LaTeX Typesetting with MiKTeX

LaTeX Typesetting with MiKTeX describes my new LaTeX setup that was first used for the revised Star Chess and Tektosyne documents. The page lists all programs, style packages, and customizations I’m using. You can also download the LaTeX sources for both documents as practical examples.

Moreover, I expanded Document Standards with an overview of (La)TeX and a comparison to DITA. My recommendation is to use LaTeX for PDF output, which is rather ironic since I spent the last ten years avoiding TeX. Long story follows…

I used LaTeX extensively at university during the early 1990s. I even got a commercial Windows implementation, Y&Y TeX, which was rather unique at the time for its support of PostScript fonts. Y&Y TeX was a solid product with great customer support, but doomed to fail in an academic market that saw no added value over free implementations. The company closed its doors in 2004, and I focused on Adobe FrameMaker which offered an intriguing combination of WYSIWYG and structured editing. This was another dead end: Adobe has criminally neglected FrameMaker for years and its future continues to be unclear.

Lately Adobe tried to drag FrameMaker kicking and screaming into the XML and DITA world, but FrameMaker’s basic design fits DITA so poorly that the result is hardly better than Oxygen XML Editor with the free DITA Open Toolkit. Meanwhile, DITA OT is a showcase of all the worst things in open source software: nothing is properly documented, operations are incomprehensible, features are missing or incomplete, customization requires a full-time programmer. Since IBM “contributed” (i.e. abandoned) the project to SourceForge, the remaining maintainers were evidently overwhelmed by the task.

So I decided to revisit TeX and see if its Windows implementations had made any progress since the lackluster Unix ports of the 1990s. And to my great surprise and joy, they had! MiKTeX is amazingly polished and accessible (assuming you know LaTeX), easily on a par with FrameMaker and vastly better than DITA OT. If the latter represents the nadir of open source, MiKTeX and friends are the zenith. For example, MiKTeX automatically installs and updates style packages; XeTeX supports Unicode and OpenType fonts, with automatic ligatures and real small caps; KOMA-Script defines a perfect A4 page layout, and with a few other packages fixes most limitations of LaTeX; free editors like TeXworks and TeXstudio provide a modern IDE experience. Perhaps most shockingly, features actually work as advertised and are thoroughly documented to boot! The TeX user community has grown and prospered as well: a simple web search is usually sufficient to answer any question, or to find clever code and beautiful designs to paste into your own documents.

This is rather the opposite of what I had expected. Surely, the success of general-purpose office applications and/or XML-based formats must obsolete ancient TeX, popular only with academics! But the TeX community has most impressively expanded and modernized its ecosystem. Strangely, it’s the industry-backed publishing systems that failed to advance outside of expensive specialist niches (InDesign, XMetaL). In the year 2012, free TeX systems are your best choice for long documents with PDF output – who would’ve thunk?

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