## Why is LaTeX so much superior to other office document systems

Let’s face it, writing documents in an office suite is very comfortable. You can design your document the way you want it to look like, it’s WYSIWYG. And nowadays pretty every office suite (I’m talking about Microsoft Office, OpenOffice.org and iWorks) can open each others document (except for iWorks on file format). Now you could ask why on earth should I consider LaTeX which is not WYSIWYG and has a quite steep learning curve for the first two documents. But there are some important advantages of LaTeX.

## mathematical formulas

I’ve never seen more beautiful formulas than those in LaTeX. Of course you can enter formulas in other office systems but they don’t look good and most of them don’t support the full range of symbols. And nowadays there are some WYSIWYG editors for formulas which makes it very easy to develop them. I’ve never seen a formula too complex for LaTeX.

## writing long text

I once wrote my whole matura work in LaTeX which ended up to be about 40 pages long. Working with the document (I used Kile) was easy, open up the Tex file and edit it. You may argue that this is true for every office system, but tell me an office format which can be edited with any simple and primitive editor? Even if you edit a huge file — let’s say more than 1000 lines — it will load in a split second as you are used when programming with other code. With a office file like DOCX it will load the file (which is ridiculously big) and then take some time to render the file on your screen. But that’s not everything: I experienced several time ending up with corrupt documents or wrong text style.

## collaborate with others

This is something which really suck hard with office documents and I nearly drove me mad last week: In school we were writing a document in a group and it ended like those things end: Three were using Microsoft Office with DOCX, one used DOC, one other used OpenOffice with ODT and I was using TEX. Now, what happens if two people are editing the same document and want to commit each individual change in the SVN repository? Jep, this will end up in a mess because you’ll have a conflict which you do have to resolve manually using the office suite to merge this. But usually this would not be necessary since it’s not usual two people edit the same section of the document and then it would be possible to merge those changes automatically. But this is only possible with plaintext formats. Which Tex is. Oh, and I forgot … it’s way more easy to see the changes between different revisions if you can directly use the diff function within your versioning system.

## edit the tex file

Take an editor. Every editor does the job. Even the ultra simple notepad available on every Windows installation does the job. Of course there are a few very good editors around. I’ll list a few ones I think are good:

• Kile (Linux): Is sleak, fast and provides a lot of useful shortcuts and wizards. I liked the math symbol library where I could just double click on the symbol I wanted to insert.
• texmakerx (Mac/Win): Gives me nearly all the features I had with kile.
• LaTeXiT (Mac): Is an awesome formula editor. If you ever need to quickly make a formula, take LaTeXiT. It can copy the rendered formula to the clipboard to paste it into a PDF document (see annotate pdfs).
• vim (Mac/Linux/Win with cygwin): Well, those who know its name know why I like it. This editor doesn’t even need a graphical environment and totally rocks when you got into it.

## it looks good

Have you ever seen a professional looking article made in Word or Writer? Nope? That’s because the typography in those office suits simply sucks. Even if you turn on justify it will look awful since no wordprocessing system usually does kerningit will never look good regardless how well it does wordbreaking. The text looks very uniform and consistent which makes it easy to read.

## some final words

If you use LaTeX or not is your problem. BUT … don’t walk up to me and ask to make a collaborative document with non-plaintext-files! It’s such a pain in the … humm, afterwork.

If you have somebody using LaTeX, jump in and ask if you can work with him/her. I don’t know much of LaTeX neither, but the few commands I know meet my demands and if you extend LaTeX code you will very fast learn the important codes. And there are not much more commands then 20-30 to know for easy use. So give it a try, I’ll append my template I use here:

 %GPL V3 by Mathias Hablützel, feel free to improve this template
\documentclass[paper=a4]{scrartcl}
% Use UTF8 since the laptop is configured so and use ngerman for word breaking.
% If you encounter an encoding problem, remove the line with utf8.
\usepackage[utf8]{inputenc}
\usepackage[ngerman]{babel}
\begin{document}
% Here I use the up-to-date font encoding T1 and the font familly Computer Modern
% Sans Serif (since I don't like the standard font) medium and normal (non-italic or so).
\usefont{T1}{cmss}{m}{n}

\end{document}

Update: Thanks to David Haberthür aka habi who pointed out I should use the koma script class which is more adapted to european document style. And also a big thank you to the LaTeX group on Identi.ca.

