A Message from the President

Michel Goossens
Geneva, Switzerland

It was just over two years ago that I was elected President of the TUG, taking over from Christina Thiele at TUG'95 in St. Petersburg. During both our terms the basic shift away from mainframes to personal computers, away from a multi-million dollar infrastructure limited to university departments, and large laboratories or companies to the desks of secretaries and students was completed. Nowadays, our sons and daughters all have a personal computer in their room, where it assists them with their homework, allows them to listen to and view the far-away concert of their favorite pop group on the Internet, lets them delve into the depths of knowledge thanks to thousands of thematic educational web-sites and CD-ROMs. World events invade our homes via coaxial cable or parabolic dish, digital technology projects hundreds of television channels of perfect quality on our television screens, cybershops are popping up on every street-corner, taking our credit card number and delivering a pizza and diet Coke in less than no time to our home.

We really have entered the information age, and the only drawback is that we must be careful not to drown in an ocean of colorful images and surround-sound music. One of our main tasks is to find ways to put some order in this relatively chaotic flood of megabits, to present our brains with patterns that it can recognize, handle and store reliably for later retrieval. Knowledge is information with a recognizable structure, something we can understand, classify and apply in the future. But knowledge is useless unless it is shared, thus stressing the importance of efficient communication. A yard worth of encyclopaedia on the shelves in our study is orders of magnitude less useful than the content of that same encyclopaedia stored on the Internet, where it can potentially be consulted by anybody anytime anywhere in the world. Communicating structured information is the key to optimal transmission of ideas, the basis of human society and culture. Access to Internet allows otherwise isolated people --- physically handicapped, visually impaired, those living in remote areas --- to become a genuine part of the cyberworld, thus breaking their isolation, offering them emancipation and allowing them to communicate with people everywhere, in one word giving them a passport to the world at large.

We, the TeX community, are a small but important part of this global information infrastructure. Thanks to the genius of Donald Knuth we are able to communicate mathematical ideas precisely, concisely, beautifully, yet typographically correct. Well before the word Internet became fashionable Prof. Knuth realized the need to develop and define a language to capture the precise meaning of the complex essentially two-dimensional mathematical notation into a linear sequence of tokens that can be understood relatively easily by human writers and interpreted by computer code. Rarely in the course of human history has a single invention yielded so high a technological payoff in such a short time. The TeX language, and its structured variant LaTeX, allow authors to communicate their mathematical reasoning and results precisely and unambiguously to collaborators, students, and publishers in the remotest corners of the world with the speed of the bit-stream carrying the electronic message on the Internet.

Millions of people worldwide have used TeX in the past, and will use it in the future, be it explicitly, by typing backslashes preceding TeX keywords, or indirectly, by using systems which rely on TeX as their typesetting engine. It is TUG's role to ensure that the work of Knuth will live well into the next century, so that future generations of students and researchers, poets and religious and other scholars can benefit from it.

However, we should not stand still and merely consolidate past developments, but we should actively stimulate further work to extend TeX's superb mathematical typesetting capabilities, combine them with hypertext and multi-byte multi-lingual functions. With his characteristic enthusiasm Knuth endorses such investigations, and recent initiatives such as eTeX, Omega, and pdftex have his full support.

As set out in Article One of TUG's bylaws, we should not only concentrate on TeX per se, but we should look at typesetting technical text and font design, and exchange of (technical) information in general. Therefore we should be aware of the activity of the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) in the area of XML (Extensible Markup Language). XML differs from HTML (Hypertext Markup Language) in several ways, the more important being that the author can extend the basic SGML (Standard Generalized Markup Language, ISO 8879) by defining new tags and attribute names. A second important development is the introduction of style sheets to guide the hypertext viewing programs in rendering the information. Two aspects to note are the cascading style sheets (CSS), which is probably sufficient for handling current level HTML, and the more powerful Document Style Semantics and Specification Language (DSSSL, ISO/IEC 10179), which is a perfect complement for XML. In particular, an implementation based on James Clark's DSSSL engine Jade with a back-end for LaTeX (jadetex) has become available. Also, on May 15th a working draft of MathML (Mathematical Markup Language) was released. MathML is an XML application for describing structure and content of mathematical expressions, so that mathematics can be reliably handled on the Web. This collaborative effort is of great significance for the scientific community. The fact that all major players in the field (symbolic algebra developers, math societies, browser implementors, scientific publishers) could come to a common proposal shows the importance of this issue. A final standard (including fonts, character sets, operator names) is expected by mid-1998, but first implementations in renderers like the Geometry Center's WebEQ and IBM's techexplorerd are expected soon.

