I read this article Microsoft World Champion and it got me thinking. Many of us have read How can I explain the meaning of LaTeX to my grandma?, How can I convert my TeX-illiterate coworkers to LaTeX?, and Showcase of beautiful typography done in TeX & friends.

However, after reading the Microsoft article, it dawned on me that the TeX community should do the same. Trying to explain TeX can be difficult and trying to get people to switch can be nearly impossible, but holding a competition would show the world what TeX has to offer. In the amount of time it took the Microsoft competitors to typeset there document for the competition, those who are truly skilled in TeX could do a lot more. There was 344,000 entrants I believe it said. Just imagine if that was for TeX? This could be a way for TeX to break more into the mainstream. This article about Microsoft is just free advertisement and it has younger people striving to be great at an inferior product (in my opinion).

Here's a link to the competition itself: certiport.com.

So far all the suggestions aren't what I am speaking about. They are all geared to people in the TeX world through venues ran by TeX or by a TeX community. This only draws attention to those already in the loop. How would this accomplish increasing TeX use when it is to the people who already use it? For instance, certiport.com is promoting a competition for skills in a product they don't make. The competition is promoted to a wide audience base not just experts or enthusiasts in Microsoft products. Additionally, the competition is held at venue (think of the TUG conference) not just hey make something, post it, and vote on it (all online). There are high schoolers to professionals (barring they aren't Microsoft employees) who compete. That is much more diverse audience. The audience with TeX is mostly university/college level and the population at the universities/colleges who use some form of TeX isn't that huge (at least this is what I witness).

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    may be a meta Q with tug and promotion tags Aug 7, 2013 at 20:44
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    TUGboat, PracTeX and many more world-wide based TeX user groups proceedings/conferences are in a way promoting/ giving an opportunity for all to exhibit/communicate TeX skills and doing the same as mentioned in your Q and also much more.. Aug 7, 2013 at 21:03
  • @texenthusiast from those links, I don't see anything related to a constant as held by the article I linked too. They seem to be just journals.
    – dustin
    Aug 7, 2013 at 21:24
  • @texenthusiast I am talking about something that is yearly and draws the attention of more than just people on TeX sites.
    – dustin
    Aug 8, 2013 at 9:46
  • @texenthusiast I am still confused. Why the survey link? The poll just says what I said about mainly in academia. Maybe I should clarify by the population isnt that huge. I was speaking about the percentage of people on universities/colleges who use it not the amount of schools who do.
    – dustin
    Aug 8, 2013 at 16:55
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    Actually, instead of a competition, something like CSS Zen Garden might be very interesting for TeX. Use the same source code (or slightly different source code to get idiomatic input for plain, latex, and context) and use it to get different outputs. One can define different types of documents (CV, letters, book, photobook, journal article) and highlight one aspect of TeX that is often lost on users--separation of content and presentation.
    – Aditya
    Aug 8, 2013 at 21:19
  • @Aditya I don't think it's that easily possible for the moment; it's one of the stated goals of LaTeX3 I believe. That being said, latextemplates.com is a nice attempt at proving ready to use templates and attract new users to TeX & Friends.
    – Xavier
    Aug 11, 2013 at 20:21
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    @Xavier -- isn't latextemplates.com the opposite of what @Aditya was suggesting? (I.e., the site gives one template ['CSS'] and tells/lets you come up with the tex(t) ['HTML']. While I agree the CSS Zen Garden as such could not be implemented in precisely the same way for the *TeX world, surely it would be possible to make (say) a genericarticle.tex and show how different applications of classes and packages can affect the layout. Obviously, this wouldn't work in a 'contest' environment, and I guess I could see the site becoming (too?) open-ended via the use of idiosyncratic \defs, etc.
    – jon
    Aug 12, 2013 at 21:43
  • @jon I don't think it's the opposite. It doesn't perfectly separates content from layout and "just" provides templates, but until LaTeX3 is there that's about the best you can do and it fulfills more or less the same purpose: depending on the type of document you select, you get different layout previews from which you can choose. You do have to make your choice before you start writing, unlike CSS Zen Garden but that's unavoidable for the moment.
    – Xavier
    Aug 13, 2013 at 1:42
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    @Xavier It is perfectly possible to have separation of content and separation in all TeX formats: plain, latex, and context. However, the tutorials/introduction do not emphasize this. In fact, ConTeXt strongly discourages using stylistic commands for syntactic purpose (e.g., using \bold{something} will not be exported in XHTML export and will not get a tag in tagged PDF while \definehighlight[important][style=bold] following by \important{something} will show up both in XHTML export and tagged PDF.) LaTeX leaves it up to the users, and users tend to abuse the freedom, but ....
    – Aditya
    Aug 14, 2013 at 20:09
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    ... one doesn't need to wait for LaTeX3 to promote separation of content and separation. It is certainly possible in LaTeX2e as well
    – Aditya
    Aug 14, 2013 at 20:09
  • @Aditya I never wrote anything saying you can't separate content and presentation, just that it's imperfect in LaTeX2e. And hence, I fail to see how one can consider latextemplates.com to be the opposite of CSS Zen Garden...
    – Xavier
    Aug 15, 2013 at 2:00
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    @xavier and i didn't say anything about latextemplate being the opposite of css zengarden :) separation of content and presentation is imperfect in HTML as well.
    – Aditya
    Aug 15, 2013 at 5:03
  • @Aditya True :)
    – Xavier
    Aug 15, 2013 at 10:29
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    The final round of the competition should be the battle between MS Word and TeX experts. Aug 15, 2013 at 20:38

