LaTeX area

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General advice

Note: Some of the content on this page is based on Max's personal opinion.

We commonly need to create create written articles of various formats and lengths as well as other visual material such as posters or slideshows. Most of the content gets used multiple times, yet the look and feel of the visual medium can vary wildly — ranging from phone screens over books to video projectors. Making the content look good and, ideally, reusing it in other documents involves adapting its style to the respective medium. For this reason, static content is bad.

What we need is a typesetting system that lets us create all the material (text, equations, tables, figures, everything) in one common organic format and transparently adapt its display style to the target medium. This involves reflowing the text according to the page/screen layout while making figures and other content of various information density optimally accessible to the viewer. Such a system is conceivable but presently does not exist. Layout-heavy file formats like Word / PowerPoint / etc. are broken by design and not worth considering for any purpose. Despite (or, more accurately, because of) their layout flexibility, they universally fail at producing sufficient quality for any medium. In principle, one could invent an abstract description language capable of doing everything we need, and such attempts in fact exist (e.g., extending XHTML with MathML, SVG for drawings, JavaScript-based interactive plotting like Bokeh), but the reality of it is that the client support and therefore the resulting quality of all existing document formats varies so wildly that they are effectively useless unless the range of target media is very limited. Ironically, the only format with good cross-platform support and printability is PDF, a format specifically designed to produce the exact same document on any target medium: this idea seemed fine 20 years ago but is the opposite of what is needed today and in the future.

Keeping in mind that technology is likely to evolve and these problems may all be a thing of the past 5 to 10 years from now, we have to be content with the best option available today, which is to use LaTeX for all our content and make a static PDF for each envisioned medium. While at least most computer screens are about the same aspect ratio and size today, the variety of phone screens limits what we can do with a handful of PDFs. It is, however, clear that paper and anything electronic are incompatible in terms of page layout, so a written document cannot be produced with fewer than 2 PDF files, and then screen presentations etc. are yet another matter.