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Who wants LaTeX export in TechWriter?

By Martin Hansen. Published: 7th Jul 2007, 21:12:00 | Permalink | Printable

Martin Hansen explains why he wants to give Martin Wuerthner 100 quid

Opinion - One of the jewels in the RISC OS crown is TechWriter from Icon Technology. As a mathematician, this outstanding program is the principal reason I have continued to use RISC OS. TechWriter is a wordprocessor for the scientifically minded. It allows equations, text and diagrams to be mixed in one document in a fluid and effortless manner that, combined with the RISC OS graphical user interface, makes it a genuine killer application. I have been forced to used Microsoft's Word and its Equation Editor at work: it's slow and awkward. TechWriter is brilliant. It can even export its documents as Word files. It is better at producing Word documents with equations embedded than Word itself.

Martin WuerthnerHello PDF
In recent years, Martin Wuerthner, the well known and talented programmer behind ArtWorks pictured here, has taken over responsibility for TechWriter's ongoing development. Last year he added a facility to allow TechWriter documents to be exported as PDF, a format anyone can read.  RISC OS users had been able to write and view PDF documents for several years, but Martin tidied up the process, made it easier for the less experienced to install on their machines, enhanced the quality of the PDF files written, and seamlessly integrated it all into TechWriter. Excellent.

His work on adding PDF file export came at a good moment for me. I teach maths to GCSE and A-level students. So-called Virtual Learning Environments (VLEs) are the latest buzz in education. Homework tasks, worksheets, lesson notes and exercises are to be posted online, perhaps in a closed school system, perhaps on the Internet. Being able to convert my TechWriter files into high-quality PDFs for uploading into such systems reinforced my view that RISC OS and TechWriter are worth sticking with for a while yet. The PDF file export feature is so good that I feel guilty that the upgrade only cost me 20 quid. It was worth far more than that to me.

Given that TechWriter is still under active development, what feature would its users most like to see added to the program? Martin has an excellent track record of asking his audience exactly that question and last Christmas users got a chance to vote upon what they would most like to see implemented next. Since that poll I've become acutely aware of what I consider to be a major shortcoming of TechWriter. I'd like to explain what that is. I have a theory that sometimes an enhancement has an importance beyond the number of votes it can amass in a poll. You are welcome to disagree with me, but first consider my case.

Latex logoTechWriter, by it's very nature, has amongst its users a number who use it to submit scientific and mathematical articles to academic publishers. Increasingly, what is happening in the academic world is that a submission on paper or even as a PDF is not good enough. A file format known as LaTeX is what publishers demand.

No rubber involved
The reason for this is reasonable enough: receiving submissions as LaTeX files keeps typesetting costs down. It is easy for a book or journal publisher to apply a house style to a submission written in LaTeX. For authors too, LaTeX makes sense. You focus on what you actually want to say rather than being constantly distracted by having to layout and format your work as you go along. It is possible to produce LaTeX documents using RISC OS but one has to write the LaTeX script by hand. There is no slick front-end available. As an author, one of the main reasons to use LaTeX is lost.

Martin Wurthner is himself aware that TechWriter is the perfect candidate to be RISC OS's LaTeX file writer. He recently explained: "It would be perfectly logical to add LaTeX file export to TechWriter since the whole structure is close to how LaTeX works."

Tex, drugs and rock'n'roll
Intriguingly, even early versions of TechWriter can export a document in a file format known as TeX. This is the forerunner of LaTeX. The transition from TeX to LaTeX has been so smooth and many PC users talk about TeX files when they really mean LaTeX files.

TeX file code is pretty fierce stuff to look at. LaTeX is much more refined. Such is the determination of a handful of TechWriter's loyal users to continue using TechWriter that there now exist a couple of brave programming attempts that will take TechWriters TeX output and translate it into a crude sort of LaTeX. This is far from ideal. It's a sticking plaster on a festering wound. It has occurred to me that the whole LaTeX situation is similar to how it was with PDF before Martin Wuerthner moved in and sorted the sorry mess out.

