I'd like to know why XeTeX hasn't (yet?) replaced other engines that lack features we take as granted in modern computing, like support for Unicode and modern font formats.

Is there any important downside in using XeTeX? Why would I want to use, say, pdfTeX instead?

EDIT: I wasn't asking for an overview on all the engines out there, but rather for precise reasons for why I wouldn't want to use XeTeX, since from my European perspective Unicode support is kind of a big deal. I work on a daily basis with documents in German, Italian and Czech, languages where non-ASCII characters are pretty common. I gave up on LaTeX for years before finding out that with XeTeX I didn't have to painfully remember to hardcode every ß, ü or š I needed to use (which were a lot).

Also, as a type-lover I like to experiment with typefaces in my documents, so easy support for OTF and TTF fonts is a very nice thing to have in my opinion, a feeling I expected others to share.

Not having such features is a deal-breaker for me, and was genuinely looking for reasons on why would someone choose to use an engine other than XeTeX.

  • 2
    A simple reason might be that XeTeX uses different syntax for certain thing, e.g. something else than \usepackage IIRC. So switching from LaTeX to XeTeX would require changing existing documents. Don't forget that you can use unicode in LaTeX as well, at least to a certain extent. And when it comes to fonts, most people seem to be happy with what LaTeX provides -- this is the case for me at least. I do not want to worry about fonts and about how they go together. I take what is set up in my favorite documentclass, because the guy who wrote it, knows more about it than me. Commented Aug 31, 2015 at 12:07
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    perhaps because you have 30 years of tex documents in an archive and don't want to change formatter that may or may not work on your existing documents, or you want to generate pdf directly (and manipulate it with \pdfliteral) that is hard to do in a dvi based system or you are an english speaking mathematician who has never heard of unicode or xetex or ... The last part of your question is a duplicate of questions we already have detailing the differences between pdftex/xetex/luatex, the first part "why" is unanswerable. Commented Aug 31, 2015 at 12:12
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    @PhilippImhof XeLaTeX understands very well \usepackage.
    – egreg
    Commented Aug 31, 2015 at 12:16
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    The main reason for me to stick with pdfTeX is microtype support :)
    – cgnieder
    Commented Aug 31, 2015 at 12:33
  • 2
    In your clarified question you say you use Unicode for European letters. actually pdflatex and inputenc package work quite well for that, it is different if you are using large Asian encodings where the 256 characters per font restriction in classic means that xetex or luatex have massive advantage. Commented Sep 2, 2015 at 12:15

1 Answer 1


Some of those reasons emerged in the comments:

  • backward compatibility
  • only partial microtype support
  • XeTeX brings "complications"
  • english-speaking users who only need ASCII support
  • pdfTeX is faster

Feel free to edit to add more reasons, expand or reformulate.

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