[tex-live] free software, DFSG

David Kastrup dak at gnu.org
Fri Jun 4 13:20:46 CEST 2004

Sebastian Rahtz <sebastian.rahtz at computing-services.oxford.ac.uk> writes:

> Stepan Kasal wrote:
> >  If TeXlive is built on TeX, I think it's bound to accept "Knuthian"
> >from everyone, not only from DEK himself.
> >
> >  

> I don't agree. I see no reason at all to copy Knuth's historical
> mistakes.  I agree that his stuff on TL is anomalous, but it is a
> known weirdness. Personally, I think that cult of personality which
> pervades the TeX world is one of its biggest problems.

Give the man a break.  He is one of the founding fathers of Computer
Science.  He writes mathematical books that are a joy to read.  And
because he found that the second edition of the Art of Computer
Programming failed to be a joy to read, he wrote TeX.  And as one of
the earliest attempts at readable programming.

He is a pioneer in more than one area.  There is nothing wrong with
admiring him.  The main complaint I have about his dealing with TeX is
that he let himself be persuaded to write TeX-3.x, creating a 90%
there solution to 80% of its users that gives the illusion of being
something more than a tool for typesetting TAOCP.  If he hadn't done
that, perhaps the threshold of pain had carried through more serious
changes to TeX.  It might have caused community efforts to take up
serious development of the core as well as the packages on top of it.
Omega has more or less fallen victim to the "good enough for us"
mentality: it is frustrating to work on something for which people
tell you there is no pressing need.  

Han The Thanh is one of the few persons that managed to get one of
several single-person projects off the ground and actually used.  And
eTeX (which is pretty much dead seemingly as well) has managed to get
its extensions accepted as desirable long after nobody actively cared
for it anymore.

I don't see a problem with a Knuth cult: if people actually listened
to him, they'd get the message clear enough that TeX has been
abandoned by him as a project and that he considers it a curiosity
that people cling to it in the manner they do.

If he is going to fix the remaining bugs of TeX (instead of declaring
them "features"), it is going to take years.  Maybe they'll never get
fixed at all.  Where do I turn if I need new features to make it into
TeX?  The eTeX team?  Who is that?  Peter?  To Han The Thanh?
Guiseppe?  John?  Karel?  Michael?  The main "advances" nowadays
happen outside of TeX proper, as in kpathsea.  Which deals with the
problem of most conveniently collapsing an artfully structured
directory tree into a flat namespace.

No, a Knuth cult is not the problem.  What is hindering the TeX world
from progressing is a TeX cult, and a good-enough cult.  We need to
leave TeX behind.  And Knuth is doing his part in that: he has nailed
TeX down and has stated repeatedly, definitely, that it is not going
to move anymore.  It's just that nobody listens to him.

I am working with all of the junk.  Who do I ask for new stuff?  I
want John to get Omega into useful state.  It is a waste of resources
to have LaTeX, PDFTeX, eTeX and others all forked off from something
which does not even deal with character sets in a sane way.
Guiseppe's Aleph is at least an attempt to get something workable
again, but of course it misses PDFTeX functionality.

And, of course, all of the stuff is impossible to maintain.  Add a
feature and recompile?  Good luck.

Maybe one day TeXlive will come without TeX.

David Kastrup, Kriemhildstr. 15, 44793 Bochum

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