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Collaborative Academic Writing Software?

ScuttleMonkey posted more than 5 years ago | from the but-shouldn't-academics-be-good-at-learning-new-things dept.

Education 328

Thomas M Hughes writes "Despite its learning curve, LaTeX is pretty much the standard in academic writing. By abstracting out the substance from the content, it becomes possible to focus heavily on the writing, and then deal with formatting later. However, LaTeX is starting to show its age, specifically when it comes to collaborative work. One solution to this is to simply pair up LaTeX with version control software (such as Subversion) to allow multiple collaborators to work on the same document at one time. But adding Subversion to the mix only seems to increase the learning curve. Is there a way to combine the power of LaTeX with the power of Subversion without scaring off a non-technical writer? The closest I can approximate would be to have something like Lyx (to hide the learning curve of LaTeX) with integrated svn (to hide the learning curve of svn). However, this doesn't seem available. Google Docs is popular right now, but Docs has no support for LaTeX, citation management, or anything remotely resembling decent formatting options. Are there other choices out there?"

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Word (2, Informative)

nicolas.kassis (875270) | more than 5 years ago | (#27185567)

Word has version control ;p Seriously, LaTeX is great in part because of the fact that it's quite hard to do anything crazy so people stick with the defaults which look good.

Woot! (1)

AliasMarlowe (1042386) | more than 5 years ago | (#27185767)

Word has version control

That really made my day! I almost ruined a keyboard with my G&T (I managed to keep it in, gin in Finland is too expensive to spew on a keyboard).
But seriously, a collaborative wrapper on LaTeX woud be really neat. Nothing handles citations & equations as well as LaTeX.

Re:Woot! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27185961)

Word has version control

That really made my day! I almost ruined a keyboard with my G&T (I managed to keep it in, gin in Finland is too expensive to spew on a keyboard). But seriously, a collaborative wrapper on LaTeX woud be really neat. Nothing handles citations & equations as well as LaTeX.

Yay, another Ask Slashdot that should have been Ask Google. Nothing to see here.

Re:Woot! (2, Insightful)

koutbo6 (1134545) | more than 5 years ago | (#27186139)

I recently switched to LaTeX after being a word user for some time. the Zotero firefox plugin makes citations easy, but nothing like LaTex. Latex wins hands down

But I think word (and OOO.org for that matter) are better at collaboration, mainly because track changes is much more effecient than revision control systems like SVN, git, mercurial ...etc. These systems were designed with programming in mind, they compare files on a line by line basis. If you change a word SVN would replace the whole line which might be a whole paragraph. So when you do a diff, both the old and new paragraphs are shown and it gets difficult at times to know exactly what changed. Maybe I'm doing something wrong. But at the moment, I would stick with ooo.org & word for collaboration. Don't forget the comment feature which is important during collaboration

Over time, im sure a project will spring up to deal with this problem.

Re:Woot! (2, Informative)

EvanED (569694) | more than 5 years ago | (#27186525)

You can do a diff with an external program that deals with intraline in a less retarded way. ;-)

I'm actually not sure what there is available for running from the command line (though 'svn diff --diff-cmd' will let you run something other than 'diff', if you can find a command-line replacement), but a lot of SVN graphical front ends also have a graphical diff program, many of which will do this better. (They'll usually highlight the whole line, but then word-by-word changes in a darker shade of red/green.)

Also very awesome is latex-diff. This takes two versions of a document, and marks changes in it using latex markup. You then pass the result through latex, and the result is a PDF that looks like what you get from an old version of Word or (current version of; this is one area it's far behind Word) Open Office Writer with track changes on.

Re:Woot! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27186325)

OMG! word has drag and drop math too! It's so much easier than LaTeX because I have to use a mouse!

Re:Word (1)

Hatta (162192) | more than 5 years ago | (#27185899)

If you want version control for your LaTeX code use the same tools you'd use for your source code.

WORD, duh (1)

johanatan (1159309) | more than 5 years ago | (#27185575)

WORD with 'track changes' enabled.

why? (3, Insightful)

speedtux (1307149) | more than 5 years ago | (#27185599)

I think any technical writer that isn't scared away by the syntax of LaTeX should be able to master "svn update", and "svn commit". And if that's too much, there are plugins for Windows, Mac, and Linux that integrate Subversion with the normal file browser.

Re:why? (4, Interesting)

caffeinemessiah (918089) | more than 5 years ago | (#27185755)

I think any technical writer that isn't scared away by the syntax of LaTeX should be able to master "svn update", and "svn commit". And if that's too much, there are plugins for Windows, Mac, and Linux that integrate Subversion with the normal file browser.

Exactly. Our lab submitted a collaborative paper that involved five people editing the document. SVN was more than enough for our needs, and all you need is an Apache install running somewhere. It literally was painless because of SVN, just make sure everyone types in descriptive log messages. Bonus: the commit logs can help you determine the order of authors :)

On the frontend, the best SVN clients I've used are TortoiseSVN [tigris.org] for Windows and RapidSVN [tigris.org] for Linux. As I said, couldn't be happier with the setup. IMO, any more functionality is absolutely unnecessary.

