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Collaborative LaTeX Editor With Preview In Your Web Browser

timothy posted about a year and a half ago | from the but-office-365-is-there-for-you dept.

Cloud 99

Celarent Darii writes "Slashdot readers have undoubtedly heard of Google Docs and the many other online word processing solutions that run in the browser. However, as a long-time user of TeX and LaTeX, these solutions are not my favorite way of doing things. Wouldn't it be nice to TeX something in your browser? Well, look no further, there is now an online collaborative LaTeX editor with integrated rapid preview. Some fantastic features: quasi-instant preview, automatic versioning of source, easy collaboration and you can even upload files and pictures. Download your project later when you get home. Are you a TeX guru with some masterpieces? Might I suggest uploading them? For the beginner: you can start here."

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99 comments

First (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42898433)

Post!

Re:First (3, Funny)

show me altoids (1183399) | about a year and a half ago | (#42898807)

I'm allergic to it, so I use sheepskin instead.

Asshole (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42899025)

Please finger my asshole while I jack off. You make me so horny.

Try LyX! (4, Informative)

gatzke (2977) | about a year and a half ago | (#42898503)

LyX is a great free cross-platform document processor that uses LaTeX on the back end for export.

Not exactly WYSIWYG, but close enough. You export to PS or PDF as needed.

You can see basically what your equations look like while editing before you tex it. You can still use normal LaTeX commands too, but anyone with basic Word experience can jump right in.

I have used it for tons of things for over a decade now.

Re:Try LyX! (3, Informative)

WillAdams (45638) | about a year and a half ago | (#42899021)

Agreed.

LyX is the most innovative opensource tool I've found yet, and one of the most effective --- the book manuscripts which I get which are submitted by LyX users are the cleanest, and most straight-forward, making for the most profitable typesetting jobs.

I really wish that there were a similar vector graphics tool --- I want something which is parametric and shows both drawn vector and under-lying code and which allows one to edit either representation.

Re:Try LyX! (2)

gatzke (2977) | about a year and a half ago | (#42899589)

I use tgif for vector graphics editing fairly well.

I have managed to get a couple of scripts to automatically run that let me have WYSIWYG type 1 eps equations in tgif. Click on the equation object in LyX, edit, save and close, the lyx file is dumped to ps then eps and pulled into tgif.

I have even gotten that to work on a cygwin PC too.

Re:Try LyX! (2)

lannocc (568669) | about a year and a half ago | (#42900371)

I want something which is parametric and shows both drawn vector and under-lying code and which allows one to edit either representation.

Agreed! all sophisticated GUI applications should operate in a sort of "CAD" mode, where GUI actions are displayed as commands and vice-versa.

Re:Try LyX! (2)

Celarent Darii (1561999) | about a year and a half ago | (#42901105)

Actually AutoCAD has an integrated lisp interpreter, so you could load Visual Lisp files and edit the source and see the output. There might be other programs like this elsewhere, but I know AutoCad let's you do this. There are lots of Visual Lisp files on the net.

You could also use emacs to do some drawing in SVG [w3.org] format, rendering it using the Emacs SVG mode [emacswiki.org] . You could also write it all in elisp and use an s-expression to xml conversion script in an auto-revert buffer. Whether you would want to do that is of course a wholly different matter.

Re:Try LyX! (1)

WillAdams (45638) | about a year and a half ago | (#42909817)

The AutoCAD angle is interesting --- since I've just gotten a Shapeoko CNC mill up and running, I'll have to look into it --- are there any opensource CAD programs which would work thus?

Emacs won't work for me, I prefer a stylus over a keyboard, and what I really want is the ability to draw w/ the stylus and tweak the dimensions using numbers at need.

opensource parametric CAD (1)

WillAdams (45638) | about a year and a half ago | (#42910375)

Looked around a bit and found FreeCAD, so will have to try that.

William

Re:opensource parametric CAD (1)

Celarent Darii (1561999) | about a year and a half ago | (#42915515)

For a CNC machine, you probably want more of a 3D modeling system, namely something more on the lines of BRL-CAD [brlcad.org] . There is lot of documentation out there for BRL-CAD as it's been around for awhile. FreeCAD is more for drawings, but still a good program.

Re:Try LyX! (1)

Celarent Darii (1561999) | about a year and a half ago | (#42915767)

For SVG, you can use Sketsa [kiyut.com] (not free unfortunately), or for just minor stuff in a browser window: svg-edit [googlecode.com] .

Re:Try LyX! (1)

GameboyRMH (1153867) | about a year and a half ago | (#42899063)

Oooh handy! I was just trying to figure out how I'd get some people at my company to face the terrifying interface of LaTeX (seriously, it looks like an IDE). This could be very helpful.

Re:Try LyX! (2)

frisket (149522) | about a year and a half ago | (#42903559)

Oooh handy! I was just trying to figure out how I'd get some people at my company to face the terrifying interface of LaTeX (seriously, it looks like an IDE)

That's basically what it is: an IDE for creating PDFs.

Re:Try LyX! (1)

richtopia (924742) | about a year and a half ago | (#42899157)

I'm writing my thesis in LyX as I post, and it is a very good option for writing a technical paper. However, the posted article is dealing with collaboration tools, which is something the LyX team has been striving for (it tracks changes currently), but is still lacking. When the installation requires MikTex or Texlive it is a large program and difficult to encourage new users to join in.

