Pain-Free LaTeX is not an oxymoron after all!

posted Mar 3, 2013, 4:09 PM by Jenee Pearson Hughes   [ updated Mar 3, 2013, 4:21 PM ]
Like many people in the academic world, I like how LaTeX makes documents looks professional and clean, but I hate all the hassle that goes into using it.  I mean, dagnabbit, when I'm writing a paper, I do not want to have to compile* it. In fact, I do not want there to be any possibility of syntax errors other than the kind that occur in the English language! I'm a fan of WYSIWYG: What You See Is What You Get.

ScribTeX logo
I've long been a fan of the online LaTeX editor Scribtex, because it takes the double-compilation headache out of the equation, and allows you to work with collaborators.  My only major complaint is that there are no line numbers on the source documents, and the error messages reference line numbers. But I liked it enough to PAY to use it to compile my thesis.

The people who built Scribtex recently built a new platform, ShareLatex, and I love it even more than I love Scribtex. It has side-by-side comparison, line numbers, and is overall a much better platform! I'm moving my thesis onto it today, so I can debug it easier.

The Interface for the ShareLaTex online LaTeX editor. On the left, you see a bunch of files that go into making my final document. On the right, you see the error logs, which will be replaced by the pdf if I press the PDF button.

My only complaint about ShareLaTeX is that, unlike Scribtex, it doesn't have version control on the free version. You have to pay either $8/month as a student, or $15 as a regular collaborator. But, since I was paying for Scribtex anyway, it's not a huge deal-breaker for me. Plus, they let you export your project as a zip file at any time, so it's not like you couldn't do your own version control, though it'd be a bit clunky. For free though, I can deal with clunky.  

Time will tell if I stick with it, but it's pretty sweet.

* To clarify for those not steeped in computer culture, I mean compile as in "translate into computer language", not as in "gather materials".