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LaTeX vs Microsoft Word

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Assigned keywords: Computer, Foreign Language

Recently, I was confronted with the statement that Tex is a "real word processor" as compared to that "stupid Word". I corrected her and told her that Tex is in fact no word processor, but a typesetting program, which is a difference. And truly, one cannot expect common users to work with a typesetting program on a daily basis.

Now what's the problem with "stupid word"? I can tell you: the problem is a misunderstanding of WYSIWYG, What You See Is What You Get. Many people take that literally far too much, writing as they see it, like indenting with blanks, doing tables by spacing with blanks, doing lists by writing 1.) manually and so on. I remember this special case were a friend related a female student to me whose "thesis was completely ruined due to stupid Word". Actually, she made NO use of ANY function of Word except the most basic formatting options - she even had written the footnotes manually at the end of each page instead of using the dedicated footnote feature. No wonder the whole text went completely bonkers as soon as she started to do corrections, because now her "footnotes" ended up in the middle of the next page. But people don't want that sort of WYSIWYG. They had it for milennia. The innovation of print with movable type by Gutenberg was not print as such allowing for fast replication (a principle known before), but the fact that the letters could be recombined for any text thinkable. Machines are designed to release us from the burden of repeating and tedious tasks, such as keeping track of our footnotes and creating a bibliography automatically.

The secret of Microsoft Word - and of other word processors - is that you can only use them properly, I mean really properly once you understood the principles of text markup. You can of course highlight text and make it bold, 14pt, because it is a heading. But once you want to change the typeface of all class 3 headings in a 500 pages document from 14 to 12pt, you'd be very, very glad you actually told Word that certain lines are "Heading 3" and just need to change it once.
So you have to tell the software what you're up to, as it cannot read your mind. When you write a footnote by yourself, it doesn't know that you've just written a footnote. It won't take it into regard when changing pages. You need to markup the text you're working on, which is exactly what someone using Tex has to do all by himself by putting curly braces around text and stuff.


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