Re:why? (1)

internic (453511) | more than 5 years ago | (#27186239)

I believe the submitter is well aware he could use latex with svn, but his whole point was that he was looking for a way to combine version control with some editing software/process more user friendly than latex.

Though I can use latex, even I prefer using Lyx anyway, as I find I can write equations more quickly with fewer errors than directly in latex. (But then, this might be different if I were willing to add the additional task of mastering some vi or emacs derivative like texmacs or auctex.)

wiki first, then convert to LaTeX (5, Insightful)

bcrowell (177657) | more than 5 years ago | (#27186869)

I think any technical writer that isn't scared away by the syntax of LaTeX should be able to master "svn update", and "svn commit".

Well, in any scientific collaboration consisting of more then four people, there's most likely someone senior and crotchety who's stuck in his ways doesn't want to completely change the way he works. You'd also have to build a consensus that svn+latex was the best available solution, and that might not be so easy. I've used svn+latex. It sucked, partly because svn sucks. (Git is a lot better.)

If the goal is to write a scientific paper with a large number of authors, I think the most reasonable thing to do would be to write it in MediaWiki, which is the wiki software used by Wikipedia. In particular, MediaWiki has good support for LaTeX-formatted math. Once all the authors have had a chance to make their edits, and the whole thing has converged to the exact words, punctuation, and math you want, you convert it to LaTeX and you're all set. The conversion is ridiculously easy, because all the math is in LaTeX already, and you can use a script to convert, e.g., ==Procedure== to \section{Procedure}.

One big win with wiki->latex compared to version control+latex is that although it's fairly easy to learn a couple of the most basic commands of a vc system, it's much more difficult to learn to use it well enough to figure out who changed what, resolve conflicting edits, etc. A wiki is designed to do all that using a web interface, which makes it dead easy. To see what I'm talking about, go to a wikipedia article and click on the history history tab.

This is all assuming it's a scientific paper, which just needs to be worked on for a certain amount of time, and then it's published and you're not going to mess with it anymore. There's another interesting situation in academic writing, which is a textbook that's going to be edited on an ongoing basis over the years. That's an example where I think the case for vc+latex is much stronger.

Gobby to the rescue (4, Informative)

Rinisari (521266) | more than 5 years ago | (#27185613)

Gobby [0x539.de] collaborative editor + LaTeX. It would literally be a living document!

Seconded (2, Funny)

PCM2 (4486) | more than 5 years ago | (#27185887)

While many prefer his Fantastic Four or the later Fourth World stuff for DC, I think Jack Kirby's early work on the Marvel monster books ranks among his most enjoyable. "Gobby, the Living Document" is a personal favorite -- although "Memo from Vornu" and "I Conference Called Zimvaxx" are also fine examples.

Re:Gobby to the rescue (Yes, this is Offtopic) (0, Offtopic)

causality (777677) | more than 5 years ago | (#27186035)

Gobby [0x539.de] collaborative editor + LaTeX. It would literally be a living document!

It would be what dishonest people keep trying to turn the Constitution into in order to justify their desire for state power?

I know that isn't what you were getting at. I'm being somewhat facetious but I do have a point.

Technical... (1)

canistel (1103079) | more than 5 years ago | (#27185627)

Technical writers shouldn't have a problem using technical tools, no?

Re:Technical... (1)

Ninnle Labs, LLC (1486095) | more than 5 years ago | (#27185649)

Sure, but that's not what he was asking about. To quote the summary:

Is there a way to combine the power of LaTeX with the power of Subversion without scaring off a non-technical writer?

Re:Technical... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27185731)

If they're scared off by SVN+LaTeX, wouldn't just LaTeX be almost as scary?

Re:Technical... (1)

canistel (1103079) | more than 5 years ago | (#27185741)

Yes, but my suggestion is that the summary is confused... first the statement that these are academic people, then the fact that they are either already using latex or he is suggesting that they use latex. Quite frankly, if they can handle latex, they can surely handle the concept of revision control and something like "hg commit", "hg push" etc.

Re:Technical... (1)

sunking2 (521698) | more than 5 years ago | (#27185809)

You seem to be confused by equating academic people with technical. I suspect that the majority of academia would throw there hands up in frustration if presented with LaTeX and go back to Word. Which is probably the right choice for them.

Re:Technical... (1)

morgauo (1303341) | more than 5 years ago | (#27186117)

That's probably what they would do. But why isn't openoffice a better choice?

Re:Technical... (1)

Ninnle Labs, LLC (1486095) | more than 5 years ago | (#27186861)

But why isn't openoffice a better choice?

Because it's a piece of shit?

Re:Technical... (1)

RockClimbingFool (692426) | more than 5 years ago | (#27186127)

I would really like to hear your distinction between academic and technical people.

