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The power of LyX – the document processor

Quoted from the LyX homepage:

“LyX is a document processor that encourages an approach to writing based on the structure of your documents (WYSIWYM), and not simply their appearance (WYSIWYG).

LyX is for people who want their writing to look great, right out of the box. No more endless tinkering with formatting details, “finger painting” font attributes or futzing around with page boundaries. You just write. On screen, LyX looks like any word processor; its printed output — or richly cross-referenced PDF, just as readily produced — looks like nothing else.

LyX is released under a Free Software / Open Source license, runs on Linux/Unix, Windows, and Mac OS X, and is available in several languages. “

To be truthful, I was rather skeptical. What LyX was claiming here was that the now standard What You See Is What You Get approach, as offered by the leading word processors of today (Microsoft Word and OpenOffice.org Writer), is not necessarily as good as the What You See Is What You Mean approach. A bold claim indeed, after all, who do you know that uses LyX instead of Word?

But my curiosity was piqued. I went for the full installer available here, Windows being my platform. I installed, had a flawless setup, and then opened up my LyX. I went to Help > Introduction.

Screenie1

I was aghast. My first thoughts were along the following lines: “What? Is this the program that claims to be a better replacement for Word in many cases? No way…”

Then I had a reality break. I began to look around and understand. I viewed the very first document, that looked like an ancient WordPad document of some kind, in DVI and PDF mode. And for the second time in a row, I was thrown back.

Screenie2

The result, clearly, was stunning.

Apparently, LyX is a document processor. That means that you simply specify what you want, and how. The rest of the appearance problems, and aesthetics are worked on (in a standardized manner) by LyX. It uses the LaTeX typesetting mechanism, that gives it the great look that was just seen.

How about something simple, like a letter? Or a desk report? Or a book? LyX makes life very easy. All you do is the typing, and what I prefer to call the ‘markup’ (the symbols here and there that define what each chunk of text or junk is). LyX offers some document classes by default. These format your work to whatever is the standard way.

But what about something more complex? A scientific paper? A feasibility study? A technical definition? Here is where LyX really excels: I tried making a Logic Lab assignment (in my university), and then tried making the same in Word. Despite the fact that I was very new to LyX, I actually made it more easily in LyX! The appearance was handled well by LyX, and apart from a tiny issue with the layout of the endnotes, the output in PDF was splendid. Even the little issue I did have was resolvable, had I given it a little more time.

So far so good. I was impressed. But this begs the very important question: how did I learn? After all, working in LyX is very unlike working in Word. Word is a word processor, LyX is a document processor.

The answer to that lies in the fact that LyX bundles perhaps the best documentation of any program I have yet seen. The tutorial takes you step by step through LyXification, and the advanced documentation could not be more helpful. For such a large and potent program, this is possibly the only documentation in the world that I would give 11 out of 10 stars.

EndNote

My last review in the suites arena was that of OpenOffice.org 3.0. I recommended that because it offered so much for free. Well, LyX is free too. And it is very, very powerful. There is no way to experience it but to see it for yourself. This is where document processing meets strength of function. Keep an open mind, and you will surely be taken in by the power of LyX.

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