At the same time we should also not forget the contributions by many hundreds of developers of TeX and LaTeX classes, packages and extensions, or the thousands of maintainers of local TeX systems in numerous sites dispersed over the earth's surface. TeX, because it is free, and relatively straightforward to use and install, has become an integral part of the working culture of mathematicians, physicists, and other scientists the world over. TeX can run on the smallest personal computers, but also many full-blown commercial and free applications take advantage of the richness of the TeX composition model: Mathematica, Scientific Office, Y&Y, TrueTeX, Lyx, GNU's documentation system are but a few recent examples of the use of TeX directly or indirectly.

Nowadays the basic TeX setup is available as a plug-and-play runnable system for most operating systems on CDROMs or from one of the CTAN sites on the Internet. In fact, this issue of TUGboat contains Version 2 of the TeX Live CD-ROM, which is based on the latest Web2C version of TeX and supports many Unix platforms, Windows 95 and NT, Amiga. It also has a distribution for MS-DOS and Macintosh. The TeX Live CD-ROM is a joint initiative of TUG, GUTenberg, and UKTUG, with full support of other TeX User Groups. I hope that together with our continuous efforts to develop our own Internet Web and ftp sites (www.tug.org and ftp.tug.org) this shows that TUG takes the Internet and electronic media seriously as we consider them as convenient vehicles to optimize communication between information and software providers and their users.

Of course, TUG and the TeX community at large rely on the continuous and generous support and collaboration of a large network of volunteers. After having mentioned ongoing initiatives in the previous sections, in this my last editorial as TeX President, I would not like to miss the occasion to say a word about my colleagues on the TUG Board. In the last issue of TUGboat I welcomed the incoming members to the Board. For the next four years (1997--2001) it will be up to them to steer TUG successfully into the next century and complete the transition to an Internet-based strategy, which was started two years ago. Therefore, this time I want to pay a special tribute to the outgoing members of the TUG Board, those who for many years have given the best of themselves in the interest of the international TeX Community. Thank you Mimi Burbank, Robin Fairbairns, George Greenwade, Yannis Haralambous, John Radel, and Sebastian Rahtz for the many contributions in your respective areas of competence. In the name of the whole of TUG, I wish you well in your careers and all the best for you and your families. And then there are four present Board members who continue. Barbara Beeton -- who has been at the very heart of TUG, TUGboat (and TeX!) from the very beginning, Karl Berry, who can pride himself on having adapted TeX to mainstream computing, so that it can be easily installed on almost any computer platform in the world with minimal effort, Judy Johnson, whose background in publishing comes in handy, and Jiri Zlatuska, who plays an important role in the NTS, pdftex, and eTeX developments. Thanks to their years-long experience I rest assured that they will be an invaluable asset for the new TUG Board and provide the continuity needed to stimulate, guide and finalize the transition of TUG's role and the redefinition and optimization of the function of the TUG Office.

And last but not least, I want to address myself to you personally, dear reader, and TUG member. Thank you for your continued support. I know that these last few years TUG has been confronted with a dwindling membership. The causes have been debated at length in this column and elsewhere. Notwithstanding this difficult situation, with TUGboat arriving late, the responsiveness of the TUG Office not so quick and effective as it could be, you have remained loyal and it is thanks to your continued faith in us that TUG is still alive, not just as an aim in itself, but to promote and guard Knuth's contribution to mankind. That is what we should do, and will continue to do as long as we can. I am sure that if we can count on your help, TUG, and especially TeX, still have a long and healthy future.

Tug image Back to the TUGboat Page

Tug image Back to the TUG Home Page