Re:Technical... (1)

jakykong (1474957) | more than 5 years ago | (#27186563)

Aristotle. Very academic, I would say. He, uh, couldn't have been technical.

I also had a philosophy teacher last year who had a difficult time understanding the concept of a loop. Linux was mysterious to him. Philosophy is a very academic field, I would say. So it's a fine example of the difference between the academically inclined and the technically inclined.

Hope it helps!

Re:Technical... (2, Informative)

hazem (472289) | more than 5 years ago | (#27186739)

I would really like to hear your distinction between academic and technical people.

When I was in school, I didn't leave the engineering building much. But my understanding is that there were other buildings at the school where people studied non-technical things like business, English, political science, and communications.

I even heard rumors that there were even women in those buildings, but I was not prone to falling for such wild claims. /s

Seriously, once you get out of math, engineering, and physical science disciplines, "latex" is what condoms are made of and "La-Tech" would be a French computer company. At the school I worked in, most of the engineering profs were happy using word. Only one was a serious LaTeX user (and he was definitely "technical"... he used to write liquification simulations in post-script and send them to be processed by the printer because its postscript engine was faster at floating point math and vectors than his 386 with math coprocessor!).

Re:Technical... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27186725)

I'm glad someone said this. My dissertation supervisor (in German Studies) wrote a hands-on guide for graduate students at the university I attended. It said that if your computer wasn't capable of running whatever the most current version of MS Word was then you should UPGRADE IMMEDIATELY (yes, she had caps lock on).

I wrote it using Word 97 just to spite her. ;-)

LyX (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27185667)

has integrated rcs and cvs. Does your project really require svn specifically as its version control system?

Meh (1)

mac1235 (962716) | more than 5 years ago | (#27185677)

You're gonna have to write it yourself..

Does anyone do this right? (2, Funny)

olddotter (638430) | more than 5 years ago | (#27185691)

I refused to learn latex when I was in academia. I am shocked it is still around. But the apps I saw that might have replaced it are probably either too pricey or long dead these days. I remember writing my thesis is Word and I had to reboot the PC after every major format change to free up memory. (Days when 8MB as a lot of memory.)

Seems like someone could write a good gui to support latex and subversion or git.

Re:Does anyone do this right? (5, Insightful)

skelterjohn (1389343) | more than 5 years ago | (#27186123)

I refused to learn latex when I was in academia. I am shocked it is still around. But the apps I saw that might have replaced it are probably either too pricey or long dead these days. I remember writing my thesis is Word and I had to reboot the PC after every major format change to free up memory. (Days when 8MB as a lot of memory.)

Or you could have just learned latex and saved yourself the hassle.

Re:Does anyone do this right? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27186413)

There is at least a good GUI that supports LaTeX: Kile (http://kile.sourceforge.net/). It doesn't have the subversion/git bits, but it has an embedded konsole window ;)

Re:Does anyone do this right? (1)

mochan_s (536939) | more than 5 years ago | (#27186947)

I refused to learn latex when I was in academia ... I remember writing my thesis is Word

There is always one like you. But, then they try to write it Word and become evangelists at using latex over Word.

Maybe you got through because your thesis didn't require much mathematical equations.

I just want to be in the meeting... (5, Funny)

The Ultimate Fartkno (756456) | more than 5 years ago | (#27185703)

...when you stand up and announce "What this group needs is some latex subversion. Excuse me while I whip this out..."

Re:I just want to be in the meeting... (1)

vistic (556838) | more than 5 years ago | (#27186029)

That's not so bad though if you pronounce LaTeX correctly. ("Lay-tech")

Re:I just want to be in the meeting... (1)

Nixoloco (675549) | more than 5 years ago | (#27186457)

It's also pronounced "Lah-Tech".

Lyx supports subversion! (2)

itayperl (1340879) | more than 5 years ago | (#27185739)

Yeah, it does.

Re:Lyx supports subversion! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27186577)

Yes, Lyx does support Subversion. Per the LyX Wiki:
"Subversion (SVN) support for version control handling

Pavel Sanda sanitized the current VCS handling and added support for svn, so basic operations like update/commit/log/new files adding work. Please refer to the Extended manual for further information."

Now, explain why when you say "However, this doesn't seem available," we should believe you actually did any research around any of this? This took less than 5 minutes on the LyX sites.

Abstracting the substance from the content (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27185797)

Ummm ... isn't substance the same as content?

We know what was meant but it isn't what was said.

The standard? (4, Insightful)

DarthBobo (152187) | more than 5 years ago | (#27185821)

In 10 years of research in the biomedical field I have never actually seen anyone use LaTex. Perhaps it is the standard in engineering & CS or other fields where researchers use Unix on their workstations, but Word and EndNote remain the lingua franca elsewhere.

Re:The standard? (3, Interesting)

dumb_jedi (955432) | more than 5 years ago | (#27185875)

Funny thing is, if one uses the styles in Word correctly, you get a WYSIWYM editor, just never, EVER touch the bold, italic, underscore button. And the sad thing is it's much, much easier to do this in word 2000 then in newer versions.

