About VTeX - Interview with Walter Schmidt
VTeX/Free is a TeX (pronounced "tek"-ed.)
distribution, which is built around the VTeX program. VTeX is an
implementation of the TeX typesetting engine, to generate PDF (Adobe's
Portable Document Format) or PostScript output immediately from the TeX
source file. Best of all, its free for OS/2 and eCS. The distribution
and the documentation are maintained by Walter Schmidt, who was
interviewed for this article by Lothar Frommhold.
Thank you, Walter, for kindly agreeing to give this interview and for
bearing with me through the many questions raised! We wish you the best
for your admirable efforts on behalf of the OS/2 - eCS community!
- VTeX is based on Donald Knuth's TeX. Why is TeX so powerful that
we consider it the leading, pioneering, electronic typesetting system
for scientific and technical writing since its inception in the early
- Walter Schmidt's answer:
- Because the program was made to fulfill perfectly the task of
typesetting rather than to look attractive to laymen at first sight,
and because Knuth is one of the leading computer scientists, a genius.
- Why "typesetting" - which sounds like TeX is useful to a very
limited group of craftsmen? Are word processing, desktop publishing
(DTP), or the writing needs of small and big users not sufficiently
- Both LaTeX and "classical" desktop publishing programs do
actually perform "typesetting". We just don't use the term "DTP" for
LaTeX, because LaTeX constitutes a different approach than the
well-known GUI-driven (Graphical User Interface-ed.) systems , and
because it is actually restricted to typesetting alone, i.e., a separate
editor program is required additionally. (Interviewer's note: The EPM
editor of OS/2 is exceptionally well suited for the purpose, especially
if the VTeX frontend, which is very easy to install, is used.)
- TeX is the hard-core basis of the many advanced LaTeX derivatives
which exist today for virtually all platforms, including emTeX for OS/2
and, more recently, VTeX/2? Why are there so many LaTeX varieties?
- There is only one platform-independent set of the LaTeX macros,
but there are many ports of the basic TeX program to different
computers and operating systems. (TeX was initially written in a
platform-independent way.) All these implementations generate
absolutely identical device-independent (DVI) output; otherwise they
must not carry the name TeX. Technological progress made a number of
enhancements desirable and possible, in particular PDF generation
directly from the TeX source, rather than via the DVI intermediate
format. As a result, pdfTeX and VTeX came into existence. Unfortunately
the development of TeX has split.
- In other words: LaTeX is a huge set of macros that facilitate the
use of TeX, in complete generality and independent of platforms. Will
any future extensions of LaTeX be immediately useful on all platforms?
- It is possible that the future LaTeX 3 will need certain
facilities, such as a Perl interpreter, beside the bare TeX program. I
hope that all required tools will be available on OS/2, too. But that's
still very much theory: LaTeX 3 does not yet exist!
- Who is actually using VTeX - and why?
- Frankly said: I don't know the exact number of users. VTeX/2 is
free, and no registration is required. Most of the people who
participate in our mail list are scientists or students; this does in
no way differ from what I experience on other TeX-related lists and
news groups. As to the second part of the question: Why? Apparently,
because there is no alternative on OS/2, now that emTeX is practically
- I have heard complaints that TeX and virtually all of the LaTeX
varieties do not have graphical user interfaces. Why is this so? Is
VTeX without a GUI a viable program?
- Indeed, TeX is a "language" for typesetting. If you prefer a GUI
instead, use a different tool! Just take a look at LyX, which tries to
provide a "TeX GUI": To me this seems like a wedding of the drawbacks
of TeX and WORD! Besides, isn't it true that, as far as the control of
the TeX compiler and the related programs is concerned, the EPM TeX
frontend provides virtually all the conveniences offered by a GUI?
- VTeX produces output in the Postscript and PDF file formats. How
does one preview the output?
- You need to use Acrobat Reader (for PDF) or Ghostscript/GSView
(for both PDF and PostScript). The fact that there is no up-to-date
Acrobat Reader for native OS/2 constitutes a bit of a problem, but
fortunately there are GhostScript and GSView. Without these, we would
have to give up VTeX/2.
- How about the Odin-based, but fully self-consistent Acrobat
Reader, v.4.05, issued recently by Innotek that is available free for
- I have to admit that I have not yet installed it. It should
constitute a major improvement over the Acrobat Reader, v.3, but
version 4.05 is also far from being up-to-date... And I would
not consider Odin as "native" OS/2.
- What about VTeX for other file formats, such as HTML?
- This is available with the VTeX distribution for Windows, and
there is no intention to port it to OS/2. (Interviewer's note: Some
third-party LaTeX software is available that may be sufficient for some
such tasks. For example, this Interview was written in VTeX and the
html file you are reading was directly produced from the VTeX file
using TtH, the TeX to HTML conversion package by Ian Hutchinson. TtH is available for
free for noncommercial use.)
- Since TeX and LaTeX are available for virtually every platform,
does this really mean that VTeX/2 produced documents and their TeX
sources are truly portable to any computer?