Re:Try LyX! (1)

gatzke (2977) | about a year and a half ago | (#42899655)

The windows installer installs and configures it all automatically, so you don't have to worry with the LaTeX stuff. I think Mac is similar, just click to install. Linux variants generally install LaTeX with ease for most distributions.

LyX has had version control for a long time. CVS was standard years ago, I think they are open to various version control now. It may not be multi-user simultaneous edits, but many version control systems will sort out non-conflicting edits.

Re:Try LyX! (5, Insightful)

manicb (1633645) | about a year and a half ago | (#42899949)

For me LyX was "LaTeX with training wheels"; after about a year of LyX I've moved to pure LaTeX for more complex functionality. However, I found LaTeX far less intimidating that it might have been as I was already familiar with the concepts and with the names of most functions.

Where it really excels though is in the well-thought-out system of keyboard shortcuts. I used it in the final year of my degree to take down lecture notes, including equations and derivations, and found I was generally able to keep up with a blackboard. Try that with Equation Editor!

Re:Try LyX! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42902251)

What's a blackboard...?

Re:Try LyX! (1)

Celarent Darii (1561999) | about a year and a half ago | (#42899953)

Yes, LyX is a great tool. But when you travel, you don't always have the possibility (company computer without the program installed for example), but this works through the web so if you have a web connection you can at least get something done. I wouldn't leave a project on this website, but you can always download and keep the source on your computer when you get home and use whatever you want with it later.

Plus the collaboration tools aren't in LyX yet (though they will be in the near future supposedly).

For every situation there is the right tool. More tools in your box, the more you can do.

Re:Try LyX! (1)

islisis (589694) | about a year and a half ago | (#42906723)

The use of keyboard shortcuts in Lyx is amazing. Not to mention intuitive response with WYSIWYM [wikipedia.org] . The problem, apart from familiarity among researchers, is making it _exactly_ what you mean, which will never beat plain text - but no reason why it can't come close enough (Lyx is mainly backward compatible with latex after all). This would beat the standard of using wikis for building documentation for sure.

Re:Try LyX! (1)

SwedishPenguin (1035756) | about a year and a half ago | (#42930243)

It's an interesting tool, but I've always been somewhat skeptical of tools that write the code for me, especially when collaborating with someone else who may not be using the same tool. There's also the issue of using the templates provided by e.g. conferences, how does that work?

Re:Try LyX! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42930589)

LyX exports normal tex. In some cases I would edit, export to tex, then edit the headers for the given class file. You can make a LyX layout file so the custom class is supported. I got our thesis format running that way, then you can export directly to pdf.

The editing is an issue. LyX will import tex, but it does not follow everything. Worst case you import and get "evil red text" which is how it represents chunks of native latex.

The source files are plain text as well, so you can do fun stuff there (grep, scripts) and it supports comand line processing.

Awesome (3, Interesting)

cryptizard (2629853) | about a year and a half ago | (#42898539)

Most exciting thing I've seen all day! Right now I use a subversion repository to collaborate with my coauthors, but my advisor isn't very technical and can't seem to figure it out half the time. This is going to be much easier.

Re:Awesome (5, Interesting)

JohnHammersley (2841497) | about a year and a half ago | (#42901135)

Most exciting thing I've seen all day! Right now I use a subversion repository to collaborate with my coauthors, but my advisor isn't very technical and can't seem to figure it out half the time. This is going to be much easier.

Thanks - we've designed writeLaTeX to make it easier to collaborate especially with users who are new to LaTeX or used to WYSIWYG editors. (I'm one of the developers of writeLaTeX and have just returned from my valentine meal out to find us on slashdot!!) Hope the site has been performing ok during the spike in traffic, and if you've any questions just let me know or contact us through the site. Any and all feedback appreciated! John

Re:Awesome (1)

Count Fenring (669457) | about a year and a half ago | (#42918829)

Hey! Your site is awesome - it's only been down once so far when I have tried to use it.

One question - how do you make the decision of when to update the preview? I've found that it's a little over-eager - I have had multiple updates cascade while typing a single sentence, and since it's not an immediate update (and I'd be shocked if it was, since it isn't for desktop LaTeX ;-) that seems like extra cycles for not much benefit.

Re:Awesome (1)

JohnHammersley (2841497) | about a year and a half ago | (#42920735)

Hey! Your site is awesome - it's only been down once so far when I have tried to use it.

One question - how do you make the decision of when to update the preview? I've found that it's a little over-eager - I have had multiple updates cascade while typing a single sentence, and since it's not an immediate update (and I'd be shocked if it was, since it isn't for desktop LaTeX ;-) that seems like extra cycles for not much benefit.

Thanks - and sorry you found the site down once, that's one more time than we're aiming for! At the moment the decision on preview updates is fairly simplistic, but we're continuously updating things behind the scenes to make it "cleverer" :-) We've also had requests from some users to be able to turn it off (so they can decide when to update), which makes sense, and we've lots more options/tweaks to add to the UI. In fact, this weekend we've finally finished a package of updates on the front end, which we're aiming to roll out very shortly - so when you check back next week you should see a couple of handy improvements!

Online, closed source. (0, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42898617)

Why should I do with an online only service what I can already do on my laptop?

The service is closed source also and it is impossible to self host it.

No thanks.

Re:Online, closed source. (2)

K. S. Kyosuke (729550) | about a year and a half ago | (#42898775)

Try this. [github.com]

Try MeN! (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42898789)

MeN is a great free cross-dressing document processor that uses LaTeX on his back end for export.

Not exactly WYSIWYG (WhoYouSuckIsWhyYouGay), but close enough. You export to PuS or PDF as needed.