Warning: Microsoft bashing below

Micro$oft is so bad, that when its software works, they break it on the next version! ;-)

Re:The standard? (0, Troll)

jsiren (886858) | more than 5 years ago | (#27186621)

Funny thing is, if one uses the styles in Word correctly, you get a WYSIWYM editor, just never, EVER touch the bold, italic, underscore button.

Right. And I've never, ever seen anybody use the styles in Word correctly. I don't know why, but a great majority of people seem to use Word even worse than if it were a typewriter and a sheet of paper. The logic seems to be something like this:

For vertical space, press Enter. For page break, press Enter many times. For horizontal space, press space bar. For lots of horizontal space, press Tab. To make a heading, press the B button and find the right spot with the space bar. To make a table of contents, type each heading here, then a long string of points, then the page number. Remember to update each page number if you add or delete stuff in between. That box says something about styles, it's complicated, just leave it as it is.

Re:The standard? (2, Insightful)

DragonWriter (970822) | more than 5 years ago | (#27186907)

Funny thing is, if one uses the styles in Word correctly, you get a WYSIWYM editor, just never, EVER touch the bold, italic, underscore button. And the sad thing is it's much, much easier to do this in word 2000 then in newer versions.

Personally, I find it much easier to do it Word 2003 and later than in older versions, since they have fairly well designed "click and go" style application with visual preview, which puts the structured way more on par with the seductive, but ultimately evil, appearance-oriented unstructured way.

But as long as its not much easier to do it the structured way, and to see that it was done that way, almost everyone is going to do it the unstructured way with Word, and the few people who want it right are going to be fighting a losing battle. Which, really, means that as long as its WYSIWYG-focussed, structure won't be the preferred mechanism.

Re:The standard? (1)

alukin (184606) | more than 5 years ago | (#27186007)

The worst thing with word as standard is proprietary binary format. You guys are pushing other people to buy or steal this product.

Re:The standard? (1)

CXI (46706) | more than 5 years ago | (#27186175)

That's no longer an issue in MS Office 2007, and the collaboration features work between MS Office 2007 and Open Office.

Re:The standard? (2, Informative)

vistic (556838) | more than 5 years ago | (#27186085)

Could be... I had to learn LaTeX about 5 minutes after I started studying CS.

It was really good for creating legible formulas. I think Microsoft has a Formula Editor but it still looks pretty poor compared to LaTeX. I started to do all of my math and science homeworks in LaTeX because it actually ended up being more convenient (I also didn't need to copy and paste from Character Map).

There are a few programs out there (at least for Mac OS X) that let you just type in a formula in LaTeX format real quick and get a small little PDF or PNG that you can embed here and there.

Re:The standard? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27186125)

1. In my experience it is used, where one needs to set mathematic formulas.

2. If you want to control your documents, then Word is no alternative. I have seen horrible things with binary formats, and heard the howling of users, that lost their work. A text file cannot be corrupted under misterious circumstances. If a LaTeX document compiles once, then it will also the other day.

3. LaTeX is not for Unix only, but also comes for Windows, very comfortably as MikTeX. TeXnicCenter is a very good LaTeX editor in Windows.

Re:The standard? (4, Informative)

Scott Ransom (6419) | more than 5 years ago | (#27186173)

LaTeX is certainly the standard in physics and astronomy. Of course your point about Unix workstations is correct, as most physics, CS-types, and astronomers use Unix/Linux all the time.

Re:The standard? (1)

Reverend528 (585549) | more than 5 years ago | (#27186187)

It's the standard anywhere that complex mathematical formulas need to be expressed.

Is LaTeX worth it for humanities/soc. sciences? (2, Interesting)

langelgjm (860756) | more than 5 years ago | (#27186289)

So TFS appears to think that "academic writing" excludes the humanities and other disciplines that don't often find the need to include equations in their writing.

In any case, is LaTeX worth the learning curve for these disciplines? I recently wrote a 40 pg. paper in Word, using a good template and styles, I didn't run into any formatting issues, and when converted to PDF it looks nice. I liked being able to create the table of contents automatically.

Facing the prospect of only having longish things to write from this point on, I'm wondering if I should take the time to learn LaTeX now. On the other hand, if I do that, am I giving up being able to easily send drafts to other people for review? What about reference management with stuff like Zotero?

Re:Is LaTeX worth it for humanities/soc. sciences? (1)

DeadDecoy (877617) | more than 5 years ago | (#27186531)

I find the Biomedical disciplines also fall into that area. A lot of those people don't or wouldn't use LaTeX either. LaTeX is worthwhile to learn, but getting people to review and edit an electronic copy of the document probably won't be fun.

Re:Is LaTeX worth it for humanities/soc. sciences? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27186561)

I'd say it's not worth learning. If you're dealing with straight text, footnotes, and a heading every now and then, it's easy to manage with styles in Word. You can send your colleagues PDFs, but they will most likely expect a Word doc if any collaboration is involved. I've noticed that academics in the humanities preparing documents for publication are fond of using "Track Changes."

