just one, but lots of different Chinese keyboard layouts to chose from. And if you enable Cninese in Word 2000 you can play around with them to your heart's content.

----"By the way, most of those billions of people you mentioned are too poor to have a computer in the first place, "-----

So refreshing David to know of a graduate student who evidently doesn't plagiarize his thesis from the web, even if it's only because he is incapable of doing a simple Google Search. Type in 'internet users China' into Google and you will get this link come up top

To quote a couple of lines from it: "The U.S. online population -- estimated at 126 million last August by the Pew Internet and American Life Project -- is currently the largest Internet market. According to Pew, China -- now estimated to have 79.5 million Internet users by the China Internet Network Information Center -- has been closing the gap with Japan, which occupies the number two position with an estimated 100 million users. (...) If you are looking at a 10- to 15-year time frame, I would say China and India are probably going to account for half of all Internet usage in the world,"

Stephen Jones
Saturday, May 22, 2004

If out of 1.2 BILLION people only 79 million are on the Internet, that verifies my statement. There's little I can do if you don't understand what the word "most" means. When over 90% of the country isn't on the Internet or doesn't have a computer, that counts as "most" (indeed, the overwhelming majority).

Also, even those who do have computers and the internet, they can hardly afford to spend hundreds of dollars on bloated, insecure, unstable, version-incompatable MS software like Office. China is the most promising market for Linux, and nations like China and India are much more likely to use GNU/Linux than MS Windows ( ). I guess the idea of using software protected by State-granted priviledges of patent and copyright (monopoly) just doesn't sit well with a country of people who are trying to escape from the dread effects of Statist Socialism on a massive scale.

I'm also curious to hear how my tiny keyboard can efficiently handle the 20,000 characters of the Chinese language. Even your example of German is problematic. That you can't understand this is beyond me. Every key on the keyboard is assigned to a specific character or "task" (e.g., the cap-locks key). Re-mapping the keys to add special German characters necessitates losing some other keys (e.g., the ; and ' keys, in your example, which have disappeared). No matter what, you are losing some keys, and thus most certainly cannot use the German lyout "just like the standard layout".

In any event, this has strayed far off topicality. You can use Unicode with TeX, so this whole issue is moot. And none of this explains away the numerous failings of MS Office.

David Heinrich
Sunday, May 23, 2004

Dear David,
                  The German layout is "the standard layout" if you are German.

                  If you want to know how Chinese typing works, read a book.

                    If you want to intone tne cult of Linux, join a sect.

Stephen Jones
Sunday, May 23, 2004


If you can't understand what the word "most" means, try

If you can't understand that "remapping" or rearranging keys means switching tis-for-tat, I'd also suggest you try a dictionary. The keyboard I'm using right now is completely full (every button has something assigned to it). Adding umlaut characters would necessarily remove some other characters or keyboard functions, such as the semi-colon and quote character from your example of the home-row.

If you can't understand that poor people can't afford to spend hundreds of dollars on software, I'd suggest you get real. Quite frankly, I couldn't care less whether or not the Chinese and Indians use GNU/Linux along with LaTeX for document-formatting. Doesn't affect me one way or another. It just happens that the people of those countries are voluntarily choosing that, something which is causing much consernation at MS.

The original post was about the inadequacies of Word, and how LaTeX is superior. You have hardly refuted any of those inadequacies, and the statement about MS Office 2000 being compatable is laughable, since you have to have the program installed in the first place on all computers that you'd want to use it on. Obviously, every program is compatable with exact copies of itself. The problem with Office is that different versions aren't compatable with eachother, and certainly not with any other programs.

Since TeX uses plain-text ASCII (unicode if you use Omega), you can pretty much work on it everywhere where there's either a text program, or internet access (you could e-mail the files your working on and work on them in the e-mail message). LaTeX beats Office hands-down for compatability. Then again, that's not suprising, considering almost *everything* beats Office hands-down for compatability, as MS seems to purposefully introduce incompatabilities.

And that's not even dealing with all of MS Office's other numerous problems, like security (isn't there some Windows virus going around now?). The most annoying one, which I mentioned, is when you're trying to place a picture in MS Word and the program insists on moving the picture from where you've put it, thus giving you a headache. Hence, where TeX's automated algorithms for placement (either pinning so near reference, or floating) come in handy.

David Heinrich
Sunday, May 23, 2004

Dear David,
                  Word only moves pictures from where you put them if you tell it to. You can chose whether it moves with the text or not. simply to format picture layout, click on the advanced button and then choose position. Don't confuse your inability to read a helpfile with a defect in the program.