A plea
With this in mind I recently asked Martin if he would consider adding LaTeX file export to TechWriter. He replied by first explaining that adding a major new feature could cost well over a thousand pounds. Finding the time to implement my requested feature was also a problem. He felt that time spent addressing LaTeX file export would be time that would not be spent adding features that more users would find useful. He thought that around 5 percent of the active TechWriter user base, perhaps 10 percent, would be enthusiastic about adding LaTeX file export. Tantalisingly he added that it was still possible that he would tackle it one day when he felt like it. Objectively, he felt it would be a foolish thing to do.

RISC OS has a commendable reputation for rallying around a worthy cause. Take the RISC OS porting project, for example. Part of my motivation in writing this article is to try and ascertain how many of us feel that adding LaTeX file export to TechWriter would be good for RISC OS. I, personally, feel that this enhancement is so important that I'm be willing to pledge £100 towards seeing this feature added. I feel it is vital that RISC OS start gaining ground in the areas it is already strong in: Playing to its strengths.

TechWriter is one of our finest applications and the thought of it being an all bangs and whistles LaTeX file writer is, in my opinion, something that would start to get RISC OS noticed again. What do you think?


Icon Technology website All about LaTeX

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I'm sorry to say that I have never actually used Techwriter on RO. However, there exists a very solid and well tested chain of tools to convert between .tex and .latex. Would it worthwhile to port these tools to RO?

Perhaps Techwriter could take inspiration from LyX [link] in terms of support for external tools? In LyX it is possible to export to or import from pretty much any type of document by specifying the appropriate converter tool.

One advantage of a modular approach such as this is that it enables support for diverse output formats such as man pages and XHTML for example.

Having said that, I'm far from being a LaTeX guru. Are there any special issues that I am not aware of? Is there any vital information that would be missing from a .tex to LaTeX translation, as opposed to native support?

 is a RISC OS Userkillermike on 7/7/07 10:51PM
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The major benefit of LaTeX is its expandibility. Indeed, it's of limited use if you can't get in there and add new packages to get it to behave in just the particular way you want or need. I think this would be really hard to do in something like Techwriter. Although I can see having Techwriter export its equation system to LaTeX files would be very useful (as basically a GUI for LaTeX equations), surely if you need to use LaTeX for academic writing you'd be better just learning how to use LaTeX? Ok, you might say it would still be of value for knocking up simpler LaTeX files (no fancy packages, just tables, sections, figures etc) but just learning to write the LaTeX code for that would only take a very enjoyable Sunday afternoon. Plus, it's available of RISC OS (don't know how up-to-date mind).

On a related note i'm not sure how common it is for academic publishers to request LaTeX files from researchers these days. I've certainly never experienced it in the biological sciences, speaking as someone in a well-respected research university. They tend to want a Word document or a text file for the main body of text, along with all the figures in a TIFF file of suitable resolution with associated legends as Word docs. Then they sculpt the final output from those using I presume LaTeX or perhaps some other typesetting system).

 is a RISC OS UserGinger2 on 7/7/07 10:52PM
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While LaTeX export would be nice, to be truly fantastic, it must be accompanied by LaTeX import. I know of at least two mathmos who considered buying RiscPCs purely to run TechWriter for its TeX functionality, backing out only when it became clear that it was export-only. Importing TeX would be tricky, but LaTeX should be perfectly doable in the most part, as documents tend to be more structured.