Since you're going to be writing longer things, I will, however, caution against using master and sub-documents. They sound like a great idea, but they are far more trouble than they're worth. Better to just use individual files for big chunks, like thesis chapters, and merge them when you're preparing to submit.

Zotero's a nice tool. I hear good things too about RefWorks.

Re:Is LaTeX worth it for humanities/soc. sciences? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27186749)

Scientific writing is academic.

Humanities writing is masturbation.

Biomedicine falls in between, into the raping the souls of the sick for money gap.

Re:Is LaTeX worth it for humanities/soc. sciences? (1)

Friend of Nature (1245372) | more than 5 years ago | (#27186833)

In fact, all they would need to learn is to replace "my wonderful text here" with their text in a text file containing

\documentclass{article}
\begin{document}

<my wonderful text here>

\end{document}

and to remember to enclose the section headings in \section{ }. that's it!

Re:The standard? (1)

fearofcarpet (654438) | more than 5 years ago | (#27186291)

Ditto for chemistry. In fact proposals and manuscripts had to be submitted in MS Word format until fairly recently; ACS, Wiley, RSC, AAAS, and Nature all accept manuscripts as MS Word + EndNote.

As for the question at hand--is it really that hard to break a paper up in to sections and recombine them before you submit the manuscript? That's how we've always written reviews, multi-PI proposals, and long papers and it works fine. Is there really ever a case where ten people need to make changes to the same paragraph?

"LaTeX is pretty much the standard in academic writing"? In my ten years as an academic researcher I have never met anyone that uses it and only a handful that have even heard of it. At least the author didn't write "Recently LaTeX has attracted much attention as a tool for writing scientific papers". And the word "novel" isn't in the title.

Re:The standard? (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27186365)

"LaTeX is pretty much the standard in academic writing"? In my ten years as an academic researcher I have never met anyone that uses it and only a handful that have even heard of it.

Really? So in ten years as an academic researcher you have never met a physicist or mathematician?

Re:The standard? (1)

berend botje (1401731) | more than 5 years ago | (#27186609)

And obviously he never met an astronomer or computer scientist either.

(La-)Tex is the de facto standard for documents in those fields. For long reports and for one-page flyers. Everything is TeX.

Re:The standard? (1)

DeadDecoy (877617) | more than 5 years ago | (#27186479)

I find the trouble with latex is that it doesn't lend itself well to peer-editing. The editable usually contains a bit of markup and requires that it be read in some plain text editor (and most lay people would probably get lost in the markup). The readable source, or the stuff which most efficiently conveys information, is usually in an un-editable format like pdf or gs. Sure, there probably are pdf and gs editors out there, but most people don't have them, nor would they be willing to pick it up just for your document. So, sadly I'm stuck with WISIWYG editors because I have to work with other people. Maybe after the revision phase I can just cut-and-paste it into a LaTeX doc, but, it's not much of an option for developing a draft.

Re:The standard? (1)

Friend of Nature (1245372) | more than 5 years ago | (#27186971)

Three solutions to this problem:
1. Use a latex editor that allows for clicking on the pdf to find the corresponding position in the source file and the converse (Texshop does this on the mac).

2. Use LyX, and export to latex if you have to.

3. Writing in latex for a while you will quickly be able to read the code without looking at the compiled pdf :)

Re:The standard? (1)

hairykrishna (740240) | more than 5 years ago | (#27186655)

I work in radiobiology; I'm essentially a physicist who works with biologists and clinical types. All of the physicists, without exception, use LaTeX. All of the clinical people and biologists use Word with EndNote.

Emacs wins again (4, Informative)

Eponymous Bastard (1143615) | more than 5 years ago | (#27185841)

Try out M-x make-frame-on-display

True interactive collaborative editing with all the Emacs tools for version control, TeX editing and everything else.

(Don't blame me, I found out about it here on slashdot)

\include{vqvbg01.tex} (3, Informative)

bugi (8479) | more than 5 years ago | (#27185851)

Latex has an \include statement, so split the sections up into separate files, so they don't have to deal with conflicts. That'll simplify svn usage quite a bit, at least until they start editing others' text, at which point you have bigger problems to worry about.

If they still can't handle it, then have them dedicate part of their funding to adding revision control to lyx.

Re:\include{vqvbg01.tex} (1)

paulmilliken (1500069) | more than 5 years ago | (#27186089)

Similarly, the \input command allows a content from another file to be included in a latex document. This way, individuals can work on different sections without the need for version control.

Uhh, Latex is easy (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27185863)

Honestly Latex is pretty simple. I'm not sure what you mean by Learning Curve. the first time I ever used it, I had an entire mathematical document complete with all the symbols you can imagine formatted perfectly in practically no time, just from looking at online tutorials and use of google.

