I have many complaints about word processors, applications like Microsoft Work and OpenOffice.org Write. Most of the time I open a document I don’t want to edit it, I just want to scroll through it and read it. I don’t want to see red spell check lines, I don’t want to see the caret, and I don’t want to be able to accidentally change anything. Another problem is that I can’t do a “diff” on different versions of a file to see what has changed. Also, after seeing the possibilities of how beautify a document can look, documents made with a word processor look terrible to me, even “immature”.
My biggest complaint is, when I use a word processor, I feel like I spend more time fighting the application (“layout fiddling”) than I do writing actual content.
I decided to learn and start using LaTeX for the times when I would have used Write. It allowed me to focus on the content of what I was writing instead of the application or how it would look, and I feel it produced much nice results. The problem is that, to use LaTeX, it was pretty much like learning a new programming language.
Last week, I was helping my wife write a document. We were about to open Write, when I made the suggestion to try an application I hadn’t used before but read about: LyX. LyX appears to be designed to look like and be as easy to learn as a word processor, but is only for creating LaTeX documents. We installed LyX and in a few minutes learned how to use it together. The document it produced looks beautiful.
The only downside I can see is that for easy viewing and editing, two files have to be passed around: the LaTeX (or LyX) file and the output (PDF) file.
Anyway, that brought me to a question: Why would anyone use a word processor to create a document when they can create a document using LyX and LaTeX for free and just as easily?
My guesses are because the Microsoft Word document format is an unofficial standard in many offices, because people are used to using word processors, and because Microsoft spent a lot of money advertising Word. As much as LaTeX is used in places like the academic world, it is fairly uncommon to everyone else.
Maybe it won’t ever become popular, but I’m glad I found a method of writing a beautiful document with an application that gets out of my way and lets me get some work done.