Anyway, doesn't Zap have a perfectly adequate LaTeX mode? :)

 is a RISC OS Userrjek on 8/7/07 1:51AM
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Sounds like you should get your employer to allow you to us LyX at work. Perhaps if you tried it at home on Windows or what ever that would satisfy your desire for LaTex

 is a RISC OS UserJwoody on 8/7/07 12:06PM
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You could also try Mackichan's Scientific Word although its not free like LyX, but then you are prepared to spend £100 on Techwriter.

 is a RISC OS UserJwoody on 8/7/07 12:27PM
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A student version of Mackichan's Scientific Word is $180 less than the £100 your prepared to pay for LaTeX export in TechWriter

 is a RISC OS UserJwoody on 8/7/07 12:36PM
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In reply to Jwoody Hi James - I have LyX on my Windows laptop and I am using it to check that the LaTeX I get after translating the TeX that comes out of TechWriter is satisfactory. You are rather missing the point which is that if TechWriter could export LaTeX we'd have a LaTeX file writer that was far better than what is available on other platforms. That is because, not only is TechWriter a fantastic way of producing mathematics but, as it says in the article, combined with the RISC OS GUI it would be a killer application. It's not just playing catch up it would put RISC OS ahead.

In reply to rjek Hi Rob - That's a good point about LaTeX file import. One step at a time, 'eh ?

In reply to killermike Hi Michael - LyX, on Windows, struggles to import the TeX that comes out of TechWriter - If TechWriter TeX was more standard, I'd probably not have had to look into what was going on. As it is, translating TW TeX to LaTeX first gave me easier file code to then edit by hand. I tried not to be too technical in the article but I've actually been up to my kneck sorting this out for myself - With help, I can produce the LaTeX files I require from TW TeX but it's not a slick process.

In reply to Ginger Hi Stephen - Yes, I can produce LaTeX code by hand but that misses the point of using LaTeX which is that, as an author, you can focus on the content of what you are writing rather than producing format and layout and certainly not having to surround it in technical computer code.

 is a RISC OS Usermartin on 8/7/07 1:47PM
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martin: I'd object to your reply to Ginger - the whole point of LaTeX is for the author to not care about appearance or layout, only content. It manages that perfectly even when editing it with a text editor. It's certainly designed to be written by humans rather than software.

 is a RISC OS Userrjek on 8/7/07 2:59PM
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"You are rather missing the point which is that if TechWriter could export LaTeX we'd have a LaTeX file writer that was far better than what is available on other platforms"

Better than LyX, But have you tried Mackichan's Scientific Word?

 is a RISC OS UserJwoody on 8/7/07 3:01PM
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rjek: Of course, LaTeX has been designed to be written by humans, just like FORTRAN has, but that does not mean it is even remotely as easy to use as a WYSIWYG editor. When I used LaTeX for my diploma thesis, I enjoyed it but I nevertheless found it tiresome to get the syntax and the nesting of constructs right and I spent a lot of time concentrating on the technical details of the programming language rather than on content - and I am a programmer.

 is a RISC OS Userwuerthne on 9/7/07 7:34AM
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Any additional functionality for Techwriter is welcome but I'd vote for MathML first.

 is a RISC OS Usergazza_fp on 9/7/07 8:26AM
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wuerthne: Perhaps. I've found precisely the same issue with TechWriter in the past - it always seemed mystical and confusing to me, and I've tended to resort to using LaTeX or HTML to get stuff done rather than use it.

 is a RISC OS Userrjek on 9/7/07 10:14AM
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The addition of PDF export is also much appreciated though I'm somewhat puzzled why it works with the Postscript driver provided by !Printers but not the Postscript driver provided with Gutenprint

 is a RISC OS Usergazza_fp on 9/7/07 10:24AM
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In reply to rjek Hi Rob Although I have the TechWriter manual at hand, I can't say I've looked in it more than ten times, and then only to look up something very specific - I remember looking up how to set up a matrix once. ( although, in reterospect, it's obvious ) Just press some buttons - see what happens - live a little ! More seriously, it does force your documents to be structured in a certain way which, if what you really want is Desk Top Publishing, is going to feel restrictive. But the point of TechWriter (and LaTeX) is to forget about the document style and focus on what you want to say. TechWriter is a model RISC OS application that works in standard and intuitive ways in the RISC OS style.

