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TEX history Ⅳ: Classic Mac

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This text is the fourth part of my TEX history series: Read parts , and first.


When getting a Mac in 1993, I obviously also wanted to use TEX on it. And while I thought the Mac was fantastic, it soon became clear that TEX and the Mac weren’t the most natural companions. While ‘lesser’ computers like the Atari or IBM compatibles could naturally run applications in text mode, the Mac’s all-graphic approach made this hard. Which in turn meant extra effort for people implementing TEX systems. Yet, there were a number of TEX implementations available for the Mac. Just that I had to decide which one I wanted.

This being in 1993 meant that I couldn’t simply invest ten minutes in downloading the different TEX implementations and trying them out but that I had to use some of my pocket money to order ten or so floppy disks to get them from my TEX user group or find people having those disks and arrange something with them. In fact my memory about the chronology of all this isn’t quite clear. But essentially there were various TEX implementations available. Direct TEX, Oz TEX and I think also CMac TEX and later on the legendary TEXtures.

DirectTEX sounded quite good to me but was quite pricey: Both because of its shareware price which required you to buy multiple licenses in one go and because it required you to have Apple’s MPW Shell which essentially provided a command line ‘development’ environment on the Mac in which the various tools of a TEX installation could run. It was hideously expensive, though, either by itself or by requiring you to be a member of Apple’s pricey developer programme to buy it. So it was a bit out of range.

OzTeX icon OzTEX was quite a bit more Mac like in that it unified running TEX and displaying the previews into a single application (with a separate OzMF existing in case you needed to create new font bitmaps). Just by the look of its cute EX lion icon (TeX keyboard layout icon which I use to this day for my modified EX keyboard layout) I liked it right away. The fact that DANTE bought a license for all its members also made using OzTEX very attractive. The only problem with it remaining that I never really liked its way of working for some reason.

I think I tried CMacTEX once but it never much resonated with me and I was drooling when I first saw TEXtures - an application that was so cool and pricey that it was beyond belief: The pulled the trick of continuously running TEX while you typed and displaying TEX’s output ‘almost live’ in a second window. All that back in the mid 1990s.

While today you can just blindly process pretty much any TEX document in a few seconds, back then seeing TEXtures was amazing. They must have optimised things rather well for the results on the machines back then to be acceptable. They also created outline PostScript versions of the standard TEX fonts which probably was key to enabling them to display things quickly. Later on those fonts became available via CTAN which probably was a great step forward for the TEX community at the time.

I think people have tried to do simple minded TEXtures like things on today’s machines. Just auto-save documents periodically and let TEX run on them in batch mode. And I do wonder how far performance of that could be pushed by optimising things a litte, say, by storing intermediate statuses of TEX while processing the document and just resuming that processing before the earliest change in the file.

Anyway, TEXtures remained a dream for me but eventually I got DirectTEX which started bringing along its own MPW Shell clone at some stage. I switched to DirectTEX then and stayed with it. It featured simple project managing capabilities and also worked together with external editors (as did the other Mac TEX implementations). It was an all right replacement for the TEX Shell I used on my Atari in the end.

Just like the TEX system I used on the Atari, DirectTEX could also store all the temporary and junk files created during a TEX run in centralised folders. I quite liked that. And essentially I kept using DirectTEX until I switched to OS X.

A sidenote should be made on text editors here. In a way plain text editing is a very non-Macintosh thing to do. And thus the Mac wasn’t the greatest environment for text editors. After looking around a little, I settled for Alpha which wasn’t the prettiest beast around, but a rather powerful one. It brought editing modes for all sorts of languages and was particularly strong in its support for TEX and the various TEX applications you could use on the Mac. Back in that time it started to be clear that there are people who do ‘get’ (and are willing to fork out a fortune for) BBEdit and that there are others who don’t. I am with the latter. Unlike BBEdit, Alpha didn’t really make it to OS X, so

Next: Mac OS X

September 19, 2007, 0:12

Tagged as classic, mac, tex, TeX.

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