Use SVN as a DAV share. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27185871)

If you want to hide SVN, you can set it up as a DAV server and every file save results in a commit to the SVN repository.

Lyx and Version Control (4, Insightful)

internic (453511) | more than 5 years ago | (#27185901)

I use LyX to write my LaTeX docs, and it has some support for using version control [ligwww.epfl.ch] (using some version control software called RCS). I haven't tried it yet, but I've been tempted.

Thus far, I've been in the position where I just write most of my contribution in Lyx, then export it to plain Latex and sent it to collaborators. From there we just do the collaboration in plain Latex. The problem for me hasn't been the lack of version control but rather the ability/willingness of collaborators to all use LyX. Now, one can import LaTeX into Lyx, but if you do a closed loop (write -> export -> import again) you'll find things are not quite as nice in the end, so this hasn't seemed to be an optimal solution.

As for people saying that technical writers ought to be able to use technical software: A) in many cases it's a question of willingness to commit the time, not ability and B) just because you're technically knowledgeable in, say, cosmological physics, doesn't mean you're adept with computers. ...trust me on this one.

Re:Lyx and Version Control (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27186143)

RCS is a Lock based version control (at least from my experience with it in College)

All you can do is "Lock" and "Unlock" the file, so only one person can edit it at a time. Not really great if you've got 3 people trying to edit different sections of the same document at the same time.

SVN would be nicer because it's got the ability to branch/merge.

Re:Lyx and Version Control (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27186197)

it has some support for using version control [ligwww.epfl.ch] (using some version control software called RCS). I haven't tried it yet, but I've been tempted.

Trust me, there is nothing tempting about using RCS.

WebDAV (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27185943)

Isn't this the purpose of http://www.webdav.org/?

LaTex+SVN is good (1)

fermion (181285) | more than 5 years ago | (#27185955)

In principle this is what I do with my writing. I use this method to not to collaborate, but to back up my files and keep them synchronized between machines.

The find the learning curve of SVN is setting up the repository and then checking out the initial documents. The GUI, on the mac use svnX, helps out with this initial step, and anyone who can muster LaTex should be able to work with something like it. Also, there are context menu options available.

What really made things simple for me, on a day to day basis, was a shell script I wrote to automatically update my local versions from the repository. It is quick and dirty, but keeps my files up to date. For a collaborative effort, this is not what the best solution, I only include it to say that there are some things that can make SVN much more accessible. Although I do program, I never really had anyone teach me SVN, and worked out the mechanics as I needed.

I would also suggest that if the writing were divided into small sections that were then included in the larger document, then the issue of merging might be minimized. This would also maximize the insure that the collaborative writers were not changing the overall formating.

LaTeX (pronounced "I am better than you") (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27185967)

Whenever a scientist tells me how much "prettier" LaTeX looks I am usually able to hold in my chuckle at how gay they sound. I appease them with a look of awe so that they feel the sense of achievement they were hoping LaTeX would provide. I wonder if I am not the only one to humor LaTeX users and this is the reason they are so proud of themselves and feel the need to evangelize.

LaTeX + svn works pretty well, actually. (1)

Bob Hearn (61879) | more than 5 years ago | (#27185973)

I've been using LaTeX with subversion for collaboration for years. The LaTeX learning curve is much more an issue than the subversion learning curve.

But if the issue arises at all -- that means you are collaborating, and hopefully somebody in the group knows how to use LaTeX. And that's the best way to learn LaTeX.

There's an online alternative... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27185983)

Try http://monkeytex.bradcater.webfactional.com.

It's a side project, but it does some simple things.

Mediawiki with LaTeX support (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27186023)

What about Mediawiki with LaTeX formula support for writing? After completion the text could be converted to a LaTeX document.

EMACS OF COURSE! (0, Redundant)

Giant Electronic Bra (1229876) | more than 5 years ago | (#27186057)

Wow, as if someone had to ask. All you gotta do is...

what about docbook (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27186061)

what about DOCBOOK. It is a XML based structure that is easy to integrate in SVN. And it is designed to split content from presentation...

unfortunately, good docbooks editors are expensive, like xmlspy. however, this worth a look.

Re:what about docbook (1)

Jason Earl (1894) | more than 5 years ago | (#27186585)

My experience is that Docbook is much harder for mortals to use than LaTeX. You can create good looking documents with LaTeX with very little markup, that's not really the case with Docbook. Worse, if you want to produce print-ready PDFs you'll probably have to much around with TeX anyhow. Creating HTML is easy, any markup language should allow you to do that, creating print-ready PDFs is much harder.

As an added bonus with Docbook you have the pleasure of making sure that your files are XML compliant.

Sure, a tool like xmlspy (or Emacs with nxml-mode) can help generate the file, but there are plenty of tools for generating LaTeX as well.

The only reason to mess with Docbook is if your publisher wants Docbook. Even then you probably should consider generating the Docbook output from a simpler source (say restructured text).

Re:what about docbook (1)

berend botje (1401731) | more than 5 years ago | (#27186633)

XML is to be written and read by computers. Not by human beings.