In reply to Jwoody Hi James, I've looked up Mackichan's Scientific Word - $748.50 seems a lot (as I'm not a student) to find out if it can come close to matching TechWriter + RISC OS GUI. My goodness - how little we pay for our RISC OS applications ! Would anyone who is competent in using both care to comment ?

 is a RISC OS Usermartin on 9/7/07 11:00AM
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"I've looked up Mackichan's Scientific Word - $748.50 seems a lot (as I'm not a student)"

Well the official Mackichan has full version $630, plus you have the advantage that you don't have to change systems when you need MathCad or Mathematica.

 is a RISC OS UserJwoody on 9/7/07 11:41AM
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gazza_fp: There are technical reasons due to the way Gutenprint works, but this does not really matter because it would be useless if it worked anyway. The standard PostScript driver produces vector PostScript, i.e., just what is required for PDF generation. The Gutenprint PostScript driver produces a huge bitmap in a PostScript wrapper, which is pretty much useless for PDF generation.

 is a RISC OS Userwuerthne on 9/7/07 11:47AM
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Or, if you use Linux, you can use TeXmacs which allows importing and exporting of LaTex and TeX, export of PDF and HTML/MathML and interfacing with algebra systems like Maxima and YACAS and languages like Scheme and LISP for free. From the editing, layout and use point of view though Techwriter is much nicer.

 is a RISC OS Usergazza_fp on 9/7/07 11:51AM
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That explains it. Thanks Martin

 is a RISC OS Usergazza_fp on 9/7/07 11:53AM
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Last time I have used LaTeX was in 1998 for my diploma thesis. It did not use much of LaTeX, basically only the chapter/section structures, the odd formula, some EPS graphics and BibTeX for the literature references. For such a scenario, I could imagine a rather slick TechWriter export feature - but there are so many different LaTeX packages around that expand the capabilities significantly, so I guess it would be quite difficult to tackle import/export in a "generic" way.

Judging a LaTeX import/export feature from a commercial point of view, I guess it could only be successful if you generate new users from other systems (especially Linux), which means you really need a zero-cost emulation environment to be competitive - nowadays, I just can't imagine anyone buying a complete RISC OS system just to use one application!

 is a RISC OS Userhubersn on 9/7/07 12:53PM
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I'm not entirely convinced of the need for LaTeX support. I work in academia (computing) and the dominant formats used by publishers are PDF and Micrsoft Word. These days fewer and fewer conferences and journals support LaTeX based submissions

 is a RISC OS UserWalks on 9/7/07 2:36PM
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I agree with Walks. I believe TeX/LaTeX will become a dinosaur in the future when PDF and MS Word will be enhanced (hopefully) so that they are state of the art for scientific publishing. Techwriter should not be overloaded with features only for few people. I'm interested to have a FAST and simple to use TeX/LaTeX Reader for RISC OS which will not capitulate when reading not only old but also recent TeX/LaTeX files.

 is a RISC OS UserGregor on 9/7/07 3:50PM
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There has been an interesting discussion about how to put equations on the web at uk.comp.sys.mac under 'Rendering maths equations on the web'. Certainly LaTeX seems to get the vote here:-) On a personnal level I'm not sure I would use LaTeX, as I find pdf output sufficient for my needs. (And one thing that the article doesn't mention is that pdfs produced by TW also keep the structure, which is a first for Risc OS). There are other things I would rather see put in place first, and I think that is the major problem with TW - there is only one of Martin Wuerthner and only so much time in the day!

 is a RISC OS UserEddie on 10/7/07 6:49AM
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Re: Doesn't Zap have a perfectly adequate LaTeX mode?

David Llewellyn-Jones (flypig) has written an extension to Zap that lets LaTeX be typed in.



and the downloads are available from his website at:


In fact the RISC OS distribution of armTeX is also here along with DVIview - it's all Iyonix compatable.

This material is the current "state of the art" regarding LaTeX on RISC OS.

It's a long way short of what TechWriter could do...

 is a RISC OS Usermartin on 10/7/07 11:06AM
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My memory of LaTeX is a little vague. A question:

I was under the impression that LaTeX was just TeX bundled with styles and functions to make it more user friendly. I take it from the discussion above that this is a bit simplistic?

