Quarter Life Crisis

The world according to Sven-S. Porst

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TEX history Ⅲ: Sidesteps

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This text is the third part of my little TEX history: Read part Ⅰ and part Ⅱ.

In my early TEX days I made two somewhat strange sidesteps. One was that I quite liked the application, let my friends know about it and even made our school magazine with it.

As a consequence my friend Jean wanted to use it as well. Alas, he only had an MS-DOS computer at the time. So I managed to get a copy of TEX for that system on a stack of 10 diskettes and there we went. Let’s just say there was an installer that ran and installed things on his fancy computer with even a built-in hard drive. But they Just Didn’t Work™ (™ quite possibly owned my Microsoft, and even if it isn’t I suppose it’s one of the few bits of vacuous ‘property’ they actually deserve) and it took endless hours of uninformed fiddling before we could get things to somehow do what they were supposed to do. Jean had no idea about computers beyong Prince of Persia. I had no idea about computers without menu bars and together we wer lost in this. And even when things worked, they seemed much more clumsy than on the Atari. (And his 9-pin printer sucked, too, hah!)

A much more fascinating experience was when it was my job during a school-time internship to help setting up a proper Unix based TEX system. Not only were the Sun workstation we used there wildly exciting and far beyond my scope of understanding, but the guy who coordinated this was a real Unix guru. The type of person who’ll dismiss a colour screen when he has a larger greyscale screen at hand which can display even more terminal windows at the same time.

I didn’t actually understand all the basic technicalities back then, but I think we downloaded the source and set up everything ourselves. Where ‘we’ doesn’t include me. At the time, a ‘fat internet connection’ was something like ISDN speed for a big network and just downloading all the sources took a day. Thanks to the magic of Unix that still worked! Once things had been compiled and put in the correct folders (or directories, as people without doubt said in that environment), I fiddled with the actual TEX stuff, setting up formats, additional styles, hyphenation patterns and all that jazz.

If memory serves, we didn’t just get plain and LATEX, but we also got niceties like (the probably forgotten, by now) Sli which people apparently wanted and appreciated. Quite an interesting experience for me at least. And it seems to have been useful for other as well. Back in the days where you couldn’t just download a ready-made pre-packaged installation for Unixy systems as you can today.

Next: Classic Mac

September 7, 2007, 1:54

Tagged as software, tex, TeX.

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