posted by Killermike on Tue 27th Feb 2007 16:49 UTC

"Lyx, 2/2"
External tools and extensions

For some functionality, Lyx requires the assistance of external tools.

One example of this would be when making use of a Bibtex format bibliography database. For example, if I wanted to cite the source of a quotation, I first click on the "insert citation" icon. Having done this, I can then search within and select an entry from the database as my source. Different academic disciplines have different conventions for citation format but I have Lyx setup so that it places a number within square brackets. At the end of the document, Lyx can place a key to all of the citations in the document.

However, to actually insert an entry into the Bibtex database, an external tool must be used. This means that the same Bibtex database can be used between multiple documents and with any piece of software that understands the format. There are a lot of Bibtex tools available but I use a KDE app called KBib.

Obviously, Lyx isn't an office suit. Graphics editing, for example, must be done with external tools.

Document classes

Another way that Lyx can be expanded is through the use of document classes. As supplied, Lyx comes with document classes for various types of book, report, article and some esoteric formats such as those that adhere to various scientific and academic journal specifications. In addition, it also comes with a screenplay and a stage-play class.

The Community

Lyx is widely used and has great community supporting it. Check out the mailing list archive on the website. If you have a problem that you can't answer via the documentation, the user mailing list should be your next stop. In addition, whenever I have interacted with the developers, I have found them to be helpful and genuinely interested in user opinions.

I think that the quality of a support community is an important feature that is often overlooked when people are assessing a new piece of software.

New in 1.5.x

Lyx is so big that that it contains many features that I will probably never even visit, although their omission might have been a deal-breakers for other people. The new Unicode support would be an example of such a feature. That said, I might benefit from Unicode support in the future if it enables interoperability with new third-party tools.

As I said above, within this overview, I am only able to scratch the surface of the new features, but the ones that I am particularly looking forward to exploring include: the glossary support, the enhanced table support, the aforementioned enhancements of the section browser and the new MDI interface.

The GUI has had a revamp for 1.5.x and it now makes use of QT4. The 1.4.x series had somehow lost some of its GUI speed when compared with 1.3.x. The developers were aware of this and have solved the performance problems that had gradually crept in.

In general, while writing this article in the 1.5.x beta, it seems as though every menu and toolbar has been features an enhancement of some sort.

Criticisms of Lyx

Obviously, Lyx isn't suitable for every type of document creation.

Strict formatting

Lyx is designed for the creation of documents such as reports, articles and books. If I were given the task of creating a document with loose formatting, such as a leaflet, I would probably use Open Office Word. Also, although I am sure that journals and such have been created with Latex in the past, given the task of creating a print magazine, I would be more inclined to use Open Office or perhaps even a fully-fledged DTP package.

In general, one is sometimes better doing things ``the Lyx way'' as opposed to working against Lyx in terms of formatting.

Quirky user interface

It has to be said that Lyx is a bit quirky in comparison with a standard word processor. To create anything beyond the most basic document, most users would need to look at the Lyx documentation. Lyx ships with document classes for things like letters or a CV but I would doubt that even the most experienced word processor user would be able to create documents of those types without making use of the Lyx manual.

I think that too much is made of GUI consistency these days. For an application that is designed for occasional, casual use, a user interface that complies with standard conventions is a must. However, in the case of an application that is going to be used for long periods of time, for serious work, I think that a user interface that requires some learning time is acceptable. This is why people who do actual content creation favour features such as keyboard shortcuts.

In summary, I consider it to be acceptable to invest some time in learning a tool that is going to be used for serious project work. On the other hand, a person who might write two or three letters a year, might be better off with a more standard word processor.

In Summary

Lyx is a wonderfully useful tool, in both conception and execution, and I would recommend that anyone who is interested in writing check it out.

Lyx certainly isn't a "do everything" text editor but I think that it's a shame that more people don't know about it. It's also a shame that there isn't some serious corporate interest in developing it. I'm left wondering what tools big organisations actually use to create their documentation. Hand written mark-up? A word processor?

A tool like Lyx creates allows content creators to concentrate on what they should be concentrating on: the creation of the content. As needed, the documents can be reliably exported to whatever format is needed at the time. The beauty of Lyx, is that you can create all of your content from within one piece of software, regardless of the eventual output format.

About the author:
Mike is an average super-turbo-geek and once tried to ask a woman out using set-theory. By the time he drew a big circle around the symbol that represented him and the symbol that represented her, she had realised what he was getting at and made a run for it. Check out his website: The Unmusic Website.

Table of contents
  1. "Lyx, 1/2"
  2. "Lyx, 2/2"
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