5 Answers 5


Most gyms earn their money from the people who pay for it but never show up.

A competition would lead to yet another xii.tex (How could the macro xii.tex be simplified into a better readable form) while blowing the minds by its results it will make people stay wawy even more from it.

Somebody even controlled a Mars rover with it.

So I think TeXnicians can safely assume that they are doing something quite esoteric and assure themselves that it will be so for a long long time to come.

Though typographically it's an abomination of nature, MS Word convenience is unparalleled in the eyes of the masses and TeX is definitely not the next guy who can claim that position. We are talking about people who are complaining about microseconds delays on their TOUCH screens. Compiling a document? Right...

  • They don't need to be a genius with compiling a document though. As long as they use one of the GUI editors, it simple click of a button (at least I hope they can click a button).
    – dustin
    Aug 9, 2013 at 18:13

I'm a cofounder at writeLaTeX.

In their profiles, 46% of our users identify themselves as 'just starting out' or 'beginner' at LaTeX (n=72 -- we just launched these profiles yesterday, so these are of course preliminary numbers; the other levels are 'intermediate', 'expert', and 'I am Don Knuth'). This says to me that there is a healthy interest in learning TeX that we can tap into, and also that online editors can help people get started.

We'd certainly be interested in supporting activities like this, and I think James & Henry at shareLaTeX would be, too.

It's getting away from typesetting a bit, but TeXample.net has a wide range of mind-blowing TikZ programs. Many of these have the advantage of being very visual, e.g. these rotated triangles, which might help in generating interest. I think Stefan, who runs TeXample, was planning to run a competition there, but I don't think it has happened yet, so he might have some views on this.

I'm not sure whether a competition of this kind is right for reaching the masses, for the reasons that percusse points out. The Microsoft Office Specialist program doesn't seem to reach out to the masses, either -- in my experience, most people happily use a tiny subset of the features of Word, much as most people (including me!) happily use a tiny subset of the features of TeX.

I do wonder whether there's scope for a codeacademy or similar for LaTeX. In the Ruby programming world, there are many friendly and colourful ways to learn, e.g. http://tryruby.org and http://railsforzombies.org which are much friendlier than anything we have. (And I include my course in this. I should also mention that shareLaTeX have recently put together a nice series of intro videos.) This could be a great use of the tech behind the amazing texlive.js demo, which lets you run LaTeX completely in your browser.

Anyway... just some thoughts from me. Hope we can work something out!

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    I think sites (TeX.SX, writeLaTeX, shareLaTeX, etc.) that brings together beginners -- Don Knuth (as your ratings go) would be an appropriate way to promote/host such competitions. I think the hard part is how would it run, hosted, location, virtual (but how do you monitor no use of manuals if virtual?) etc.
    – dustin
    Aug 12, 2013 at 23:18
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    @dustin Reminded me of a old contest Stefan's latex-community's graphics contest Aug 12, 2013 at 23:46
  • @texenthusiast a book would be a nice incentive (idea from the link).
    – dustin
    Aug 12, 2013 at 23:49
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    @dustin Forgot the to attach The Winners of the LaTeX and Graphics Contest Aug 13, 2013 at 0:04

My opinion only: (Please take it positively no offence on anyone)

"A LaTeX competition to promote LaTeX to the masses" : Good Intent to promote to masses and great idea as well for competition.

But "should TeX community should do the same ?"

Not sure, but I agree with other answers and points and to add: TeX is different species/OSS world all together compared to commercial world.

"Holding a competition would show the world what TeX has to offer".

1. Before going for a competition: The whole educational system starting from schools and colleges should have a mandatory/elective Typography:LaTeX course(atleast beginner level) and children/students should be encouraged to submit in LaTeX homework etc..

