Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Give Microsoft Word a Chance, Please?


So I've gotten into recent wrangles with a three different co-authors over writing three different papers in Tex versus Word. I even hired some Indian econ major through oDesk for $70 to convert a paper from Tex to Word. This is just my plea to give Word a chance.

Honestly, I should love TEX. I've been programming since I was in kindergarten  In terms of the hours needed for expertise, I probably put in my 10,000 programming and debugging hours before I finished high school. I love typography, and I love the beauty of Knuth's original vision of TEX. A senior thesis written in Tex was required of all math majors at MIT, and I still use Vi with its arcane key commands perfect for the tex environment for most of my text editing.

Still after trying all its incarnations as a grad student, from raw Latex using Vim to, to Scientific Word and Workplace, to WinEdit. And after struggling for hours just debugging an equation or figuring out how to double space, I deciding wrangling a word processing task just wasn't an efficient use of my time. And the profession is slowly shifting. At the last conference I attended, I noticed even theorists using powerpoint. Nature's preferred submission format is Word. And with a bit of wrangling, and proper use, you can make Word just as pretty as Latex, just few use Word properly, with headers and labels things.

The biggest hang up everyone always notes, is equations. People still remember the old Microsoft Equation editor that always crashed my computer and corrupted my files and was a pain to use. Ever since Word 2007 though, the new Equation editor works quite well, even better than Tex IMHO, taking most of its best features but simplifying, and since it's internal to Word, it doesn't create a million embedded objects that used to crash the document.

As an avid mouse hater, I tend to use keyboard shortcuts for everything. I still use old grandfathered in shortcuts like Alt-E-E for replace. Sadly, there is no shortcut for "Insert New Equation." But that's easy to add to the Quick Access Toolbar on top, so for me, its the second thing I have up there, so its just Alt-2 to insert an equation. Then just like latex, equations inserted on its own line will be centered, while inline equations will be formatted for inline.

When you insert a new equation you can just type as in latex, something like (x+e^x)/(1+\alpha) and after hitting a space it will render it correctly. Or \int_0^\infty x=x^2/2

The main advantage over latex is that fractions are handled as just (blah)/(more blah) instead of the clunky \frac{blah}{more blah}
Unfotunately, most of the language Word uses (based on PlainText Math) are not well documented, but you can find a pretty close summary of Plaintext in a pdf here.

The biggest flaw I will admit is that Word for some dumb reason still doesn't number equations automatically  There are macros that I found on microsoft's website that are somewhat clunky but they work.

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