When you are looking to produce high quality documents, your
typical program of choice is likely to be Microsoft Word, which is the gold
standard amongst all word processors. That being said, even the mighty word
processor might not be the right tool for the job if you have specific
requirements, such as developing documentation that might incorporate special
formatting for mathematical equations or algorithms. Typesetters also
appreciate the use of precision when crafting documents.
To gain this level of control over document creation, we
will have to turn to a kind of markup language that has been around in various
forms since the 1970s. Originally beginning life as TeX, the language further
evolved to become LaTeX, which is a premier system for crafting your documents,
technical papers, and more just like big-house publishers do. The syntax and
format for LaTeX is rather easy to learn and understand.
Now, taking this idea to the next level, a group of LaTeX
professionals from the United Kingdom have created a compelling online service
called writeLaTeX, which combines the
power of LaTeX with Google Docs-like online editing and sharing features. You
can either create an account to help organize all of your documents, or simply
jump right into the editor to try it for yourself.
When I opened writeLaTeX for the first time, I took a gander
at the sample LaTeX file presented with the raw code on the left-hand side and
a rendered WYSIWYG output on the right-hand side. Everything from the titles
and bullet-points to the annotations and inline comments looked just like it
came out of a professional reference guide you could purchase from a book
store. The interface also scales easily between compact and large display sizes
without issue, thanks to the rather minimalistic user interface.
As a test, I wrote some sample LaTeX code in the editor to
see how performance for rendering the text would be for a cloud service.
Although I wouldn’t go so far as to say that writeLaTeX works in real time, you
can expect to see what your output would look like within 5 to 7 seconds of entering
in a valid line of LaTeX markup. Depending on your Internet connection or your
browser, this time can vary. Once I finished my sample piece, I was able to
quickly output to PDF format with the click of a mouse, ready to print or share
with others. Alternatively, the raw TEX and any supplemental graphic files can
be downloaded as well as a single ZIP file.
Speaking of sharing, just like Google Docs, you can have
several live collaborators working on your LaTeX markup all at the same time.
Simply share your “Read & Edit” link with your desired co-authors
so they can join in and get to work. Sometimes you might even need to save
snapshots of your document as you move along using the History menu. This way,
if you encounter a set of errors in the document or decide you need to rollback
to an earlier revision, it’s simply a matter of finding an older item in
history and clicking to restore that version.
Although rendering the output visual text might be a bit on
the slow side, as compared to using a Windows-based LaTeX editor, the features
that writeLaTeX brings to the table more than makes up for this. If you are
looking to start out and give it a test drive, a free version which offers
basic revisions support and 1GB of cloud storage is available.
If you are looking to incorporate writeLaTeX into your
business, a Workgroup Pro package, which includes 10GB of cloud storage,
document password protection, and template edits, is available for $24.58 per
month for smaller teams. Enterprise users with a large number of users can even
pursue a custom private installations with full administrative access, all
included with the enterprise package.