                    You can get WinXP with Office XP in Thailand for around $40. That is for a legitimate copy. For illegitmate last time I needed a spare copy of Windows on holiday in Sri Lanka I paid $2 and got a receipt with a money back guarantee. The one thing Microsoft dislikes more than people pirating its own software is people pirating somebody else's.

Stephen Jones
Sunday, May 23, 2004


Firstly, you don't understand what I'm talking about. That's understandable, though, since there are two ways to interpret what I said. As for pinning a picture to it's location or floating it, even when you do that with MS Word, you run into long delay problems because of all the RAM used for multi-picture Word-files. Let's say that you have the picture move with the text; then, when you add something above it, there's a long delay between when you add a line and when the picture moves. As I said above, I know how to use Word, and, in fact, know all of the little "tricks" for Word. Secondly, the dialogue boxes you have to go through to do that (have the picture not move with the text or move with it) make it a pain in the ass if you have many pictures.

As for what I was talking about regarding Word moving pictures. I did not mean "the pictures moving with the text". What I meant was when you try to put a picture somewhere on a page (when in object mode), Word sometimes decides that it's not going to let you put the picture there, and moves it. This is exceedingly annoying, and causes headaches among users.

The overall "MS Office experience" can be summarized as a headache, partly because of the innumerable flaws and bugs in MS Office programs, partly because of the flaws in the WYSIWYG paradigm, which distracts users away from the important task of writing content.

When soemthing's hard to do in Word, it's the fault of the users, because they didn't read MS' crappy help files (another problem with *all* MS programs is their unbelievably slow help-files).

David Heinrich
Monday, May 24, 2004

As a technical writer, I used to like writing text plus GML markup tags, and letting the stylesheet decide how to represent that on a printed page.

Christopher Wells
Monday, May 24, 2004

My question is, does the following...

"Yeah, there are workarounds from the typewriter days, such as oe for ö; but that doesn't mean "fuer" is a correct way to spell "für"."

...constitute an invocation of Godwin's law?

Jim Rankin
Monday, May 24, 2004

To minimize the problems of Word slwoing down every time you type someting above the picture  you want to use section and page breaks liberally.

The truth is that Word is not intended for use with a load of graphics. If you are going to do that you should consider a publishing program, or using text boxes or borderless tables to give the equivalent effect.

A thesis of course is a problem because you do need features not present in publishing programs, such as footnotes, or automatic heading styles or outline view. For that particular purpose LaTex has much going for it.

However that is just one use of Word, and even people writing a thesis are not going to learn a new program just for that if Word has other features that make it a necessity for other uses.

For me Word has two features that are must have, and a third that no doubt soon will be. Seamless Unicode support I have spoken about.  Mail merge is also a non-negotiable feature. It's much quicker to design a form document in Word than to use Access, or even worse Crystal Reports, and if what you are printing are diplomas, envelopes or schedules, then it becomes even more of a no-brainer. The third thing I am waiting until this summer to work with, but which I know will be a must-have is the XML support. To be able to write and exam and an answer sheet (or a crosssword with and without a key, and only need to change one setting for the difference, is great for a teacher.

And, it must be added, there are plenty of things that it is just more convenient to do with Word. If I want to make a quick worksheet or OHP transparency I will often use Word instead of the graphics program, and if I have a scanned document then I will often open a new word document and insert it and resize it so I know it will print fine.

Stephen Jones
Monday, May 24, 2004

Word is not to set books or articles with. The professional world looks different depending on what you do. Just about all magazines use Quark. Technical publishing use SGML/XML. Maths/physics use LaTeX.

The main contestant for LaTeX in publishing is Adobe Framemaker, not Word or Quark. Focus here is on large document with heavy use of cross-references and index and the subject's special notations.

After you've learned LaTeX, it can be used well for a lot of other publishing -- as demonstrated by the nice samples above. All is not perfect however, and there are other problems except for the learning curve. The two main ones I believe are fonts and error messages.

Fonts because (La)TeX has it's own (old) internal character set, so importing PS fonts includes cross-mapping all glyphs. Fortunately, for most fonts this is done for you, or in the technical world you can buy them in LaTeX formats directly. Error messages because of the macro way it is designed, errors in one part of the document can give error messages very hard to understand in others. It's just like programming, but notoriously bad. So this software isn't perfect but you should know what it's weak points are (and it is not arabic :) ).

Jonas B.
Wednesday, May 26, 2004

The point about error messages. You get similar things with HTML, and the problem usually goes back to an early error, which throws off later code.

However, regarding what "word was designed to do", it is really convenient to post a bunch of cumbersome work-arounds and then say that word wasn't designed to do everything it isn't good at. Or maybe it's just that it was designed very very poorly.

David Heinrich
Thursday, May 27, 2004

err, meant to say "The point about error messages is a good one"

David Heinrich
Thursday, May 27, 2004

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