Review: LyX is an advanced but easy-to-use document processor based on LaTeX typesetting
By Saikat Basu
At a Glance
A user-friendly, open-source, cross-platform interface for someone who does not know LaTeX
True typeset output
Intuitive mathematical formula editor
A steep learning curve
No direct LyX to MS Word conversion
Collaboration with people who don’t use LyX is difficult
LyX is a good program for typesetting large documents, particularly scientific documents.
When one thinks of document editors, it’s usually Microsoft Word and Google Docs that come to mind. But in the world of word processors there are marquee names, and then there are some worthies not yet in the limelight. Advanced cross-platform document processor LyX has its merits. LyX is free and Open Source. LyX’s workflow is something of an adjustment from Microsoft Word, but learning it can pay off. The results are similar to professional typesetting.
Document processors are usually WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get). LyX is WYSIWYM (What You See Is What You Mean), though the frontend does not differ much from any other document editor. The way LyX controls the layout of the document lies in the background, where it uses powerful typesetting markup language LaTeX.
The idea is to separate the content from its presentation. Precise control over layout is a must for academic and scientific authoring. This is where LyX comes into its own. LaTeX is complicated. LyX is the friendly GUI. The program handles the final presentation, leaving the writer with only the business of writing the content. The end result is a more attractive and consistent document.
LyX is available for Windows, Mac OS X, and Linux, with unofficial ports for OS/2 and Haiku. For a fresh installation on Windows, opt for the 200MB bundle, which is fully functional and includes the complete LaTeX distribution (MiKTeX) and a bibliography manager. A 35MB update installation is available for older versions of LyX with LaTeX already installed on the system.
Lyx uses MiKTeX, an up-to-date implementation of TeX/LaTeX. It is composed of packages (programs, styles, fonts etc.) that help to format and render documents. Many of the packages are optional. During the course of your text processing, the program might prompt you to update the packages if it finds that you need a custom package not available with the default installation. LyX You can search for relevant packages using the Package Manager and install them.
On first launch, the GUI does not seem any different from a standard document processor (though it doesn’t resemble Microsoft Word’s Ribbon interface). If getting on the learning curve feels slightly overwhelming, you can avail yourself of very detailed instructions in LyX.org’s Introduction, Tutorial, User Guide, and additional manuals in the Help menu.
If you have a long and cluttered document waiting to be prepared, try your hand on LyX. It costs no money, and for complex scientific documents, it could end up saving you time.
Note: The Download button on the Product Information page takes you to the vendor’s site, where you can download the latest version of the software.
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