[NTG-context] [OT] Twenty Questions for DEK

Hans Hagen pragma at wxs.nl
Wed May 21 09:54:19 CEST 2014

On 5/21/2014 8:16 AM, Philipp Gesang wrote:
> http://www.informit.com/articles/article.aspx?p=2213858&WT.mc_id=Author_Knuth_20Questions
> Quote:
>     “The people at MSP wrote special software that converts my TeX
>      source text into suitable input to other software that
>      creates pdf files.”
> I wonder why using a TeX engine capable of producing PDF output
> directly wasn’t an option.

Don't overestimate the large publishers. They often have no clue what 
interactive pdf is or what is needed to make it, and that it can be done 
easily. Also, as they have no r&d, they seldom know that producing both 
an advanced screen pdf and printable one from the same source without 
adaption is an option. This apart from the fact that there is really 
nothing new happening: it's just that we now have devices that run on 
batteries longer (we made out first interactive docs 15-20 years ago and 
there were simply no (cheap) devices then. But the techniques for 
producing those docs (as well as the features) are mostly the same.

Things that are normal for us texies are alien for most publishers, also 
because they outsource these things. They are not aware of tex (maybe 
only know the name) and of what it can(not) do. A publisher who knows 
how to apply tex and friends has definitely an advantage but that 
demands a horizon different from stockholders.

In fact, awareness of pdf as option is (imo) mostly surfacing because 
html viewers opened their eyes. We can produce highly interactive 
documents but I still have to meet the first publishers who really wants 
them (given that they see it as option). It is not uncommon for 
publishers to waste many man years (hiring extra people) on getting 
stuff on the web using the same sources that are used to get the paper: 
paper becomes a side effect.

(This is also why I would not be surprised if within a decade those 
publishers will disappear and be replaced by smaller ones and/or self 
publishing, but that's another matter.)

Concerning DEK's books: given that the layout is kind of fixed (as Don 
puts a lot of admirable effort in the whole look and feel) I assume 
we're talking of interactive variants of the same layout. In that case 
it's a matter of adapting macros (not too hard, would even be fun to do) 
to get the interactivity in there. I'm pretty sure that Don knows well 
what happens in tex community (including recent developments like 
luatex) but that doesn't change the fact that in the end the publisher 

Maybe these e-books have some banding (like printing the user's name 
someplace) but that is also ancient trickery (which in my opinion is 
also a bad thing: imagine your paper books or music you buy being 


(I'm still waiting for 500+ dpi e-ink kind of devices as reading from a 
too bright lcd screen is no real option for me yet, apart from a bit of 

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