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TeX and LaTeX - Good Math, Bad Software

Aleksander Demko

June, 2013

In TeX and LaTeX - Good Math, Bad Software I stumbled upon a old blog post celebrating Donald Knuth's birth day by reviewing his work, particularly the TeX typesetting software. Now, as a Computer Scientist I completely agree that Dr. Knuth is a one of the founding fathers - so to speak - of Computer Science, and I pledge eternal allegiance by swearing on my computer of The Art of Computer Programming. However, I have to draw the line at TeX.

TeX is terrible software. It's really bad. And LaTeX? It's not much better. Let's stop sugar coating it.

There, I said it. The TeX and LaTeX programming languages are horrible. Everyone seems to dance around this, but noone seems to want to say it. It doesn't make sense. Their syntax is gross and the grammar inconsistent. Just when you think you understand something, it surprises you with useless errors (always among a million cryptic warnings) and rewards you goody documents. I know it can't be just me, because in all my years of using LaTeX I came to a few realizations:

I really wanted to like and use LaTeX. The concept of a text file based mark-up language would have been awesome. Being able to efficiently type up and mark-up papers in vi, never having to worry about closed file formats and finicky software. I've given up and resigned myself to word processors and mark down files.

And the most stunning realization at all: That one of the founding fathers of computer science is a terrible language designer.