- Yes - unless the document makes use of any features that are not
provided by other TeX systems. This affects, in particular, the
inclusion of images in certain bitmap formats and the access to certain
PDF- and PostScript-specific facilities. However, other TeX
implementations such as teTeX exhibit such differences between various
backends (classical TeX with dvips vs. pdfTeX), too.
- Can VTeX handle things such as the inclusion of figures (and
which formats?), tables, complex mathematical and other (e.g., chemical
and engineering-type) symbolic expressions, color, special fonts (e.g.,
large type, boldface, foreign fonts, etc.), etc.? Is there something
VTeX cannot - or not yet - do?
- Compared to other TeX systems, VTeX has no particular
restrictions. Everything that's mentioned in your question is basically
possible. As to the inclusion of figures that were created by
third-party programs, VTeX supports extended postscript (EPS), PDF and
all important bitmap formats.
- Are all the above features available in the VTeX package, or do I
need additional software - and, if so, can one easily get that and at
- LaTeX is an extensible system and CTAN (the TeX archive network)
provides hundreds of additional macro packages for free. However, only
a limited selection of these is shipped with VTeX/2. Further packages
can be downloaded and installed easily, since VTeX complies with the
standardized "TeX directory structure" (TDS). There are many additional
programs to complement LaTeX, for instance pre- and postprocessors,
drawing programs etc. Whether or not you actually need these depends on
your particular application. The free VTeX distribution comprises only
the two most important programs, which are practically regarded as
"required," i.e., the MakeIndex and BibTeX programs. Further free
software is available from CTAN, but not everything has been ported to
OS/2, unfortunately. (Interviewer's note: MakeIndex generates
automatically an index of long papers and book manuscripts, and BibTeX
processes data bases of reference sources; both extremely useful in
- Will VTeX/2 be available with eCS?
- Possibly, yes. There are plans to ship the latest VTeX/2 version
with a future eCS distribution.
- Will VTeX be free for OS/2 in the future?
- We do not intend to change VTeX/2 into a commercial product.
- What are the commercial VTeX packages?
- There is VTeX for Windows. It includes an editor and many extra
tools, and it can create HTML and SVG, along with PostScript and PDF,
and there is a GUI to control all these programs. See MicroPress for more
information. MicroPress is also supplying fonts, which are particularly
made for use with TeX (not just VTeX!). I recommend a visit to MicroPress Fonts.
- Does anyone actively maintain VTeX and VTeX/2 (for OS/2-eCS)?
- The commercial VTeX for Windows is entirely in the responsibility
of MicroPress Inc., while the work on VTeX for OS/2 and Linux and is
shared: Michael Vulis (MicroPress Inc.) is the maintainer of the OS/2
and Linux ports of the bare VTeX program, while I am responsible for
putting together the final distribution, i.e., adding the LaTeX macros,
configuration files, documentation, installation program etc., and
testing. I am considerably assisted by Herbert Voss, who takes care of
the Linux-specific part of the distribution. (Thank you, Herbert!)
- Earlier this year I set up VTeX on my eCS workstation, I was
delighted with the elegant installation program you wrote. Installation
of VTeX was a snap and, before I knew it, I found myself using LaTeX -
or really VTeX - again on my new workstation. I think I spent less than
a minute on that installation - no glitches, no head-scratching, no
nagging doubts, but excellent, concise instructions - it was what such
an installation should be: a marvelous job! Can you tell us what the
future will hold? Where is LaTeX going? And VTeX?
- There is a long-term project called LaTeX 3, which will -
hopefully - fix the remaining basic flaws and drawbacks of the current
LaTeX2e, see the LaTeX project.
As to VTeX/Free, there are currently no plans for any basic
changes. Of course, the distribution will adopt all future changes to
the LaTeX macros and the additional packages. I am about to basically
improve the documentation; I hope that I can provide a full-blown
"VTeX/Free tutorial" in the near future.
- How does one download VTeX?
- See the MicroPress
OS/2 page. Or, if you don't need many words, visit CTAN's OS/2
- When I started to use LaTeX some fifteen years ago, I was used to
some other word-processing software which did not quite fit the bill. I
was amazed how easy it was to start using LaTeX: I read the first 20 or
30 pages of Leslie Lamport's book and started writing a few letters and
an article for a professional journal in my field - and never turned
back. By now I have studied many parts of that book, and of other books
on LaTeX, as my needs grew; summarizing my experience I would say it was
easy to learn LaTeX and I never saw a need for using any other software
for my writing - both professional and personal. Do you have any advice
for beginners how to get started?
- (1) Read the LaTeX book: LaTeX
- A Document Preparation System by Leslie Lamport
(2) Read the installation instructions and the "LaTeX Local Guide for
VTeX/Free," which come with the VTeX/2 distribution. The VTeX-specific
aspects are covered there.
(3) Take a look at a TeX frequently asked questions (FAQ) in your
(4) Participate in the VTeX/Free mail list
(5) Participate also in a general TeX-related mail list or newsgroup
such as comp.text.tex; these are excellent sources of support.
- What other important literature on VTeX exist?
- Just take a look at the English
TeX FAQ; it has a section on TeX-related literature.
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