In my usual spirit of always wanting to try an alternative way of doing something - partly in hope that the alternative might be better, partly due to my latent hipster gene trying to express itself - I have always been curious about LaTeX. It's a big commitment, though, and until now I had lacked data to drive my decision.

Somebody (shockingly, they are in Germany) has done a scientific comparison of LaTeX vs Word.

So it turns out that a specialised tool is really good at a specialised task, while a jack-of-all-trades tool does better at general tasks. Big whoop.

The interesting question to me would be a breakdown of how many Word users know how to use even fairly basic features. The style sheet functionality seems to be a mystery even to people who really should know better.

People complain a lot about Word being obtrusive, and there is definitely truth to that complaint: try nesting tables, or trying to pad them, or doing two-column layouts that don't flow, and then come back and tell me about Word - but only once you stop swearing and twitching, please. However, many of the complaints that I hear tend to be more about people not knowing about a feature in Word, or not using it properly.

Part of that problem is of course due the design and usability of Word itself, but it's noticeable that all of the alternatives to Word run into the exact same problem of complexity, as soon as they get past the basics. It's often said that 80% of users use only 20% of the features of software - but Word is the perfect example of the fact that everybody has a different 20% subset that is critical to them.

Anyway, while it looks like LaTeX only really shines for mathematical equations, since LaTeX users appear to be happier, I may yet have to give it a go.

Watch this space…