XeTeX and LuaTeX: Directions

The XeTeX and LuaTeX engines both offer exciting ideas to the TeX user and the (La)TeX programmer. Using XeTeX, UTF-8 input is easy: no more awkward escape sequences. Font handling in XeTeX also makes it trivial to use any font installed on your system. On the other side of the equation, LuaTeX is going to bring a lot of useful programming tools to the TeX world. This should make some things a lot easier (handling floating point manipulation seems an obvious one), and make other things possible that are not currently.

The issue for me is the gaps between the two. XeTeX doesn’t have things like microtypography (try loading the microtype package and doing a XeLaTeX run), and it’s not clear to me how LuaTeX will work out with font handling. There’s also the DVI versus PDF issue: will we see a system where EPS, PNG, JPEG and PDF graphics can all be included without worrying about the engine in use? In many ways, I suppose these questions are more for the LuaTeX team to address: XeTeX has essentially delivered what it set out to do (a Unicode TeX which can use system fonts natively).

Universal UTF-8

The existence of editors such as TeXworks make it very easy to work with UTF-8 source documents. However, there are still a number of issues to thing about before deciding to use UTF-8 for all of your work.

First, there is the issue of other users. If you are writing things that will not need to be edited by others, then the choice is down to you. The moment you have collaborators, you need to ensure that they are also okay with UTF-8. They might be using an editor where this is not going to work (WinEdt, for example). If you are preparing stuff for a publisher, you have to be even more careful, as they may have quite a “traditional” TeX system. I know that the American Chemical Society don’t even have the e-TeX extensions, for example.

Then there are more technical issues. If you are a LaTeX user, you might well also use BibTeX. BibTeX is old, and as yet there is no real UTF-8 aware replacement. So at least in a database of references you may have to stick with escape sequences or some other encoding.

There are also choices to make about the engine you use. XeTeX is the obvious choice for UTF-8 documents, but that means missing out on the pdfTeX extensions to TeX, for example micro-typography. LuaTeX might help here, but if you are a MiKTeX user this is still some way off being available.

All in all, UTF-8 input is not quite the universal standard for TeX, just yet. New editors and engines mean that things are almost there, but a few awkward issues remain.

Using LaTeX with WordPress

A meander around Google blogsearch took me to http://sixthform.info/steve/wordpress/, which has some very interesting details about using LaTeX with WordPress. I’ll be looking at this myself (if nothing else, it would be cool), but it really looks useful for people running larger sites (most obviously the LaTeX Project itself). I’d not seen this blog before, so I wonder if others were aware of it.

TeX Questions

There are three main places to ask (La)TeX-related questions in English:

Each has a different mix of people, and I wonder how much cross-over there is. The LaTeX Community forums seem best for the newer user, as there is a lot less complex information than in the newgroup or on texhax. I’d say that the newgroup is the most active of the three, with texhax a relativity quite list. Of course, there are also ConTeXt-specific places to talk. I wonder how much regulars of each “place” know about the other ones?

Guidelines to authors

Author guidelines for journal submissions still seem to be based in the era when you typed a manuscript and posted it to the editorial office. I’ve just had a question about my achemso package and the guidelines for Analytical Chemistry. They want Figure and Table captions in a list on their own, and they still want graphics on separate pages from the text. Reviewing papers where people stick to these rules is harder than when the rules are ignored, and the content is in-line.

Most of the journals now want electronic submissions only, but haven’t altered their own guidelines to reflect the very different workflow this produces. It is a two-way street, and I at least tend to “vote with my feet” and submit things that are easier for the reviewer to read, whatever the publishers say.