Document 99

Exchanging Documents between Scientific Word and LaTeX

Jan Jacobs and Jan-Egbert Sturm

Department of Economics, Rijksuniversiteit Groningen, The Netherlands


The Issues


1. Introduction

Every once in a while discussions flare up on the pros and cons of various word processors. The latest contender in these discussions is Scientific Word (SW). The obvious comparison is with (La)TeX, since SW is a Windows shell around this document preparation system.

First and foremost, our position is that everyone should stick to the word processor [s]he is familiar with. Changing to a new version or to a different program altogether is certainly in the short run counterproductive; the unfamiliarity will cause a lot of frustration, and although one might start creating better-looking documents, even in the best case this won't improve content.

Generally, SW is to be recommended to authors who haven't used TeX before but do need TeX's prowess with mathematical formulas. For users of SW, there is a price to pay in terms of typographic freedom and exchangeability with 'standard' LaTeX. But for us, typographic freedom is not an issue. One should be concerned with content rather than appearance. Too often, authors waste their time in window-dressing: another font, different margins, color pictures; it is so seductively easy to do with most Windows word processors. But that doesn't mean that the time was well-spent or even that the results are an improvement; maybe we should leave designing to designers.

Exchangeability however becomes important when a paper is co-authored by users of different word processors. It is not easy to edit a paper with an unfamiliar word processor: for many TeX users the only WordPerfect command they are willing to learn is F7 or 'get me out of this mess right now'. And exchanging documents as unformatted ASCII text is a very unattractive option indeed.

However, exchanging text between SW and (La)TeX might be feasible; SW is based on LaTeX, after all.

We are collaborating on a paper for an Economics conference. The first author uses TeX, the second SW. They found that it was perfectly practical to work on their paper in alternately TeX and SW, and that only minor adjustments in their way of working were required.

2. The issues

To begin with, SW and LaTeX differ in their treatment of what precedes '\begin{document}': SW considers any such matter as style options, whereas LaTeX allows there e.g. the title and author names and macro definitions. These items have to be moved either beyond '\begin{document}' or to a separate style file.

We also had to configure SW to use LaTeX 2.09 instead of the default LaTeX 2e since we didn't upgrade yet to the new LaTeX. This constituted no problem.

Styles did look like they might be a problem. SW has—like any other TeX installation—its own library of styles. All it took to use additional style files (such as 'array' and 'dcolumn') was placing them in the appropriate SW directory. This way, our papers are (almost) as good-looking as before. Most of our TeX styles work without a hitch in SW. We didn't test the converse.

One of the few styles which we couldn't get to work in SW was mathtime, which replaces the Computer Modern fonts with Times and some specially-designed symbol fonts. Mathtime is one of very few options to use matching non-Metafont fonts in text and math mode. We also had trouble with psfig, which is the macro package we use for including pictures. Although SW accepted the psfig style option, we couldn't get SW to print the pictures included with it. We have heard that a solution to these two problems would be non-trivial.

A final quirk of SW is the \text macro to include plain text in a formula. LaTeX uses \mbox for this. This was solved simply by a macro definition \newcommand{\text}[#1]{\mbox{#1}}. The AMS styles use \text in a similar way.

3. Conclusion

As to the kind of texts we produce, it is possible to work on one paper with both standard LaTeX and SW, as long as one is willing to take the peculiarities of both systems into account. It helps a lot to only use those additional styles which are absolutely necessary. One may have to copy some style files to the SW\TEX\MACROS directory. Occasionally it may be necessary to write alternate versions for some code, and e.g. comment out the currently irrelevant version.

We expect that it won't be long until TeX-ers switch to SW, provided they are equipped with the powerhouses required by SW, if only to make use of the edit facilities of this Windows application. For they don't have to give up the advantages of their conventional TeX system.

Finally, a word of thanks to Siep Kroonenberg, for critical comments and the English translation.

Added 07/01/96

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