2. Even before that: The TeX teaching infrastructure (teachers who know them/management/webportal) , course web portals and even the presentation used to teach LaTeX should be in beamer/powerdot/slides.. not in .ppt/x which is sometimes a irony that "TeX is better than Word" delivered in .doc and .ppt. and finally the whole lab/college/secretaries/administration going open source which is very much going on in some countries.

3. Any competition needs some skilled people to gather and share their expertise which can be harnessed during early school days not after 30 yrs avg age.Hence mini-competition's should start in schools/colleges before expanding to great heights.In that TeX would spread over wide professions. Notice many professions use TeX not only in academia.

"Just imagine if that was for TeX ? This could be a way for TeX to break more into the mainstream".

We have grow steadily and systematically with the above mentioned points on harnessing TeX from school level onwards over years and thereby we get the prospective TeX olympiad people for future.

Remember TeX is not learnt/mastered in one day conference or few days competition, instead of wasting resources(money/manpower on useless things) we need donate the money towards the TUG and it's affiliate projects upcoming projects eg: LaTeX3

Note: MS was getting free testing for it's software, nurturing some future interns etc.. and getting some feedback while this so called competition is going on. It does not do any favour while TeX ecosystem is something vice-versa. But I don't have any averse feeling at any, love all.

Thanks to all TeX.SX/TUG and many TeX people for all their knowledge and patience in bringing it together.

TeX related proceedings/Conference and Journals:

TUGboat, PracTeX and many more world-wide based TeX user groups proceedings/conferences are in a way promoting/ giving an opportunity for all to exhibit/communicate TeX skills and doing the same as mentioned in your Q and also much more.

TeX.SX competition related Q's

Contest: Show Off Your Skillz in TeX & Friends [TeX.sx birthday]

Competition time: Design an error page!


I'm not sure such a competition would work very well. People unfamiliar with TeX will probably just dismiss it a geek competition. I've seen very smart people look at basic TeX code and declare it incomprehensible. They also say the same thing about HTML. I'm not sure TeX could generate the interest of a program that everyone knows about and is more user-friendly. TeX does require a bit of study to be able to use it. The average computer user may not be willing to put in the effort to learn it.

Perhaps an alternative suggestion might be to have TeX users offer classes or facilitate online classes at local libraries.

  • The first few wouldn't have the average guy writing a document show up. The competition would show case LaTeX to a bigger audience and aid in explaining it to non-users. As people begin to see the power of LaTeX, they may become motivated to try it. As the competitions go on, hopefully more people will become aware, then familiar, and finally users.
    – dustin
    Aug 8, 2013 at 15:20

A Pandoc MarkDown GUI is the answer.

The masses certainly are using MarkDown syntax to write forum entries such as these here on Stack Exchange.

What about casting a graphical user interface (GUI) (perhaps a gedit-plugin?) with collaborative distributive revision control (e.g. mercurial for MS Windows & Mac OSX support) around the Pandoc document converter?

Pandoc internally uses a LaTeX engine of choice to generate PDF from MarkDown. Typographically, identical results are achieved whilst shielding the masses from esoteric LaTeX code. Tables are also much easier to define in MarkDown than LaTeX. After a while, a subsection of the masses would gain some interest in learning the underlying LaTeX macro code.

One should also not underestimate the existing appreciation for the collaborative editing features contained in MS Word. Hence, the necessity for integration with a distributive revision control tool. This would also eliminate the need for countless Word e-mail attachment exchanges in any collaboration project.

  • I'm not so sure that the masses use markdown. Most forums I know don't have markdown but rather use BBCode in one form or another. However, this does not mean that users other than regulars really use it: unformatted forum entries are rather the norm than the exception. As a moderator for the LaTeX community forum one of my main tasks is to add code markup to posts :)
    – cgnieder
    Aug 15, 2013 at 13:24
  • @cgnieder I understand. Nonetheless, I see non-fanatic users of the less esoteric cooking.stackexchange.com employ quite a bit of markdown. Although, I agree; not as much as over here. Aug 15, 2013 at 19:24
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    Pandoc's document structure is very limited. I used it for a semester to generate lecture slides and handouts. I had to jump through hoops to get standard features that I use in ConTeXt. For example, conditional typesetting (include some material in handouts but not in slides), different image scaling for handout and slides, *emph* to italicize text in handout and color it in slides, etc. All of the above are possible by minor tweaks in the environment in ConTeXt but were really hard to do in Pandoc. Pandoc is fine for simple documents, but it doesn't cut it for a moderately complex document
    – Aditya
    Aug 16, 2013 at 5:35
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    @Aditya You made me curious. Any chance of seeing the source of such a highly adaptive ConTeXt document? Aug 16, 2013 at 13:04

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