A case for LaTeX

lion So, after struggling with you word processor to get an acceptable format you decide to hunt the repos (you’re using Linux, right?) for a better alternative. We already know why would you choose LyX but why would you choose LaTeX?

Let’s begin by listing some of its advantages

  • Wide range of applications – LaTeX is a widely used format, with lots of years, users and fields of application. It’s not used only to create papers or just presentations, it can be used in a wide range of applications.
  • There are “packages” prepared for each type of document – related to the previous point, you can find packages to create a CV, a presentation, posters, etc.
  • No need to format every single element – everything comes with a reasonable default format. You may fight a little bit whenever you need to change the default format (though you’ll find it less necessary each day) but 90 percent of the time “it just works”. With regular word processors it’s usually the other way around (it is for me!)
  • Works from a console – OK, this may be an advantage or a disadvantage, according to whom you ask. It sure is an advantage for us, the crazy console people, who don’t like to drop the CLI just for a couple of slides.
  • Great templates – no need to work in the design of the documents, that’s already taken care of.
  • Plain text format – easy to integrate with any source code management system.
  • Easy to integrate with external media (images, for example) – did you just change that image? No problem, just “recompile” to get it on your document.
  • The best math system

It has some downsides too

  • Steep learning curve
  • Requires some familiarity with the console
  • There’s a lot of markup to learn – this can lead to a low signal to noise ratio for some packages like Beamer and the need to RTFM more often than usual.
  • Creating a LaTeX document requires certain syntax – it’s not quite like programming, but programmers will be much more comfortable around it
  • Weird error messages – the LaTeX compiler will create an enormous amount of output and error messages may not allways be easy to comprehend.
  • It’s a one way ticket – you may be Word – impaired for the rest of your life
  • Who should use LaTeX?

    As previously stated, programmers will be more comfortable around plain LaTeX but that’s not the only pre requisite – you should be somewhat familiar with the console in Linux (no idea about LaTeX on Windows) and have some patience to read a couple of manuals. Once you have mastered the basics it’s much easier, so don’t get discouraged.

    If you feel you don’t fit the profile perhaps LyX is a better alternative than plain LaTeX; it’s very easy to use and quite user friendly. It won’t be that great for presentations and other, more “advanced”, documents though.

    What kind of work can you do with LaTeX?

    That’s an easy one, check My Articles section for some examples. You can create any kind of document but it’s better suited for those in which you care most about the content and don’t want to get bogged down with perky design details.


    Last (for this entry) but not least, what editor can you use to create LaTeX documents? Well, LaTeX is basically plain text so any editor will do. There are some LaTeX-specific editors, I like ViM myself. There’ll be a complete post dedicated to LaTeX + Vim, coming soon.

    This article will be the first in a series of LaTeX survival guide so stay tuned.


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