Easy solution (1, Informative)

digitalhermit (113459) | more than 5 years ago | (#27186065)

The way I'd tackle this is to setup a central server then install screen. Have each collaborator share the same screen session. That way, every one can collaborate on the same document in real time. The obvious advantage of this is that the fastest typists, which are generally the more experienced coders, will have the best chance of getting edits in place. To tackle the code versioning issue, alias the vi session to something like "cvs commit xxxx". So anytime someone edits a file, it will commit it to CVS.

This is agile development at its finest.

make it web based (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27186093)

svn and latex usage both are actually pretty easy, but the installation and configuration can be a pain in the *ss

the idea of google docs supporting latex is good.
maybe there is another web based colaborative editor who would support this? opengoo i.e.

Use git, not Subversion (4, Informative)

Antique Geekmeister (740220) | more than 5 years ago | (#27186105)

Subversion is awful for detached work: it must speak to the server to record changes. CVS is no better. git could work, since each person's local copy is a full working repository. It is also terrible about allowing you to flush accidentally recorded debris, or out-of-date branches that have had their files copied elsewhere. It is also about tracking changes from another repository, with their history. Frankly, Subversion needs to be entirely discarded except for those few projects that are like CVS and where the master server is critical for the 'trunk' codeline.

we've tried a few of these... (3, Informative)

localoptimum (993261) | more than 5 years ago | (#27186167)

Google docs is fine until you start dealing with anything different to a Mail on Sunday article. Forget equations and figures. And if google goes down like it has the last few weeks...

Apple's new web based system is alright for footnotes and things, and for comments, but for serious collaboration with merging different versions and edits, then you can forget it. (If someone from apple reads this, please add gawdamn ODF support to pages for the love of all things sacred).

I still end up using latex to render equations and slap them into the document as a tiff file. And last time I used pages to collaborate with M$ office users it messed up the footnote marks for institute addresses and I ended up installing the mac version of office anyway :S So lets rule out apple for the time being.

Lyx didn't support the styles and bibliography for the physics journals I was writing for last summer (phys rev, elsevier). Lyx is not a bad idea, is it ready?

Microsoft word + equations = hell on earth. And having just lost 2 weeks of my life dealing with micro$oft's APIs, circular help systems and automatic updates every 3 minutes, I threw the thing straight back at IT and vowed never to go there again. Someone else might be able to tell you how good the M$ online collaboration tools are, but it won't be me! ;-)

If your collaborators are like mine, they want to see a return to fortran and VMS. My current line of thinking is to try to coerce them into using latex instead of m$ word, and volunteer to be version control. Then use something like git on your own machine to merge all the different branches as they e-mail their changes back to you. For me it's the lesser of all evils.

When you actually come to submit you'll still have to jump through hoops to please the journal editors with figure file formats and stuff ("we want 4 gigs of EPS files please author") but the process of collaborating on the authorship will be a damn sight easier.

Good article subject though. You've hit on a topic that has been in my mind for the last few months too (sorry about the long reply!)

Re:we've tried a few of these... (1)

stevenj (9583) | more than 5 years ago | (#27186937)

LyX has built-in templates for RevTeX, so it works well with most physics journals. I occasionally run into a journal that uses a custom non-RevTeX stylesheet not supported by LyX, but it's always possible to get it to work with LyX. The easiest thing is to just format it for the journal at the very end, right before submission, by exporting LyX to LaTeX and then switching it over to the new style file (and any minor changes that requires). (It's also not too hard to write a new LyX template to use a new stylesheet if you want to do everything in LyX.)

at one time or at the same time (3, Insightful)

Councilor Hart (673770) | more than 5 years ago | (#27186169)

Do you have to work on the document at the same time, or do you mean something like track changes?

mediawiki + latex extension (1)

pasde (657790) | more than 5 years ago | (#27186207)

mediawiki [mediawiki.org] + Tex extension [wikimedia.org] . We use it at work and its just great. Along with some graphiz [mediawiki.org] support for, well, graphs!

Use AbiWord (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27186257)

You can make things even easier by using AbiWord [abisource.com] , the multi-platform word processor.

AbiWord has a collaboration plug-in [abisource.com] that allows multiple authors to simultaneously work on a document. It also has a LaTeX exporter that will preserve most formatting and document elements, including MathML equations (which are converted to LaTeX ones during export [abisource.com] ). You could also save in OpenDocument format, open the .odt file in OpenOffice, and then use its LaTeX exporter [desktoplinux.com] , if you find that its LaTeX output is better.

Either way, you should be able to handle collaboration and LaTeX export with easy-to-use, open source word processors instead of (potentially) confusing tools.

Perhaps LaTeXiT? (3, Informative)

angrytuna (599871) | more than 5 years ago | (#27186265)

What kind of LaTEX do you need to be writing? If it's just mathematics, and you're on linux or osx, you may want to consider LaTeXiT [ktd.club.fr] . It renders equations to pdf and image formats, one of which I know for sure you can embed in a google document. It also lets you maintain libraries of equations, so you can modify them later.

