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"Philip Taylor (RHBNC)" <[log in to unmask]>
Tue, 17 Jun 1997 16:06:00 +0100
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Ther has been a great deal of discussion on the possible interactions
between the LaTeX, e-TeX, NTS & Omega projects since I dealt with e-mail
yesterday, and Chris Rowley has very politely pointed out in a private
e-mail that the LaTeX list is not the best place for discussing ideas for
e-TeX.  I would therefore like to suggest that we either move discussions
on ideas for e-TeX to the NTS list, or (if it is felt preferable to have
a separate list for discussions solely on e-TeX), I will create another
e-TeX list and announce it here.  Before moving the discussions elsewhere,
I would like to offer a brief but comprehensive response to the various
points raised:

[from SPQR]

>>  > Can you enumerate which problems Omega solves that e-TeX does not?
>>  > We are by no means unwilling to consider further changes to e-TeX
>>  > to render it of greater use to LaTeX users, but unless we are told
>>  > which features are missing it is not easy to implement them!

>> surely the present discussion shows whats missing? a solution to the
>> problem of multi-language hyphenation in the same paragraph?

That is _one_ element that is missing; my question was intended to
provoke a rather fuller response!

>> Why don't you work with John Plaice and Yannis, and agree on a scheme
>> whereby the two projects merge? It doesn't seem to me that the present
>> situation helps anyone, with the impression given of rivalry. Yes, I
>> know you will say a) there isn't rivalry,

There is no rivalry whatsoever.  I have the greatest respect for John & Yannis's
work, but I cannot see how trying to merge the projects _at this stage_ would
be possible or even desirable: a small team works well together -- as the team
gets larger, it gets ever harded to achieve a consensus.  It is just the same
with Thanh's TeX2pdf/pdftex: I would far sooner that he continued to develop
his ideas independently, rather than trying to to "bring him under the e-TeX
umbrella" at this stage.  Let us see where the various projects lead, and
_then_ (perhaps) think about a synthesis of the best elements of each.  NTS
is due to start in 1998: by the time we have a functional implementation,
we may be better placed to analyse e-TeX/Omega/TeX2pdf and develop a synthesis.

>> switching eTeX to Unicode would be nice...

I do not believe that this will ever happen, nor do I regard it as desirable.
The primary desideratum of e-TeX is 100% compatibility with TeX; I do not
believe that that could be accomplished in a system which used Unicode.
Unicode is an option for NTS, not for e-TeX.

[from Frank Mittelbach]

>> in my opinion a combination of etex and omega (and pdf support)
>> however could be the answer at least it seems to me a very good case.

I think Frank answers this question later, but at this point it is not
clear what feature(s) of Omega he feels are necessary.

>> but then a frozen version so that one could reliably use the features
>> in LaTeX and other formats.

It is intended that e-TeX will be updated once a year, with no
feature being removed from a later version unless there is are
overwhleming reasons so to do.  On that basis I would argue that it
is "frozen" enough, since LaTeX comes out twice as frequently.

>> Phil has asked what features i miss that omega has. i'm not sure that
>> this was a serious question (you should know what your competing
>> successor is capable of, shouldn't you? :-)

What it's capable of is not the issue; what features _you_ (the LaTeX
team) need is really the point, but you answer that next:

>>  - full internal 16 bit (ie unicode support)
>>  - thus true support for multi-lingual issues, eg proper hyphenation,
>>    encoding support, rewriting support
>>  - otp's

In other words, Omega!  But I find it difficult to reconcile this
with your own arguments adduced earlier, about the difficulty of
persuading people to use a new LaTeX predicated on e-TeX; I would
have thought that it might prove about 100 times harder to persuade
people to use a new LaTeX predicated on Omega, given that e-TeX itself
is predicated on complete compatibility with TeX whilst Omega rejects
compatibility in order to achieve more radical enhancements...

[from Bernard Gaulle]

>> Another time, in a better life, we'll see the convergent point

>>   Please accept each other and don't fight like this, it's
>> absolutely stupid and unproductive.

I agree completely with Bernard's sentiments; at the moment, I feel it
is best that e-TeX, Omega and TeX2pdf evolve separately, each under the
control of a small, tightly-knit group; trying to pull them together
at this stage would simply result in friction, with each team pulling
in a different direction.  Let's wait for them each to become mature,
and then look towards a synthesis.

[from Uwe]

>> I think, there are not many users right *now*. *But* there is the
>> TeX-Live-CD version2, on which will be an e-TeX (or the announcement
>> is a lie...) and the new version of teTeX (0.9) will have an
>> e-TeX. There are quite a large number of people following *and*
>> updating with this distribution.

>> So I expect the number of people actually having e-TeX will be
>> significantly rising in the *near future*.

I agree; the takeup of e-TeX was not helped by there not being an
emTeX version, but Eberhard has his own work and life, and can't
be expected to bring out new versions just to help the e-TeX project.