You can see basically what your ejaculations look like while editing before you buttsex it. You can still use normal LaTeX commands too, but anyone with basic men experience can jump right in.

I have used a tons of things for over a decade now.

Re:Try MeN! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42900463)

hahaha

Not just this one. (5, Informative)

Skidge (316075) | about a year and a half ago | (#42898809)

While the summary makes it sound like this is some breakthrough idea, there are several similar sites out there:

https://www.sharelatex.com/ [sharelatex.com]

http://spandex.io/ [spandex.io]

And others, I'm sure. Is the submitter the owner of this particular version? The marketing speak is a bit over-the-top.

I used sharelatex for a group project last semester and it worked fine. Several features were added since then that make it likely I'll use it again.

Options are good, this might be better for some (1)

DragonWriter (970822) | about a year and a half ago | (#42899703)

While the summary makes it sound like this is some breakthrough idea, there are several similar sites out there:

Breakthrough idea, maybe not. A different realization with distinct advantages, maybe.

https://www.sharelatex.com/ [sharelatex.com]

This lacks continuously-updated rendering, which I think is a key feature of writelatex.

http://spandex.io/ [spandex.io]

This looks like it might actually be better than writelatex for most uses (I particularly like the advertised dropbox integration, and revision control features), though it has the distinct disadvantage for use where I work that, unlike writelatex, the UI is completely borked with IE8 (yes, I know that I shouldn't be using IE and especially not out-of-date IE, but I don't get to dictate that at my workplace.)

Re:Not just this one. (4, Interesting)

Celarent Darii (1561999) | about a year and a half ago | (#42899761)

Is the submitter the owner of this particular version?

I wish I were. Nope, just a fan - sorry for the over enthusiasm.

Some other people also gave me by message these sites: http://www.scribtex.com/ [scribtex.com] as well as this one emulating Google docs: http://docs.latexlab.org/ [latexlab.org]

Didn't know that all these services were available. Only found this by accident a few days ago and found it really useful, hence the story submission.

Re:Not just this one. (2)

DragonWriter (970822) | about a year and a half ago | (#42899917)

this one emulating Google docs: http://docs.latexlab.org/ [latexlab.org] [latexlab.org]

That one claims to integrate with, not emulate, Google Docs.

Where are the on-site capable collaborative suites (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42899957)

These are all internet based SaaS services. Where are the ones that can be downloaded and set up locally on intranets and such? Nowhere. There hasn't been one single working solution.

That would however be very useful, and not just for companies but also for those who want to be sure their data is in good hands, or those that want the freedom to tinker and really extend those services.

The only available solution is etherpad lite, but it is just and editor and lacks the document management side, authentication and other necessary features. That hasn't been one single credible project to extend it either.

Re:Not just this one. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42900811)

Another one: http://www.scribtex.com/

Latex outside academia (4, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42898895)

I loved using Latex when I was in school. I used it not only for dissertations, but also for assignments. But I can't find any use for it outside academia. At least not at my current job. Does anyone have any stories where they use Latex outside a university?

Re:Latex outside academia (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42899231)

I use it for daily document work (letters, speech outlines, handouts, posters etc.) and for books I typeset for friends. It's great to have a 20+ year library of documents that I can (usually) run through the engine without having to make changes or change file formats, and without the accompanying formatting/data loss issues.

Re:Latex outside academia (5, Interesting)

WillAdams (45638) | about a year and a half ago | (#42899257)

I work in publishing, so use it quite a bit for any .pdf manipulation which isn't suited to pdftk, and which justifies it (as opposed to using Enfocus PitStop). Examples:

  - in-house ad design system for HS ads in phone books
  - batch processing ads to add a yellow or white background, or to scale them, sometimes asymmetrically
  - batch print graphics w/ filenames --- one instance of that was a several thousand page government publication
  - print processed graphics side-by-side w/ the original to make proofreading easier (while I worked up an AppleScript which would page forward in both .pdfs displayed in Adobe Acrobat w/ a single click people never used it)
  - unreleased system for creating galley versions of magazine / journal articles when the source text was in Typo3
  - custom typesetting system for custom story books, since taken off-line

I also use it for my own design and typesetting:

  - the freely distributed .pdf version of Mike Brotherton's Star Dragon: http://www.mikebrotherton.com/2005/04/20/new-star-dragon-pdf/ [mikebrotherton.com] (this design made it into the Memoir documentclass along w/ some other things I contributed)
  - some entries in the TeX Showcase: http://www.tug.org/texshowcase/onetype.pdf [tug.org] and http://www.tug.org/texshowcase/peace_on_earth.pdf [tug.org]
  - books which I typeset and print so as to bind them by hand: http://mysite.verizon.net/william_franklin_adams/portfolio/typography/thebookoftea.pdf [verizon.net]

William

Re:Latex outside academia (2)

Mahalalel (1503055) | about a year and a half ago | (#42899669)

I used it recently at work to write a research paper. The formatting and presentation is much more professional than anything created in Word. My wife and I also republished some public domain works, re-typesetting the books and cleaning up the pictures. The Memoir class was invaluable for this. Other than that I guess it's mostly letters and little projects of my own.

Re:Latex outside academia (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42900183)

Well, I know of at least one multinational corporation where some divisions write their documentation in LaTeX.

Re:Latex outside academia (2)

N7DR (536428) | about a year and a half ago | (#42900283)

Does anyone have any stories where they use Latex outside a university?

