Over the past few months, I have moved almost entirely to LaTeX for word processing. The transition started at the end of AER407 Space Systems Design, when OpenOffice (or my five-year-old desktop) choked on a 200-page document with over 120 figures. While it was too late to transfer that entire report to LaTeX, I now use it even for one- or two-page documents. Why?

  • I am accustomed to editing HTML and other source code files and so habitually abstract content from its appearance—exactly the purpose of LaTeX.
  • Gedit (a text editor) is much faster to start and even more responsive than OpenOffice. I can also have documents I am referring to (e.g. other LaTeX documents included in a master document, source code files) open in other tabs.
  • BibTeX. 'Nuff said.
  • The results are beautiful PDF files.
  • It's free!

Some tips and tricks to streamline LaTeX authoring:

  • Use the LaTeX plugin for gedit. This adds a handy toolbar for common commands, and the document can be compiled with a simple Ctrl+Alt+1. The plugin requires Emmanuel Beffara's excellent rubber compiler, which obviates the need to run pdflatex or other programs repeatedly (install).
  • Charter BT (PDF sample) a slightly chunky but still elegant serif font. This is in the texlive-fonts-recommended package (install).
  • Add a right-click menu item to folders in Nautilus using the nautilus-actions package (install). This item removes all the extra files (.aux, .bbl, .out, .blg) created as intermediate stages of compiling a LaTeX document.

    • System > Preferences > Nautilus Actions Configuration, click Add.
    • Label: Remove LaTeX byproducts
    • Tooltip: Remove temporary files created when rubber compiles *.tex documents.
    • Icon: gtk-clear
    • Path: find
    • Parameters: %M -name *.tex -execdir rubber --clean '{}' \;
    • Conditions: Appears if selection contains only folders.
  • Use \input{…} at the top of documents to include a header file like article-general.tex containing shortcuts and some common package includes.

  • texdoc _packagename_, which is like "man", only for LaTeX packages.

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