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March 13, 2011 / Rohit

The Bad Of LaTeX

Few weeks back I was all ga-ga over LaTeX, but now I understand some of its weaknesses. Yes, it produces great looking documents, but there are some rough edges which can be improved, namely:

  1. Figures and Images: Positioning figures and getting them to be where you want is a big pain in LaTeX. This comes for free when you are working with Microsoft Word or its counterpart (I forget its name) in Openoffice.org. LaTeX though doesn’t let you control much. It will just let you give hints, but in the end it’s up to itself where it puts your figure. Many times if you have more than one figure close by, it will take the figures and put it in a separate page. If this happens frequently, your article layout will look more like pages full of text, followed by pages full of images.  Read this article and you will understand what I mean.
  2. Installing new packages: While writing the report for a project of mine, I wanted to install a new package called skak. It’s a package which is available on CTAN (Comprehensive TeX Archive Network). I downloaded it, but when it came to actually installing it, I was so awed by the number of things which I had to do, that I decided not to go ahead with the installation. After a little more digging around, I found that the steps which were required to install skak were the same for any additional LaTeX package which you choose to install. Here is what you will need to do install a new package:
    1. Download the package file(s) from wherever they are available. Most packages are available from CTAN; enter appropriate keywords in the search fields to find the files.
    2. Packages may be distributed in different ways. Many packages on CTAN, for instance, come with a .dtx file and a .ins file. If the package you are installing comes with these files, you will have to process them with latex to create the actual files that make up the package. That is, type
      latex filename.dtx and/or latex filename.ins
      to unpackage the various .sty and other files in the package.
    3. Create a directory texmf in your home directory, if there is not one there already.
    4. Install the various package files into subdirectories of texmf as follows:
      • All .bst and .bib files into texmf/bibtex (or subdirectories)
      • All font-related files into texmf/fonts (or subdirectories)
      • All documentation files into texmf/docs
      • All other files (.sty, .cls, .tex, etc.) should go into texmf/tex.

    Oh, and this is the abbreviated version of the whole deal.

  3. LaTeX is distracting: The problem which I faced while writing my report was that I would repeatedly run LaTeX on my file and see how it looked. Many times there would be errors while compiling the PDF and I would spend time trying to decode the errors. Other times, I would find that there was something wrong with the layout (For example, all my images would have chosen to hide themselves on a page of their own) and would work on fixing them. All in all, this cycle made me worry more about the layout rather than content. I think a better way to work would be to first write the prototype document in plain text or HTML and then switch it to LaTeX.
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