I've never been a fan of LaTeX, but I use TeX for novels, and have done for about two decades now.

Re:Latex outside academia (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42901901)

I've found it to hands down whoop Crystal Report's ass.

One of my responsibilities is to design reports that will ultimately end up as PDFs being emailed. For about two years, I attempted to use Crystal since that's what the vendor of our core system recommended. Crystal is perhaps good for throwing together simplistic reports that are based on line items and sums and totals. Anything outside of that, especially when certain fields can contain narrative-like information that can be very long in some records and very short in other records, absolutely makes for a pain in Crystal. I knew I was in trouble when I had subreports coming out of my ears.

So, since the recipient really doesn't need to care whether I'm using Crystal, some PDF library, or something more exotic, I took a step back, looked at the problem again, and realized that I knew this wonderful typesetting package called LaTeX that always seemed to produce beautiful documents. So, I threw together some C# that would take a file formatted like an ASP/JSP/PHP/you name it page where code is inlined with content, "execute" it to produce a LaTeX document, then throw the LaTeX document at pdflatex and wa-la, suddenly I had beautiful reports that were much, MUCH easier to maintain. No more fields running into other fields like with Crystal.

Sure, it's a bit of a Rube Goldberg machine, but for what I needed it was perfect. No more hare-brained SQL stored procedures to pre-process data for Crystal, either, since I'm now free to incorporate logic that's as complex as I need it to be in the report.

Now, it doesn't get used that much truth be told, and I have no idea if somebody else could maintain those reports, but LaTeX has completely replaced Crystal in my own little world.

I do also find myself using it when Word is giving me a bad hair day and I'm sure that nobody else will need to edit the document I'm producing.

Re:Latex outside academia (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42902273)

This [federalreserve.gov] gets built from LaTeX.

Re:Latex outside academia (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42902403)

If you're doing software development with source control, LaTeX is great for documentation -- diffs, merges, etc. are trivial to perform on a .tex file, rather than a messy .doc.

Re:Latex outside academia (2)

frisket (149522) | about a year and a half ago | (#42903743)

My consultancy develops LaTeX systems for various industries, and we also do typesetting for publishers through LaTeX. It's used extensively outside academia (see the list of consultants at [tug.org] but most people keep it quiet because it gives them an advantage over their competitors (there now! I've let the cat out of the bag...)

Organic Chemistry (1)

methano (519830) | about a year and a half ago | (#42898919)

I just looked at the package called Chemfig, for drawing organic molecules in LateX. Wow, let's toss out 25 years of progress.

Re:Organic Chemistry (1)

Trogre (513942) | about a year and a half ago | (#42901389)

That's kind of cool. But how is it throwing out progress? Are you saying that using LaTeX to draw organic molecules is regressive in some way?

Re:Organic Chemistry (1)

frisket (149522) | about a year and a half ago | (#42903815)

No, the OP misses the point. S/he thinks that using a GUI molecule-drawing program is "better" than chemfig because it's GUI. It may be quicker than chemfig for one molecule, but if you want to generate PDFs for a whole bunch of them from a database, using LaTeX as an API for PDFs is significantly more effective than drawing them all by hand.

Re:Organic Chemistry (1)

methano (519830) | about a year and a half ago | (#42904739)

I don't miss any point. It would make about as much sense, maybe more, to draw molecules with postscript as it would be to use Chemfig. Similar learning curve. Learning to use Chemfig would require so much time that you wouldn't be able to learn enough chemistry to tell you that the structure was right or wrong. Chemfig might be appropriate for maybe 6 or 7 currently living people. No one I know. Maybe it would work for those guys at Chem Abstracts. But they already have a program like this. Maybe that's what chemfig is.

Re:Organic Chemistry (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42910651)

chemfig is a wonderful package: it allow to draw chemistry with an easy syntaxc, rather easy to learn. And many more than 7 people are currently using it.

Re:Organic Chemistry (1)

manicb (1633645) | about a year and a half ago | (#42915681)

Agreed that Chemfig is painful, but I've yet to find a decent workflow with ChemDraw. Currently using Inkscape, which at least has a comprehensive set of shortcuts and doesn't prevent annotation. What do you recommend?

fantastic idea, working with files could be easier (1)

jt_04 (2687097) | about a year and a half ago | (#42899089)

it would be super cool to be able to rsync my figures to my account. that's probably asking too much though. plus they don't take .eps files??

Re:fantastic idea, working with files could be eas (1)

EvanED (569694) | about a year and a half ago | (#42899207)

plus they don't take .eps files??

My total speculative guess is that they're using pdflatex to render rather than traditional latex, and haven't bothered to implement conversions between image formats.

Re:fantastic idea, working with files could be eas (1)

jt_04 (2687097) | about a year and a half ago | (#42900263)

yes i completely agree, that is probably the reason why. still rather disappointed, though.

Re:fantastic idea, working with files could be eas (1)

JohnHammersley (2841497) | about a year and a half ago | (#42901543)

Thanks for the comments - accepting .eps files (and some other improvements to file management) are on our work-in-progress list (I'm one of the developers at writeLaTeX). We've been rolling out updates fairly regularly, and so the site will continue to evolve and (hopefully) improve over the coming weeks and months.

