By which I mean: Is there not yet a system that enables normal smart people to write moderately sophisticated documents (i.e. documents with automatically generated tables of contents and indices and automatically numbered footnotes, figures and tables) without having to either (A) master arcane technology or (B) trust their work to a bunch of black-box processes they can neither consistently predict nor consistently undo?
I'm asking seriously: It's not a question I've thought about for more than five years. Last time I thought about it, Docbook and/or WYSIWYG xml editors were (and had been for a while) supposed to emerge any day now as (the basis for?) a solution. But all that seems to have come out of that is that Word and Excel files are now ostensibly xml — just not xml a human can usefully edit or whose history can be usefully tracked in a line-oriented revision control system.
So: Imagine a friend is about to write a significant scholarly work. Your friend is smart and willing to look under the hood when necessary, but it would be cruel to make them use LaTeX. What do you tell them? Can suck it up and use Word, but save early and often really still as good as it gets?