I used it recently, in conjunction with Apple keynote [apple.com] for the Mac. It was far easier to deal with just the math LaTEX subset [wikibooks.org] , and only at points where I needed it. I imagine a non-technical audience may agree.

Laequed [thrysoee.dk] purports to do something similar for windows. Haven't tried it myself.

webapps (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27186275)

In fact the most important part of the problem is to make your co-authors use whichever system you use (install latex for the start, then subversion then learn how to put them together.. people prefer just print out your draft and supply comments with pen). So far I think best solution is to use web-apps. There are at least two usable: http://monkeytex.bradcater.webfactional.com and latexlab.org. They're not perfect of course, so I mainly tend to just use etherpad. Miss synax highlithing though....

latexdiff (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27186359)

there is a tool called latexdiff it is pretty good in showing the difference between two latex files

english is dead (2, Funny)

mtrachtenberg (67780) | more than 5 years ago | (#27186367)

The post reads: "By abstracting out the substance from the content, it becomes possible to focus heavily on the writing..."

Abstracting out the substance from the content?

You're one of those humanities folks, aren't you?

edukalibre (1)

sTeF (8952) | more than 5 years ago | (#27186519)

check out edukalibre [freshmeat.net] .

Hughes Is DEAD WRONG: (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27186571)

"Despite its learning curve, LaTeX is pretty much the standard in academic writing."

Wrong. It may be standard in the physical sciences and
math; however, in the social sciences, Microsoft Word is used by many.

Yours in SOCIALISM,
Kilgore Trout

Re:Hughes Is DEAD WRONG: (1)

Jason Earl (1894) | more than 5 years ago | (#27186765)

Translation: you aren't a real scientist if you aren't using LaTeX. :)

MarkDown + post processor (1)

PopularEthics (717707) | more than 5 years ago | (#27186605)

It seems to me markdown (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Markdown) has a much shallower learning curve than latex, and it is already supported by several wiki systems. All you would need was a html -> printed page post-processor, which may already exist.

Laboratree (1)

smoondog (85133) | more than 5 years ago | (#27186687)

You might try Laboratree (http://laboratree.org/) [laboratree.org] . We have built a social networking platform off of OpenSocial and created a document and data set management tool that has Subversion like editing. It is used by a couple of hundred groups currently.

Svn has track changes (1)

Friend of Nature (1245372) | more than 5 years ago | (#27186703)

Lyx has a track changes function, very similar to that of Word. Personally, I find that tracking changes quickly results in a very cluttered document. I prefer to use svn in combination with a different diff program, wdiff, that can identify differences word-by-word (and also allows for ignoring changes in white space, which are usually irrelevant for latex).

I use a shell script where i type

tex_diff.sh <old file> <new file> > result.html

to create an html page where the differences are marked (blue for new words, strike over red for deleted words). The file result.html can be viewed in a standard html browser (e.g. then one you are using right now :)). the tex_diff.sh contain (on a single line)

wdiff --start-delete='<font color=red>' --end-delete='</font>' --start-insert='<font color=blue>' --end-insert='</font>' $1 $2 | sed -e '1,2 d;s/$/<br>/'

change the font commands using basic html if you prefer a different style. it is also possible to use wdiff to show only new text.

simplify (1)

sbeckstead (555647) | more than 5 years ago | (#27186741)

Drop the draconian, complicated, unnecessarily obscure and often merely arbitrary academic bullshit formatting necessities and write the damn things with open office. Save the world a few million hours of real time so the students/researchers can actually be productive rather than merely busy.

Lighter formats (ReStructured Text, et al.) (1)

DragonWriter (970822) | more than 5 years ago | (#27186821)

Much of the complexity of LaTeX can be abstracted away in lighter text-based formats that are compiled to LaTeX to produce print-destined output (ReStructured Text, used in python Docutils, is one example.) If you are concerned about the combined complexity of LaTeX + version control, that could help reduce the overall complexity.

gitit (2, Interesting)

j1m+5n0w (749199) | more than 5 years ago | (#27186885)

Main site [github.com]

Demo site [johnmacfarlane.net]

Gitit is a wiki that uses a git repository as a backend and exports to LaTeX. I haven't used it myself, and I expect you'll have to do a bit of hand-editing of the generated LaTeX to match whatever template you're using, but it might be worth looking into.

Wiki + LaTeX (1)

FLoWCTRL (20442) | more than 5 years ago | (#27186959)

Wikis are designed for collaborative writing, and many if not most support version control. I don't know of any that support LaTeX (with rendering), but I would think that it could be added to something like MediaWiki.

I came across a Wordpress plugin that apparently renders LaTeX:

http://wordpress.org/extend/plugins/easy-latex/

Perhaps it's code could be adopted for a wiki. Of course, the user would still have to know LaTeX, but they could copy and paste from their favorite GUI LaTeX editor.

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