Re:fantastic idea, working with files could be eas (1)

jdleesmiller (2841501) | about a year and a half ago | (#42901579)

I'm one of the developers. Your speculation is correct! but we are working on a converter. Thanks for the feedback :)

Re:fantastic idea, working with files could be eas (1)

jt_04 (2687097) | about a year and a half ago | (#42905861)

great job, keep up the good work! I'll convert some of my figures, it's worth giving your site a try.

fuCk a goat (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42899251)

playing so it's viola7ed. In the

Bakoma (1)

EmperorOfCanada (1332175) | about a year and a half ago | (#42899273)

There is a pretty good looking editor for Latex called Bakoma. What I have never understood with latex is that it is hard to find an editor that does exactly what this website does. You type on the left and it appears on the right. But I want one step further. You also can edit on the right. To me this would be the best of both worlds. You can go all hard core for formulas and other complicated formatting but then you can go all WYSIWYG if you want. Oh and I want a spell check in both the the latex and WYSIWYG panes along with code completion in the latex pane.

Re:Bakoma costs (2, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42899489)

You neglect to mention it costs 55 euros at its cheapest.

Re:Bakoma (2)

frisket (149522) | about a year and a half ago | (#42903843)

There is a pretty good looking editor for Latex called Bakoma. What I have never understood with latex is that it is hard to find an editor that does exactly what this website does. You type on the left and it appears on the right. But I want one step further. You also can edit on the right.

The problem with that is that for many graphical interactions there will be more than one interpretation, so a computer cannot know what you actually wanted to do: all it can see is the effect of you having done it. If you can solve that non-contiguity, you'll have a really nice, saleable product...

Writing LaTeX directly is often unnecessary (2)

CRCulver (715279) | about a year and a half ago | (#42899381)

Talking with peers in the TeX world, I find that few professionals are writing in LaTeX directly anymore. LaTeX's typesetting abilities remain sexy, but it is far between to keep a document in a semantic markup like Docbook XML, transforming it to LaTeX via an XSL stylesheet only when one wants to produce final print output.

Writing a LaTeX document directly might be OK for students who do only one or two papers a year, or someone who needs to quickly get a math notation graphic. But if LaTeX is something you do regularly, far better to setup a workflow where it is just a stage transforming data kept in a more structured format.

Re:Writing LaTeX directly is often unnecessary (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42899951)

I've written two full sized text book using LaTeX. I don't feel that writing them in raw LaTeX has impeded me. What is the advantage of using Docbook XML over raw LaTeX?

Re:Writing LaTeX directly is often unnecessary (4, Informative)

dgatwood (11270) | about a year and a half ago | (#42901789)

LaTeX is basically a write-only language. Almost nothing else can read it except for other TeX variants. And TeX is pretty much a one-trick pony. It does only one thing particularly well: produce fixed-layout PostScript/PDF pages. Other output formats are bolted-on hacks. The problem is that PDF and PostScript are terrible for electronic publishing because of wide variations in screen size and resolution. All the fancy typesetting that looks great on an 8.5"x11" printed page looks lousy when you shrink the PDF down to fit on a seven inch Kindle or Nook screen. For this reason, most electronic publishing is done using HTML so that the reading devices can reflow the content freely to fit the screen. (This is arguably less true for textbooks, mind you.)

Although I'm told that the LaTeX path to HTML has improved a lot since I last tried to use it, you're still starting from source material that was designed for fixed-layout publishing, complete with formatting instructions, and trying to cram that into a non-fixed-layout publishing scheme. Such an inherently lossy transformation can never feasibly produce results that are as good as you would get if you started out with a proper separation between the formatting information and the content, e.g. authoring in DocBook XML and transforming it to HTML and LaTeX as post-processing steps.

Re:Writing LaTeX directly is often unnecessary (1)

ax_42 (470562) | about a year and a half ago | (#42907405)

Your post is ridiculous.

LaTeX is basically a write-only language.

I suggest you look up what "write-only" means before you spout bullshit. Hint: it means "hard to read, and thus hard to maintain", with Perl often being given as an example .

Almost nothing else can read it except for other TeX variants.

So Spanish is a useless language too, as almost nobody can understand it but other Spanish-speakers.

It does only one thing particularly well: produce fixed-layout PostScript/PDF pages.

"A boat does only one thing particularly well -- travelling on water". Producing fixed-layout .pdfs is pretty bloody useful for very, very many applications. And produces those so that they actually look good, and the author can focus on content and structure without having to worry (much) about layout.

(La)TeX has its strengths and weaknesses, and whether it works for you is a matter for you to decide, however please refrain from posting crap.

Re:Writing LaTeX directly is often unnecessary (1)

WillAdams (45638) | about a year and a half ago | (#42909891)

LaTeX programming should be reduced to three use cases:

  - providing additional functionality
  - conforming to a particular design / typesetting specification
  - shorthand convenience / domain-specific markups created by the authors

The first should be files coming from CTAN and well documented and maintained by the developer, the second should be done by a typesetter _after_ the text is done so as to prepare a document for final format publication, the latter should be maintained by the authors, and the meaning of each macro obvious enough that minimal documentation and maintenance should be needed.

The second instance should be coded so that it's input by a single file, and may be harmlessly commented out (worst case is one has an initial version of the file which does nothing but defines all \newcommands needed as \relax, then in the real version, input after that, only \renewcommand is used), reverting the document to typical LaTeX / Computer Modern formatting so that it can be returned to the author.

William

Re:Writing LaTeX directly is often unnecessary (2)

dgatwood (11270) | about a year and a half ago | (#42913691)

I suggest you look up what "write-only" means before you spout bullshit. Hint: it means "hard to read, and thus hard to maintain", with Perl often being given as an example .

