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2. What is Lout?

Lout is a high-level language for document formatting. It includes facilities for typesetting complex documents containing floating figures, tables, diagrams, rotated and scaled text or graphics, footnotes, running headers, footers, an index, table of contents and bibliography, cross-references, mathematical equations and statistical graphs. Lout's capabilities can be extended with definitions which are easier to write than similar markup languages.

Lout is multilingual, supporting (with hyphenation) Czech, Danish, Dutch, English, Finnish, French, German, Norwegian, Russia, Slovenian, Spanish and Swedish. Some of these languages are available as separate packages because they need more than 13 standard Adobe fonts. Further languages can be added easily.

The Basser Lout implementation is free software distributed under the GNU General Public License. It was designed and implemented by Jeffrey H. Kingston at the University of Sydney.

2.1 What platforms does Lout run on?

The Basser Lout (the lout compiler written by Jeffrey Kingston) is written in ANSI C. It runs best on a real operating system like Un*x, but has been ported to

Lout produces Postscript, a page description language understood by most laser printers. Postscript can also be printed on pretty much any printer (and previewed on the screen) by using the Ghostscript interpreter, which is distributed under the GNU Public License. See the Postscript FAQ (available by anonymous ftp at wilma.cs.brown.edu:pub/comp.lang.postscript/FAQ.txt) for more details. There is also an experimental PDF (Adobe's Portable Document Format) backend, which doesn't work in the latest versions, and which doesn't support the diagramming features in Lout (since they build on the programming language features in Postscript, which are not present in PDF). Lout can also produce plain text output, though any graphics details will be lost.

2.2 Where can I get Lout?

The primary site for Lout is Jeffrey Kingston's ftp site, at ftp.cs.esyd.edu.au:/jeff. This site is in Australia; most users will be better off using one of the following mirror sites :

All distributions should include (either in the main package or separately) complete documentation : the Users' Guide with a Quick Reference, and the Expert's Guide. To build from a source distribution you will need an ANSI C compiler such as gcc.

2.3 So is Lout like a word processor?

Lout is not a word processor like WordPerfect or MS-Word. These programs are WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get); the text displayed on your computer's screen is an approximation to what will appear on the printed page. Lout, in contrast, is a markup language. This means that if you want bold or italic text, you write (with your favorite text editor)

    if you want @B{bold} or @I{italic} text, 

Other symbols are used to identify headings, paragraphs, footnotes and so on. The lout interpreter reads these commands and produces nicely formatted output. The comp.text FAQ contains a more complete discussion of the relative merits of markup and WYSIWYG ; for starters you may wish to ask yourself how many different (and incompatible) .doc formats Microsoft has unleashed upon the unsuspecting users of successive releases of MS-Word.

2.4 Why use Lout instead of LaTeX or troff?

Lout is similar in function to LaTeX and troff. Indeed, it borrows ideas, techniques and conventions from these typesetting systems. For example, Lout uses Knuth's (the author of TeX, on which LaTeX is based) optimal line breaking algorithm, and has extended it to paragraph breaking across pages. For simple documents, Lout, LaTeX and troff offer much the same functionality, with different syntax (see the "Simple Examples" section). Lout is much more "programmer friendly" than TeX's macros (and à fortiori than incomprehensible troff macros). See the "Advanced Examples" section.

Lout makes it easy to mix text and graphics. You can draw lines, arrows and boxes, scale and rotate objects, use color commands. While many of these things are possible in LaTeX by including Postscript files generated by utility programs such as xfig, you have to specify the size of each included figure, losing a lot of Lout's flexibility.

The Lout distribution is very easy to compile and maintain, which certainly is not the case of many TeX distributions. The Lout distribution is much smaller (it fits onto a floppy disk) than LaTeX, and doesn't require storing tfm and pk font outlines (since Postscript fonts are used). Lout Postscript files are more compact than those produced from the process .tex -TeX-> .dvi -dvips-> .ps.

Lout is multi-lingual out of the box, and understands ISO-8859 latin-1 characters.

On the other hand, TeX/LaTeX is much more widely used than Lout (TeX has been around since the late 1970s, Lout only since 1991). It will be easier to find a local TeXpert than a Louter, and there are many more user-contributed packages for LaTeX than for Lout. Many academic journals request (or require) that papers be submitted in LaTeX. Lout uses more memory than TeX, up to 10 Mb to compile large documents.

Lout is more friendly to advanced users. LaTeX style sheets are written in a twisted, diabolical manner apparently designed to make all but trivial changes to a document's appearance difficult ; it's internals are packaged as a "black box" which ordinary mortals aren't meant to understand. Lout styles are much easier to design and modify according to your needs.

The Lout formatting language is conceptually cleaner and higher level than TeX (which was designed to run efficiently on computers from an other era). For example, Lout has no built-in notion of a "page".

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