Fun_People Archive
18 Apr
Microsoft TeX

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From: Peter Langston <psl>
Date: Sat, 18 Apr 98 01:22:10 -0700
To: Fun_People
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Subject: Microsoft TeX

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Forwarded-by: Jim Propp <>
<fwds digging up old troff manuals>



PALO ALTO, CALIFORNIA, USA (CNEWS/MSNBC) --- In a major move into the
scientific publishing market, Microsoft Corporation announced today that it
has purchased all rights to the computer language and document compiler
known as TeX (pronounced, "tech"), and plans a major new product line based
on the 20-year-old software.

Stanford Professor Donald Knuth (pronounced, "kah-nooth"), the author of
the widely-used TeX software, in a joint press conference at the university
campus with Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates, acknowledged that the two had
been negotiating for some months. "I felt that two decades of TeX in the
public domain was enough. I am reasserting the copyright to my original work
in TeX.  Microsoft will carry the ball now, and I can get back to my
computer science research." Knuth acknowledged he was paid a "seven-figure
sum" from Microsoft, which he will use to finance his work on a project he
has code-named "Volume 4".

At the press conference, Microsoft chairman Bill Gates said the acquisition
was "the kind of cooperation between academia and industry that builds
prosperity for both." He added that TeX would "finally give Microsoft a
foothold in mathematical desktop publishing" that has eluded the software
giant since its founding. Drawing gasps of surprise from the college
audience, Gates asserted that "TeX will soon be biggest jewel in the
Microsoft crown."

Apparently the jewel metaphor will include a hefty, unavoidable price tag
for future TeX users. Gates outlined plans whereby all existing TeX
compilers would be phased out, to be replaced by a new Microsoft master
implementation written in C++. Beta versions for public testing on Windows
95 and NT platforms are expected in late 1998, issuing from a new
205-programmer project laboratory at Microsoft's Redmond campus. Microsoft
TeX for other platforms, such as Unix workstations, will follow at an as-yet
unspecified date. According to Gates, "the master TeX from Microsoft will
ensure that the incompatibilities across platforms are once and for all
eliminated." TeX software is widely used due its portability, although
variations among operating systems have been troublesome due to
uncoordinated development.

Unlike the technical aspects of the project, Gates explained that pricing
for Microsoft TeX has already been firmly set. The single-user retail
product is expected to have a street price of about $600 and consist of
three CDs. When heckled by an graduate student complaining about a high
price for a formerly free product, Gates seemed startled, explaining that
a "student edition at $299 is likely" and that "Microsoft will use the
revenue to make TeX better."

Most current users of TeX have paid nothing for their implementations,
derived from Professor Knuth's formerly-free work. Before leaving the
podium, Gates made a final comment that "TeX hasn't changed in years. What
kind of a product can that be?", and then handed the microphone to an
assistant, introduced only as the project leader for Microsoft TeX.

The assistant displayed an overhead presentation using the current test
version of Microsoft TeX. Equations and tables could be seen dissolving into
each other in a morphing action between frames. "No one has ever done that
with TeX," Gates announced from an audience seat at one point. "It's the
kind of sizzle that can really enliven a dull paper at an academic
conference." Some onlookers were not convinced, especially when the program
crashed midway through the demonstration, resulting in a five-minute delay
while Windows 95 was restarted.  Microsoft technicians later blamed a
third-party display driver.

The impact on the large base of existing TeX users was unclear. During a
question-and-answer period, Gates said that the "TeX" trademark would be
registered as the exclusive property of Microsoft, and could not appear in
any competitive or free software. "We are granting of our own good will
until the 3rd quarter of 1998, free use to any existing TeX vendors or
public-domain authors. That's plenty of time for an orderly phase-out and
change-over to Microsoft TeX, or no TeX at all. After that, our legal
department will be contacting them."

A Microsoft attorney added that some of the project personnel would be
dedicated to searching the Internet to find non-Microsoft TeX software.
"Archives and collections of TeX-related programs will not be permitted.
The standards must be enforced, or they become meaningless. We are rescuing
a fine piece of work from being diluted into worthlessness. You would not
believe the number of programs that have been based on TeX without any
central, controlling authority. We will stop this infringement."

Some large organizations dependent on TeX were stunned by the announcment
and had not yet formed plans for dealing with the change. At the American
Mathematical Society, whose publications largely depend on TeX for
typesetting, editor Barbara Beeton was incensed. "I can't believe Don
[Professor Donald Knuth] sold us out like this. We should have never based
a publishing enterprise of this scope on so-called public-domain software.
What were we thinking?" Publication schedules for the rest of 1998 were on
hold, and journal editors scrambled to reassure their authors that deadlines
would not slip more than a few months.

Certain small businesses are also expected to feel the impact of the
Microsoft ownership of TeX. Palo Alto restaurant owner Wu Chen appeared
unhappy at the news, stating that "for ten year I print new menu every day
with TeX, now I will pay big time." He displayed a crumpled, grease-spotted
take-out flyer, and with tears in his eyes explained how multiple columns,
exotic typefaces, and daily price changes could all be printed by TeX in a
multi-lingual format. "In Wordperfect this would be a long journey."

Commercial vendors of TeX software stand to lose everything in the face of
the new Microsoft monopoly. While most derivatives of TeX were freely
published, several companies had made a business of publishing proprietary
versions. One anonymous source from a leading TeX firm said that "publishing
TeX was a gold mine while it lasted, and the Internet let us mine it deeper
and deeper. Now this is a cave-in right on our heads. TeX was a monumental
work of beauty and utility, freely given to the world by one of the finest
and most generous minds of the 20th century. Now it belongs to a lucky
dropout. We're finished."

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