The main reason LaTeX is better

Philip Thomas K.

20 May 21


You may already be familiar with the fact that you can compile documents using plaintext files instead of using a WYSIWYG - What You See Is What You Get editor such as Microsoft Word. Now, there are a multitude of very good reasons why document editors such as Microsoft Word are holding you back.

You can argue that pretty much any text editor can give you more fine grained editorial capability. Or you could assert that the outcome tends to be better and more beautiful - which it unarguably is in the case of LaTeX. And you could boast about the ease with which a myriad of complex and helpful packages can be easily installed via CTAN so as to get your desired outcome.

These are all very important reasons in my eyes. But, they do not address one of the largest reasons why any plaintext based document compilation tool is vastly superior to Microsoft Word. And the reason is extensibility.

Unix treats everything as a file, and it has a well stocked toolbox for dealing with plaintext files. These tools simply extend the variety of things you can achieve with plaintext.

If you have a list of files and you need to perform a find and replace on a bunch of words in each document, simply run sed in a for loop. You could use awk to do all sorts of text manipulation.

These would take much longer in a tool such as Microsoft Word which should be called Microsoft Work by the amount of physical labour it requires.

When it comes to document sharing, Microsoft Word and friends use online implementations that sit on a heavy javascript implementation that results in slow and nervous editing wherein every editor seems to have the same power to edit each others text simultaneously. Not only is this unproductive, all the times I have had to use have only led to frustration.

On the other hand, plaintext documents could simply use git as a version control system. Yes, I understand the knowledge required is more, but not only is the knowledge important, it can be used in a variety of computer based implementations.

Plaintext lends itself to automation based implementations of projects, which also make work far easier. My whole note taking system is managed by a bunch of scripts that would automate hours of work.

Best Regards,