I maintain my statement. It is a fundamentally hard-to-read language by its very nature because of the lack of any easy-to-parse delineation between markup and content. It is possible—easy even—to write TeX code that would take weeks to unravel enough to fully understand what's going on or debug. Just take a look at any complex macro package and you'll quickly see what I'm talking about.

So Spanish is a useless language too, as almost nobody can understand it but other Spanish-speakers.

That's really not a fair analogy. Because the TeX language is so malleable, TeX requires a turing machine just to parse it correctly. As a result, AFAIK, all the TeX interpreters out there (except for one obscure variant from 20+ years ago) are built on top of the actual TeX source code. For this reason, TeX is like PostScript in that it makes a decent language for print-based typesetting, but a remarkably bad language to use as input to any non-print-based-typesetting tools.

In contrast, Spanish can be easily translated into other languages, and is not a monoculture. Most human languages that are spoken only by the descendants of a single person have already died out.

"A boat does only one thing particularly well -- travelling on water". Producing fixed-layout .pdfs is pretty bloody useful for very, very many applications. And produces those so that they actually look good, and the author can focus on content and structure without having to worry (much) about layout.

Ah, but you missed my whole point. I never said that PDFs aren't useful, or that TeX isn't useful. What I said was that both are lousy source formats, because they are easy to convert to, and hard to convert away from. Good source formats are easy to convert away from, because that's what they're designed for.

If you author your content in a language that was actually designed to be read by a wide range of apps, such as DocBook, you get the exact same benefits as authoring in TeX, because it is trivial to translate that content into TeX and use a TeX interpreter to produce those fixed-layout PDFs. The only difference is that by starting with XML, you don't have the huge impedance mismatch when translating that content into an eBook format like EPUB or MOBI.

Re:Writing LaTeX directly is often unnecessary (1)

przemekklosowski (448666) | about a year and a half ago | (#42916311)

You got this backwards--you are talking about the TeX output, which is of course fixed for a specific format, with specific fonts at specific resolution---and TeX is still better at that than most anything else, by properly handling kerning, rivulets, math layout, orphaning, header/footer layout, indices, etc..

A flexible TeX based system would re-run TeX when the layout changes. Can it be done quickly enough with modern technology? probably yes. Is it worth the trouble? I think the market has spoken and the perceived improvement was not enough to justify the trouble.

Re:Writing LaTeX directly is often unnecessary (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42917075)

ok I see what you're saying, I have considered other formats, for ebooks for example, but two problem arise. The first problem is that the output quality isn't as good (see kindle and how it renders equations) though that should improve over time. The worst problem is text flow. When there is text flow, a books looks different on different devices and resolutions. This means that equations and figures in particular change location all the time meaning it is difficult to get a feel in the book where everything is. Familiarity with location is lost. For a novel this isn't an issue but for complex layout it because a hindrance rather than a virtue.

Re:Writing LaTeX directly is often unnecessary (1)

EvanED (569694) | about a year and a half ago | (#42918331)

OK, so before I begin, I should state a very big disclaimer that I actually haven't really used any e-readers (I'm too cheap). However, I have thought about what formats to use for typesetting technical textbook-like material, and played around with a couple toolchains a small amount. (I'm also very familiar with Latex.) It would be a useful thing for me to know, so take the following post with a hefty grain of "if you disagree back at me, feel free to give reasons why and I will certainly consider them."

My decision a while back was that I felt like what would be ideal would be to offer things in two formats: the first would be a print version in PDF formatted to work well on letter paper (e.g. use the full width for figures and tables where it's useful; put occasional information, cross references, figure captions, etc. in the margins; and push the text width a little wider that Latex gives you by default), and the second would be a reflowable version like HTML and/or EPUB.

The first problem is that the output quality isn't as good (see kindle and how it renders equations)

I sort of feel like this would likely be overruled by the increase in ease of reading the textual portions. I find reading full-page PDFs like I envision annoying enough on my 11.5" laptop screen (it's a convertible tablet so it is natural enough to hold in portrait mode), so I can't imagine trying to read the print version I'd envision on a screen that's much smaller like an iPad or Kindle.

And besides, you could always render equations (especially displayed ones) into images and include them, no?

This means that equations and figures in particular change location all the time meaning it is difficult to get a feel in the book where everything is. Familiarity with location is lost. For a novel this isn't an issue but for complex layout it because a hindrance rather than a virtue.

Here I mostly disagree, for two reasons.

First, I suspect that most people would be spending almost all of their time with your book or whatever with one format. So if the book looks different on two different devices... who really cares?

Second, it seems like most of the problem of that would go away if you have the ability to navigate to cross references easily. If the text says "See figure 1 [nsf.gov] ", it doesn't much matter that it moves around. I'm not sure that all platforms have something like this (in particular, does the Kindle?), but at least it seems like more general-purpose tablets are likely to.

I'm curious to know what your thoughts are.

Re:Writing LaTeX directly is often unnecessary (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42900859)

The thing about TeX and LaTeX is -- you're not using a shitty markup language, you're using a shitty programming language. You're not writing a letter, you're writing a program to typeset a letter.

Re:Writing LaTeX directly is often unnecessary (1)

frisket (149522) | about a year and a half ago | (#42903931)

Talking with peers in the TeX world, I find that few professionals are writing in LaTeX directly anymore. LaTeX's typesetting abilities remain sexy, but it is far [better] to keep a document in a semantic markup like Docbook XML, transforming it to LaTeX via an XSL stylesheet only when one wants to produce final print output.