How easy would it be to convert a dvi file to TW? Don't know if a dvi maintains text in a manner that could be eaily converted to something editable but it would remove the dependency on packages. I imagine getting it to !Draw would be possible, could it be taken from there?

 is a RISC OS Usersnapper on 11/7/07 4:03PM
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snapper: LaTeX is indeed a bunch of macros to make TeX easier to use. DVI is conceptually similar to PDF, and doesn't store the extra information needed to recreate editable documents.

 is a RISC OS Userrjek on 11/7/07 4:15PM
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If the formatting code of TeX is a bit too awkward - and it certainly is for me - then LyX would seem to be the obvious answer, and it's free. Why not see if you can get some volunteers together to attempt a port of LyX using the UPP libraries? Saying that direct export of LaTeX from a RISC OS app would give a better system than rival platforms rather misses the point, which is that if you use TeX and LyX correctly, you don't do the formatting yourself at all. Having a conventional WYSWIYG WP outputting TeX is ass-backwards, AFAICS.

But I have to agree with those commenters who have observed that TeX seems to be on the way out. I'm working on a book for a Californian publisher at the moment & they insist on MS Word files. Indeed, they even want files from MS Word /on Windows/ - a snag, as I write on a Mac.

 is a RISC OS Userlproven on 11/7/07 5:10PM
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In reply to lproven: My first reaction was also that the point of LaTeX was being missed if you used a WP rather than a text editor to create it.

But then if you think of the average technophobic computer user (the sort that ROS is ideal for), most are uncomfortable with anything that they can't point a mouse at.

In short we like working with the raw power of LaTeX, others need the volvo-esqe safety of a WP to get their code. Either is valid it's just a matter of preference, the question is, as Martin has already pointed out, is there a market for it. Gratefully that's not my decision.

 is a RISC OS Usersnapper on 11/7/07 5:33PM
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As bullet point functionality it'd be great to see LaTeX output from TW and I'd happily add my name to the list of potential buyers. It seems like such a natural combination. On the other hand I also sympathise with the various comments about this not being the appropriate way to use LaTeX. As far as I can tell, one of the reasons why TeX output from TW is so convoluted is because it tries to capture an exact representation of the document as it appears on screen, and LaTeX was never intended to be WYSIWYG.

To get decent LaTeX output from TW I'd expect some compromises would have to be made about how consistent the final output would be. Nonetheless, I do think this would be a really great feature.

I'm surprised to hear people say LaTeX is on the way out (maybe I'm blinded because I like it?!). For maths, is there really any alternative? One of the benefits of LaTeX is that you can easily stick an equation into the middle of an email (or anywhere else). From my exprerience in Computer Science, many publishers accept LaTeX even if they also accept Word and PDF too.

 is a RISC OS Userflypig on 11/7/07 9:11PM
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As one of the people referred to who has attempted a Techwriter/LaTeX converter I have to say that I see no evidence that LaTeX is on the way out for mathematical documents. The point of LaTeX output is not that it will reproduce the TW document, but that documents written in TW (as most of my researhc and teaching material is) can easily be translated into LaTeX in the format desired by the publisher. As has been pointed out above, there is no need to reproduce the tW document exactly. And if TW had LaTeX output, I could produce mathematical text in Word format (for exams) and LaTeX for research very easily. With LyX, could I produce Word output? (I have not used it myself, we tend to use mikTeX.)

 is a RISC OS Usersteveellacott on 11/7/07 11:31PM
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Whatever your view, please vote in the current drobe poll which is on the TechWriter to LaTeX issue.

It's on the right hand side of drobe's front page.

Obviously, as well as the percentage, I imagine it will be of interest (especially to Martin Wuerthner) see the actual number of drobe readers who vote for and against LaTeX support.

 is a RISC OS Usermartin on 12/7/07 8:23AM
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 is a RISC OS Usersa110 on 16/07/07 8:23PM
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