## annotate PDFs

I tested a few options for annotating PDFs I get in my study at the ZHAW. Since I use a Mac OS X Snow Leopard on a MacBook Pro 13″ there is no direct possibility to enter data by writing on the screen. I call this seeing-what-you-write. I didn’t had time to thoroughly test the software but I passed a evening doing this.

To enter handwritten notes I used a Wacom Bamboo Craft (which is about the size of an A6 paper).

So the few important points on my test parcours were:

• enter easily more or less complex mathematical formulas (depending on complexity and my ugly handwriting copy&paste of LaTeX formulas rendering into the PDF or a brief handwritten note)
• make some sketches and diagrams (via pen)
• other flaws, bugs and happy suckers

Each point will be weighted equally.

## Adobe Acrobat (I use the 9.4.1 version — 449USD )

It’s very expensive but comes from the company who quasi-defines the standard, so you can be sure that it speaks every dialect of it. It obviously lacks of a possibility to enter mathematical formulas like in LaTeX, but since this can easily be done with LaTeXiT under Mac OS X this is not a big problem, basically enter the formula, render it and then copy the rendered image (preferably in PNG) into the clipboard and insert it in Acrobat via stamp -> use image from clipboard as a stamp. Well, unfortunately this is a dirty solution since the formulas will be in rasterized format. But hey, at least this works more or less flawless. The sole downer is the fact I have to resize every single inserted image by this way. Let’s give 7/10, one point minus for the lack of a better way to insert an image (here formula) and one off for the resizing.

Let’s try some hand drawn sketches via pen. Well, it does it’s job flawless. Only downside is that I have to use a settings window of the tool to change the pens color. Otherwise I cannot find anything to complain about. It even does a reasonable and suitable smoothing of the drawing which does not remove the readability of it but sometimes plays tricks on me when writing very small letters (zooming in the document rather drastically helps). I’d go for 9/10 since the smoothing is something very very hard to handle.

Well, the entering of comments and other textboxes works just fine and as expected. 10/10.

I couldn’t find any other flaws or suckeries, I actually expect this level of software here. We eventually speak of a product being released and developed since 1993 by one of the very big companies.

Conclusion: It gets 26/30 points and is my tool just because it works with formula copy&paste.

## Xournal (I used the macport version 0.4.2.1 — OSS)

First of all, I had to compile it. It’s not a big deal if you are a former gentoo user. But starting up the application the first time can be very slow. The second time it goes nearly as fast as a native application for Mac OS X. Two fellow students do use Xournal with a tablet pc running Ubuntu which I do not, so my results will vary quite much in this case. For this not very beginner-friendly installation I’ll take off a few points.

Yet on the first (to me crucial) point it completely fails: I found no way to include a image (PNG in this case) into the document. Outch, this gives a 0/10.

So let’s have a look on pen made sketches and diagrams. This works absolutely flawless and as expected but the lack of smoothing hurts quickly your eyes and makes your notes look like scrawl. But there comes a very handy feature: You have the ‘select rectangle’ tool which lets you select everything you entered by hand, move it around and — hold your breath — resize it without loss of quality! That’s really cool. But unfortunately there is no way to enter straight lines. I give a 8/10 (one point off for the lack of smoothing).

Entering text works as expected, no surprises here, but lacks of comments making possibilities. But since this is not in my terms of annotating a PDF I won’t cut points. 10/10 here.

