Saturday, February 20, 2010

Anything more would be magic

Like most of the researchers around the world, I prefer to typeset all my work in LaTeX (pronounced as ˈleɪtɛx). It is a boon for all those who keep on transferring their work from one PC to another fro documentation, review, publishing, etc. And helps a lot when you are asked to re-arrange equations, figures, tables and much more.

While Donald Knuth intended TeX to be used for typesetting and Leslie Lamport made typesetting easier by developing LaTeX, enthusiastic developers didn't let it remain so. They have stretched LaTeX to limits never imagined during its development and release. You can make envious presentations in LaTeX, the natural extension to report-writing. But that is not it. LaTeX can be coaxed into doing much more. Indian language text too can be easily typeset. I have come across visiting cards made in LaTeX. You can also pre-specify formats to write newsletters. Once, we were conducting a workshop on LaTeX for beginners. And we needed to give certificates of participation to the participants. None of us knew Adobe Photoshop. And getting hold of a licensed copy too was difficult, as only one department has a licensed copy, which would have been difficult to procure. So, we hit upon an idea. We made the certificate in LaTeX, with everything placed in it. The RSF logo, IIT's logo, the text of participation, place to sign, etc. We also added colour text to enhance the look and feel of the certificate. While it was a simple certificate, making it in LaTeX actually inspired newbies to pursue their work using LaTeX. Once, for a conference, the organisers did not provide a LaTeX template. Only a word template was provided. I could immediately make a LaTeX template out of the given word template. And hence forth, typesetting for the conference was a breezing. The possibilities with LaTeX are endless. You only need to have the courage, passion and time to explore it.

That, I guess, is the power of open-source software. Anything more would be sheer magic with the software.
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  1. Lover boy! Totally in love with Latex eh!

    I like it a lot too but not the scientific word thingy that SCP likes to use...

    In our group we have a make file that takes our octave scripts, runs the simulation, gathers data, puts it into gnuplot to make the plots and dumps the plots into the report!...Changing parameters in simulations has never been easier :)


  2. @Kaushik,

    I too use LaTeX and not Scientific Word(SW). SW sucks when it comes to customised formatting. And SCP has accepted that I'll not be shifting to SW.

    The "make file" is the power of shell scripting in Linux. Many use it to do a lots of wonderful things not only with LaTeX, but various other things.

  3. Sounds nice. Does it work for the Humanities as well. How does it work? Can you please be a bit patient and explain. Would be grateful.

    Joy always,

  4. Dear Susan,

    LaTeX has a reputation of being hard to learn compared to its alternatives. The resulting document is of higher quality than what other programs produce, although, truth be told, they are catching up (finally!). I suspect this is the main advantage for someone in Humanities.

    The best way to learn it, by far, is to ask someone to show you. If that is not possible, then please take a look at:

    I hope this helps,

  5. @Susan,
    Oh yes, LaTeX is helpful for anyone who wants to typeset great-looking reports and make good presentations.

    All you need is a text editor (TeXMaker is one such free editor). If you are using Windows, install MikTeX (the compiler). In most Linux distros, LaTeX is pre-installed. Once you have done that, use this help file that will help you learn LaTeX.

    Happy LaTeXing!!

  6. @rgrig,

    Well LaTeX is a little tedious in the beginning. But that's the price you pay or a better looking report. OpenOffice is the closest rival of LaTeX in terms of formatting and layout. But Word is way behind.

  7. Dear Vinay,

    Most people I know fail to learn how to use LaTeX. I call that more than 'a little tedious'.

    Also, I believe you are wrong when you say that Word is way behind. When my friends say this, I usually trick them into guessing wrong what tool I used to produce various documents. :) Surprisingly, it's very easy to trick them, which says something about the objectivity of their beliefs.