[from SPQR]

>> i am sure that Phil, for instance,
>> would be the first to agree that what e-TeX needs very much is use and
>> criticism of their work.

Agreed.  Of course, along with the criticism, a little praise now and then
wouldn't go amiss :-)

[from Chris Rowley]

>> > switching eTeX to Unicode would be nice...
>> If meaningful:-)!


>> I recall that the last discussion I had (with Phil) on this point
>> ended with us agreeing that it was probably not necessary to add
>> anything to the LaTeX kernel to support its use with e-TeX.

>> Thus there appears to be no need to "support the new primitives in LaTeX".

I agree completely with Chris that there is "no need"; but it seems to me
that the question is not one of need but of philosophy.  The philosophy
of LaTeX is to conceal the TeX typesetting system from the user, making
it hard (indeed, sometimes impossible) to achieve things in the "TeX"
manner, and forcing the user to achieve the same thing in "the LaTeX manner".
It is therefore surely not sensible to make an exception to this, and
effectively to say "we have hidden as much of TeX from you, the user, as
we possibly could; however, please feel free to use any and all of the new
e-TeX primitives", as if they were in some way different.  The new primitives
are there primarily to help people such as the LaTeX team: \protected,
\unexpanded and their ilk are not for Joe User, they are for format writers.

So although I agree with Chris that there is _no need_ for LaTeX to take
advantage of the e-TeX primitives, and that Joe User can use any and all
that he/she chooses, it doesn't somehow square with the LaTeX philosophy.

[from Frank Mittelbach]

>> it will but we are still talking about a small number and too small
>> without any additional boost that also brings us into all the non-unix
>> worlds

There's only one platform for which e-TeX is still unavailable, of the
major platforms in use today: the Apple Macintosh.  Versions exist for
all other major platforms, so there's no real obstacle to its uptake
other than inertia...

>> this is why for formats like lolipop nobody ever wrote additional
>> modules, not because it is a bad product, far from it, but because it
>> didn't have the backing and that killed it, or say kept it unused
>> around.

It also had a _very_ silly name! (which is better than having no-name
at all...).

>> btw, i'm not even sure that we did ask that particular one, but we
>> certainly gave our input to features that are currently missing and
>> for which we had to produce horrible hacks to solve something or where
>> the current implementation would not always work in all situation
>> using normal TeX ...

David Carlisle confirmed that 256 marks would be preferred to 16...
Are there still features missing that you would like to see (other than

>> i know that this is a devil's loop that i'm describing, but i also
>> outlined how i see breaking that loop. if you think it could be broken
>> by writing some wonderful package that make people use e-tex then i
>> suggest you try that path.

I don't think it could.  I _do_ think that if a future LaTeX were predicated on
e-TeX, and if that future LaTeX offered considerable advantages over the current
implementation, then that would of itself create a very rapid uptake of e-TeX.
You fear it would lead to the opposite -- a widespread refusal to move to the
new LaTeX -- and I respect your point of view; one day, perhaps we'll know
which of us is right...

>> but you would ask us to produce a LaTeX that would result in
>> non-usability for the majority of the users?

With a sufficient overlap, this is not as bad as you make it seem.
If you were to release an e-TeX specific LaTeX on date D, but
continue supporting the older LaTeX until D' (D' >> D), this would
allow people adequate time to replace their ancient TeX 3.14s with
e-TeX 3.14159...  I would have thought an overlap of one year
would have been adequate, although I appreciate it would mean extra
work for the LaTeX tean; on the other hand, e-TeX is intended to
_reduce_ the load on the LaTeX team, by making many complex tasks
in TeX much simpler, so the load might balance out in the end...

>> there are some areas in TeX that are simply wrong and where
>> compatibility is something for the historian. if you only accept
>> something as being a successor to TeX that not only keeps its good
>> parts but also its bad parts then that will be a poor successor.

We _know_ that strict compatibility is essential; large organisations
such as AMS simply _will not_ replace TeX by anything, unless that
<anything> _guarantees_ that it will process all their legacy documents
in a manner identical to TeX.

>> yes omega does not have a compatibility switch that can be set so that
>> it does behave like the original TeX but it does solve a large amount
>> of problems with TeX although only of a certain type. and what is the
>> problem with that? omega is more of an NTS system as e-tex is (which
>> did have different design goals) and there at least during initial
>> development compatibility is of no importance.

See above...


I think that's all the relevant messages covered; the answers took longer
than I intended, so I hope the LaTeX list adminstrators will forgive this
digression.  Please let me know _via private e-mail_ whether those who
would like to contribute to discussions on e-TeX would prefer to do so
on a new list, or simply to use the NTS list for something that is
perfectly acceptable whilst not strictly NTS-related.  I suggest that
we use the NTS list, until such time as we are ready to discuss NTS proper
(later this year), at which point a new list can be created.

** Phil.