The user interface is very clean and easy to use with your pen. All the important buttons (change color, pen thickness, eraser, select tool etc) are easily accessible with one click. One particular behavior which you may find good or bad is the fact that the notes are saved in a separate file (ending: .xoj — looks binary to me). But you then can export the PDF with the notes on it as a PDF too, so your notes won’t affect the original PDF. This gives extra points.

Conclusion: 20/30 points. I took two points of for the installing but gave three extra points for the separate saving of your notes. In my eyes a very promising software and I’d really love to use it if a subtle hand drawing smoothing and the ability of pasting images would exist.

## Smilesoftware PDFpenPro (I used the 5.0.3 version — 99.95USD)

Here too there is no direct way to enter LaTeX formulas but at least the way of copy&paste with LaTeXiT works perfect. Ok, you could argue that resizing the formula to fit the whole page is silly but it works. 10/10

Serious trouble I had with entering handwritten notes. The smoothing is incorrect and does make your drawing thinner. But the real problem is when parts of the drawing (especially at the border) is getting cropped. Next no joy to me is the fact I have more problems with entering readable drawings. So here no joy: 4/10

Entering text works as expected it even does comment “bubbles”. I give one point off for a bit unhandy way to change font size and color. 9/10

But this is the worst section: It’s an unbelievable piece of software! It takes ages to load, save and zoom the PDFs. And yes, while doing something it completely hangs up leaving you up to yourself. No way this software could be used productive. Oh and beside that I ran into multiple rendering bugs showing wrong characters, broken drawings (those already in the PDF) and other strange behavior.

Conclusion: Don’t throw your money away and don’t use it. It get’s a 14/30 plus the label «sucks&broken».

You know some other PDF annotator? Please drop me a mail!

## My wishlist for photography christmas

Well, I can’t say I don’t have all equipment I need to make a lot of good shots. It’s not like that. But there are some few things or pieces of gear I’d really like to have.

First of all I’d really fancy to buy a Nikkor 35mm f/1.8 DX. My Nikkor 50mm f/1.8 is a little bit too much tele for my taste but still a very very good lens. But sometimes I’d like to have something wider to shoot several people in a frame or if there is not much spare space. It would be even affordable to me: 199CHF at Digifuchs.ch.

The next thing on my wishlist would be a micro lens. I’m getting tired of working with my reverse ring mounted on my 50mm f/1.8. It’s ok if you’re low on budget but seriously, the lack of auto-focus is a immense drawback. I have to make a serie of 10 shots and to hope I had one good enough shot. So a 105mm f/2.8G Micro would be a real plus in my bag. And if you have a look to what I shoot you see it wouldn’t just be a wanna-have-toy. The price is already getting less comfortable especially as a student: 844.80CHF.

But what do I need all this cool equipment if I don’t leave my computer screen? I had now for over one year a Slingshot 200which is great if your gear is lightweight and this starts to hurt your shoulder and back very quick if you load it. So there I absolutely need a new backpack. I don’t know what would be better: A Lowepro Vertex 300 AW which can pack (at least I think so) my whole gear plus my backup body Nikon D80 and even my laptop and some gear to come. Or should I go with aRover AW II which has a seperate food and laundry pocket? This would make the backpack mountain proof since I could pack everything in it I’d need. I sincerly don’t know and if you, dear reader, have advice, let me know!

So, now comes the last part: Lights! Since I already own a Nikon SB-600 and a SB-900 there is not much need of more speedlights. And since I recently bought a Ezybox Hotshoe 60×60cm which by the way is a awesome piece of gear (I hope to be able to post soon a few shots made with it) and improves my shots a lot, I don’t see a point in buying new gear here. Well maybe a white backdrop because I had to improvise the last few times shooting a friend of mine …

Eventually I have to say that I’ll probably go for a backpack. Because it’s no joy to carry several kilograms with a slingshot 200, and even less fun to go out in nature with it.

### Where am I?

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