[texhax] learning tex vs latex

Susan Dittmar Susan.Dittmar at gmx.de
Fri Oct 30 12:11:30 CET 2009

Quoting Reinhard Kotucha (reinhard.kotucha at web.de):
> On 28 October 2009 Susan Dittmar wrote:
>  > But I do not know much of my car and drive it nonetheless.
> But you attended a course in order to get your driver license, right?

Of course I did.

I think this is getting way out of hand. This discussion started, if I
remember correctly, with someone who wanted to start using the TeX
machinery. He asked whether he should start with LaTeX or plain TeX.

For my taste there were far too many responses stressing the importance of
the underlying TeX. I do not disagree with the authors of those posts
concerning TeX's importance, but I wanted to shed light on the approach of
*starting* with LaTeX. Not even to tell them wrong, just as another
opinion. LaTeX, in my eyes, allows good results with less effort and less
learning than using plain TeX.

I work in a very small firm, and all our correspondence is done using some
kind of TeX. I did the coding for most of the stuff that is used now, and I
chose LaTeX, because I could reuse the work of a lot of people who know
more of the TeX innards than me.

My boss is an assembler type guy. So the plain TeX commands appeal to him.
But he never invested the time to learn about typography. He thinks "I want
to start a new paragraph here and I want it to have some vertical distance
from the previous paragraph" and adds a macro he once created with some
fixed vertical space, without any thought about which kind of vertical
space would be typographically correct at this place.  With his
non-willingness to learn about the underlaying typographical concepts, I
wish he used a more LaTeX kind of approach -- allowing the engine to choose
the correct kind of spacing.

Looking at him, I would tell any beginner to start with LaTeX. You *can* go
into depth (and deep into the innards of TeX) then, but you need not. And
you are less prone to falling into bad programming habits -- especially if
you have to learn from books and internet alone, with no one looking over
your shoulder from time to time.

Believe me, I did not learn much from my theoretical driver's lessons. It
was the practical part, with a real person tutoring me, that taught me how
to drive. Something I sorely miss when learning programming languages...

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