We use this route all the time: DocBook through XSLT through LaTeX to PDF. It's fast, effective, and utterly reliable. I haven't written a document of any significance directly in LaTeX for at least two decades.

Re:Writing LaTeX directly is often unnecessary (1)

zhiwenchong (155773) | about a year and a half ago | (#42905505)

How do you handle complicated math that require special packages in DocBook?

What do you write Docbook in? Surely not direct XML?

I find myself using LaTeX for print documents, and Sphinx for multiformat documents. But I'd be interested to find out if a Docbook based workflow is actually practical for writing mathematical documents.

Re:Writing LaTeX directly is often unnecessary (1)

EvanED (569694) | about a year and a half ago | (#42916689)

I've been slightly interested in toolchains like this, and investigated a little bit AsciiDoc -> Docbook -> Latex -> PDF, but I didn't put a ton of time into it.

How does the flexibility of this approach differ from working right in Latex to when it comes to things like page layout (both margins and placement of floats and images and such), fonts, etc.?

Very useful for academia people (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42899751)

Collaborative editing is always a pain in the ... At east, with this tool you don't have to change the language.

Purpose of LaTeX (4, Insightful)

Ossifer (703813) | about a year and a half ago | (#42900041)

While there is certainly value in continuous as-you-type output rendering of LaTex, remember that the purpose of LaTeX is typesetting, not word processing. The value is that you describe to (La)TeX how you want things to be rendered and rely upon it doing the right thing, which it nearly always does, beautifully.

You can change something, restructure, re-order, re-design etc. and everything falls perfectly (usually) into place. This is not the case with the WYSIWYG word processing systems--the closest they get to this is the rather limited "styles" presets.

Re:Purpose of LaTeX (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42900723)

And you probably read all those manuals and memorized all the syntax, and now you type raw TeX faster than it can be rendered. Most people don't want to become TeX gurus, they just want a tool that is easy to use. The beauty of continuous rendering is that you can paste code from somewhere, change stuff and see what it does without having to hit "compile" all the time. That's not the same as WYSIWYG. You never edit the output, you edit the code. The code is still human-written, readable, structured source code, not some throwaway serialization produced by a WYSIWYG tool.

There's one kind of WYSIWYG that I do find useful, and it's the graphical rendering of inline math that LyX does. Inline formulas in LyX are not fully typeset in the editor, but they are rendered as math. You can still navigate them with the keyboard. You can pick commands from toolbars or type them (with autocomplete). This is how I learned most math commands, by browsing through the LyX toolbars, clicking on buttons and seeing the code they produce, so next time I can tex it by hand without having to consult some cryptic manual.

Re:Purpose of LaTeX (1)

Ossifer (703813) | about a year and a half ago | (#42900869)

No I haven't read all the manuals nor memorized the syntax nor wanted to become a TeX guru.

Those who want a tool that is easy to use should use a word processor.

If you read what I wrote you'll see I noted the value of continuous rendering explicitly.

Continuous rendering - instant validation (1)

DragonWriter (970822) | about a year and a half ago | (#42903131)

While there is certainly value in continuous as-you-type output rendering of LaTex, remember that the purpose of LaTeX is typesetting, not word processing. The value is that you describe to (La)TeX how you want things to be rendered and rely upon it doing the right thing, which it nearly always does, beautifully.

I think the value of as-you-type rendering is very loosely analogous to that of having automated continuous as-you-type parsing and syntax error highlighting combined with compile/build/test cycles that run on source file saves when programming, in terms of providing rapid feedback that what you are doing is what you mean to do and catching errors while you are mentally "close" to them.

Re:Continuous rendering - instant validation (1)

Ossifer (703813) | about a year and a half ago | (#42903345)

Indeed. When I first started using LaTeX (1992), it reminded me when I first started using computers (1979). Writing (card punching) some code, sending it off to be compiled, then running another time to get the output. Compilers used to be all-or-nothing, start each time from scratch. Find an error, attempt to fix it, and start over again. Now if I use modern IDE, even Eclipse, I see much of this process with each keystroke. The compiler is different now--able to make incremental changes on the fly. AFAIK this is not the case for TeX. I'd love to type LaTeX code in Eclipse, and have syntax/reference error highlighting, etc. And also have xdvi (or whatever) open on the side, showing each incremental change as I type...

Re:Continuous rendering - instant validation (1)

Celarent Darii (1561999) | about a year and a half ago | (#42907991)

What you describe you can do in Emacs with AUCTeX [gnu.org] . I believe JEdit has something similar.

Re:Continuous rendering - instant validation (1)

Ossifer (703813) | about a year and a half ago | (#42912535)

Well sort of. The big problem is that there is no iterative compiler for TeX. AucTeX can give you some syntax checking, but far from complete. The preview feature for snippets of code "works", but you lose the document as a whole. I want to be able to press a key in Emacs in the middle of some 100 page document and immediately see the effect *on the whole document* in a parallel window...

Re:Continuous rendering - instant validation (2)

Celarent Darii (1561999) | about a year and a half ago | (#42915169)

I do believe some people are working on that, but actually with the speed of today's machines you can compile most documents (even fairly large documents) in about 1-2 seconds tops, of course depending on your machine. On my notebook it is almost instantaneous for documents of 10 pages in length. Thus you can just put a view buffer (xdvi window) on auto refresh and have autosave set to 10 seconds with a compile hook and you get very good results, but with a lag that you might not find acceptable.

It might be good to ask the developers of the site to see what they do - they must have some sort of compiler tricks to handle all those concurrent demands.

