Pretesting TeX Live 2010

The first testing builds of TeX Live 2010 are now available, which you can also read about in the TeXblog entry. I downloaded it a few days ago, currently just to my Mac (Windows testing on my system at work starts next week). There are a few changes, some of which were planned for TeX Live 2009 and did not make it. The highlights for me

  • Restricted \write18 support is back. I’ve written about the issues with this before, but as I understand it these are now solved. The idea of this support is that EPS graphics can be turned into PDF graphics automatically, meaning that pdfLaTeX is much easier to use for end users with mainly EPS graphics available.
  • The default PDF output is level 1.5, which means that more compression of the output is available. The amount of compression depends on the type of output (files with lots of hyperlinks seem to show the most dramatic results). I’ve been using PDF 1.5 for a while with no issues, so I hope that this is applicable to most users.
  • The is a Unicode version of BibTeX included: BibTeXU. I can’t see any details of where this is coming from or the exact nature of the support: I hope to gain enlightenment at some stage. I’ll certainly be testing it.

As I’m currently testing on my Mac, I’ve installed the 64-bit binaries (these still have to be installed in addition to MacTeX at the moment). I’m seeing slightly better performance with the 64 bit binaries than the 32 bit ones, but not by much. On Windows I’m currently limited to 32 bit, so there I’ll have nothing to worry about!

So far, I’ve not had any major issues. TeX Live is very much evolution, not revolution, so that is not too much of a surprise. The team have done a good job, as usual, and I hope that others will brave the testing status of this release to help find any bugs before it’s unleashed on the TeX world at large.

Change for the better

There have been a couple of discussions recently, both concerned with “change for the better”. The first, on the LaTeX-L list, is about adding the ability to convert EPS graphics to PDF “on the fly”. The suggestion is to have the graphicx package load epstopdf automatically, and to arrange a limited version of \write18 that will only allow known commands to be run. That should let ordinary users include EPS files with pdfLaTeX without needing to worry about the detail. A good thing, but it does raise one issue. People who use updated versions of LaTeX will have this feature, but if they send their files to others who don’t, things won’t “just work”. This can’t really be avoided: if you add a new feature, then people without the update get a different result from those who do have it. Not much you can do, if you want any change at all!

The second change has come up on the LaTeX Community and comp.text.tex. The latest version of natbib is rather more careful than earlier versions about the BibTeX style file used. This means that the latest version gives an error, where older versions silently change settings to “mind-read” what the user wants. This has lead to a lot of confusion, and some people recommending replacing the newer version with the old one! In the end, the change here is also for the better: the error that is causing problems (where the BibTeX style needs the “numbers” option, and it’s not been given) is perfectly sensible. But it also shows the dangers of mending or improving things: people get used to the sub-optimal behaviour, and think something is wrong when it is sorted out!

Conclusion: make change for the better, but be ready for complaints.