I'm confused about the different TeX "dialects", and can help to wonder if any of the others is better than LaTeX that I'm using today.

Let's say I would like to write a document that would contain

  1. Include images/pictures in the document. Maybe a lot of screenshots.
  2. Show some C-code (include verbatim)
  3. Output a nice PDF with internal links to different places in the doc.
  4. Easy to install on Debian style distributions like Ubuntu.
  5. Command line driven, since most of my documents contain a lot of auto-generated content.

There is more, but I think the rest is kind of similar between the different TeX dialects. And to be honest LaTeX does a quite good job with point 2-5, but not really on the first point. (That is why I'm asking this question).

But since I don't know much about the "other TeX:s" could someone point me in the right direction?

  • I don't really understand 'have some images'! – Joseph Wright Apr 21 '11 at 7:02
  • Let's say you would like to describe something with a screenshot and then some text, another screenshot and some more text. – Johan Apr 21 '11 at 7:36
  • @Johan LaTeX wikibook is very well written, with a fine balance between simplicity and depth. See the section on importing graphics. Usually, you define a figure enviroment, include your image, write a caption, and label it for referencing purposes. – ipavlic Apr 21 '11 at 7:42
  • @Joahn: That just sounds like graphics inclusion, which basically means \usepackage{graphicx. – Joseph Wright Apr 21 '11 at 8:00
  • I know, but most of the time I disagree with how the images is placed in the pdf and spend some time tweeking the input to get it right. And this is the only part in LaTeX where I feel this way (the rest is done right). But that is another question, in this question the open topic is if the others are better at this? – Johan Apr 21 '11 at 8:11

LaTeX does a very good job with all of the points you mentioned.

  1. Images can be easily included and then scaled, rotated, trimmed or cropped (the last two require graphicx). High-quality drawings can be produced using specialized packages like TikZ (gallery of TikZ examples). What problems with images you encountered?
  2. Using listings package you can include colored C code
  3. hyperref package will be helpful. LaTeX is quite good at cross-referencing.
  4. TeXLive is the recommended distribution. It has a nice installation guide.
  5. LaTeX (and I would say any TeX flavour) is command line driven.

As for the original question, grossly simplified, and as I understand it:

  • XeLaTeX makes font selection and usage much easier
  • ConTeXt makes creation of complex layouts much easier and enables easier access to the typography of the document
  • LuaTeX makes extending functionality easier

This question is a very good candidate for community wiki. There are very experienced users for each system here and they will be able to provide us with detailed pro/contra lists. No system is just "better", they are different, each with their own strengths and weaknesses.

  • 1
    Can't agree more. I don't think that plainTeX or ConTeXt are that much better with 1.-3. They are all installed together so 4. doesn't make a difference. About 5: all flavors are command line driven. The other "flavors" LuaTeX and XeTeX also provide LaTeX versions and so it depends what the OP means with "LaTeX alternatives": If he means "LaTeX = (pdf)latex" then LuaTeX and XeTeX are good alternatives when complex languages and fonts are required, but should be the same for 1.-5. – Martin Scharrer Apr 21 '11 at 8:46
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    It is important to distinguish between TeX "dialects" like plainTeX, ConTeXt and LaTeX and the "engines" that they may be used with which are pdfTeX, XeTeX and LuaTeX. – Sharpie Apr 21 '11 at 9:37
  • It sounds like the others are to similar to LaTeX from my point of view to invest the time needed to change. – Johan Apr 21 '11 at 10:20
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    @Johan An engine like XeLaTeX has the same syntax, and the packages used are also mostly identical. But you also have access to XeLaTeX packages, like fontspec (which also supports LuaLaTeX). ConTeXt uses a different approach and its syntax is also different. – ipavlic Apr 21 '11 at 11:26

You can try ConTeXt. I think that, in general, ConTeXt's handling of floats is more predictable than that of LaTeX. As examples, see the matafun manual which contains a lot of figures (but only a few floats) and Chapter 5 of the details manual that gives lots of examples of side floats, margin floats, and automatic conversion of side float to text float depending on the size.

As others have mentioned, on all other points, all macro packages (eplain, LaTeX, ConTeXT) are equally good.

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