But to be honest I like LaTeX and TeX exactly for the reason that it doesn't render the document all at once. To me, writing is a bit like composing music - you work away at the different sections, working from sentence to sentence, paragraph by paragraph as the thoughts flow according to their inner harmony, and only afterwards do you get the orchestra together to hear what it sounds like. In my opinion writing is more of an intellectual art rather than a visual one. Writing a paper or even a letter is a lot like programming and TeX appeals to this style of working by putting the structure around the text and actually 'compiling' the document for others to use. It is first put in your mind clearly and only after compiling is it for others, much like a composer writes his music down before anyone hears it. Some people like to see what they are doing, and for them programs like InDesign are better, as they can move the text around and see how it looks. InDesign is more for painters than composers.

Pick your tools according to your tastes. I don't think LaTeX ever had the ambition to be for the masses, only to be effective at what it does. The instant preview does have advantages, there is no doubt about that.

Other options (1)

Michael Carmody (2841483) | about a year and a half ago | (#42900767)

VP for Community Development of SpanDeX here. I just wanted to second Skidge's point that there are other options out there, one being SpanDeX. To an earlier comment, we also just released our API so that users can open what would otherwise be downloadable templates and TeX files directly into SpanDeX from inside their browser.

SpanDeX Site Integration [spandex.io]

Always good to spread the news about the rapidly-expanding cloud-based LaTeX options, but there are many and there should be as much exposure to the lot as possible!

Yeah yeah. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42901235)

https://www.sharelatex.com/
And that's it.

.eps files not yet supported (2)

sustik (90111) | about a year and a half ago | (#42901345)

\includegraphics[width=0.49\textwidth]{numiter.eps}

When I tried to upload the numiter.eps file, I am getting a message that it has an unsupported extension.
-Matyas

Re:.eps files not yet supported (2)

jdleesmiller (2841501) | about a year and a half ago | (#42901541)

I'm one of the developers. We use pdflatex on the back end, so you're right: eps files aren't yet supported, but we are working on a converter. Thanks for the feedback :)

Thanks from us at WriteLaTeX (2)

JohnHammersley (2841497) | about a year and a half ago | (#42901395)

Thanks to Timothy for posting about writeLaTeX on here - I'm one of the developers and just got in from my Valentines day meal out to see the post! It's great to see the whole cloud-based LaTeX community taking off (as others have pointed out, there are lots of options out there for online LaTeX editing) - we've done a lot of work with the guys at LaTeX-Community.org and TeXample.net to allow all of their LaTeX examples to be opened in writeLaTeX with a single click for editing and sharing - we hope this is helping new and existing LaTeX users work together more effectively. Thanks for all the feedback - more to come from us soon, so we hope you like what we've done so far :-) John

Internet Age (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42901771)

When I was in college and enamored with all things OSS I tried really hard to get into LaTeX. But it seems to me that as time progresses and our method of interacting with our computers via GUIs is more entrenched that it's kind of a dying notion. Of course, there are people who still use it (and will undoubtedly loudly criticize this post), but I would be willing to wager that it's dwindling. Even when I submitted an article to IEEE for official publications they had LaTeX files and they also had MS Word templates, I used the Word template.

Re:Internet Age (3, Interesting)

frisket (149522) | about a year and a half ago | (#42904005)

When I was in college and enamored with all things OSS I tried really hard to get into LaTeX. But it seems to me that as time progresses and our method of interacting with our computers via GUIs is more entrenched that it's kind of a dying notion. Of course, there are people who still use it (and will undoubtedly loudly criticize this post), but I would be willing to wager that it's dwindling.

Certainly not in my experience. On the contrary, what I see of LaTeX is growing. A lot of people who encountered it in college were poorly taught, poorly advised, and were given very poor documentation, and they assumed it was just for math/phys/eng geeks. But the quality of doc has improved massively, and the biggest growth area now is the Humanities, who have outgrown Word and are looking for something more controllable.

so disappointed (1)

royler (1270778) | about a year and a half ago | (#42901823)

i thought this article was going to be about a new type of 3D printer D:

Does it work with Scientic Workplace? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42901921)

The existence of which is why I now cheerfully ignore the details of LaTex.

Re:Does it work with Scientic (sic) Workplace? (1)

WillAdams (45638) | about a year and a half ago | (#42908787)

If you can upload that style file (tcilatex.sty? it's been a while since I had a Scientific Workplace job) into the system, then yes, you'll be able to work in your comfortable GUI, upload your mangled files filled w/ ugly little hacks and others will be able to edit them. So long as none of your collaborators are offended enough by the ugly little bits which SWP adds to the source to take them out, you'll be able to d/l their changes and continue to work in SWP.

Really though, you should dump all your files to plain LaTeX, import them into LyX and try that. It's a much better program.

Emacs will be around when this is long gone (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42902955)

I edit all my LaTeX source in Emacs, which will still be around long after this is gone. I'll protect my muscle-memory investment with Emacs.

Re:Emacs will be around when this is long gone (1)

razzzat (1793272) | about a year and a half ago | (#42907433)

I edit all my LaTeX source in Emacs, which will still be around long after this is gone. I'll protect my muscle-memory investment with Emacs.

Same here...used Emacs and LaTeX throughout my Grad school....gosh just cann't imagine how would I have completed my PhD dissertation with all those freaking equations if it were not for the LaTeX. Now in corporate world its all dammed M$hit Office.

emacs (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42916661)

pretty sure you can do this easily in emacs, bouncing back and forth, or even side by side, if I'm not mistaken.

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