LyX: A FOSS 'WYSIWYM' LaTeX word processor

Jan 27, 2009
Updated • Jan 14, 2013

You have no doubt heard of 'WYSIWYG' editors, which show you what you get. The vast majority of HTML editors and word processors operate on a WYSIWYG principle, but another principle is WYSIWYM – 'what you see is what you mean'. The key idea of WYSIWYM editors is that the users merely have to concentrate on structure and content, instead of writing aesthetically.

The introductory paragraph no doubt sounds confusing, but the idea is that content and presentation are separated. Software like LyX expects the user to tell it the documents structure – such as marking where titles are – and LyX will then concern itself with the aesthetics, so the user need not fuss with fonts.

LyX is a free, cross-platform and open source word processor based on LaTeX mark-up language. LaTeX is designed to allow formulae and other such things to be easily inserted into documents, making LyX particularly useful when writing scientific or mathematical documents. LyX is currently available for Windows (2000 upwards), Linux and Mac OS X although builds operate for other operating systems.

I have only used LyX under Ubuntu as it requires the installation of TeX, which totals up to about 300MB. This put deterred me from installing it on my MacBook Pro, which barely has 10GB free space! LyX ran smoothly under Ubuntu, which is no surprise as it will be aimed primarily at Linux users.

Regarding usability, it takes some getting used to not having to deal with aesthetics. I found myself searching for the font dialog for about 20 minutes, before realising fonts were not essential in this program. It is quite easy to get typing but the transition between software like OpenOffice and Pages to this really was not natural. As I'm not a scientist, I rarely use LyX although I have no doubt it is useful for them (several of my friends have vouched for it!).

LyX can export into several formats, including PDFs and DOCs. It is also capable of handling right-to-left writing systems, like Hebrew and Arabic, and allows graphics to be inserted into documents.


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  1. iv said on February 4, 2009 at 1:22 pm

    If you’re writting short, 2-3 page document, word-like program is probably the way to go. But, when you decide that you want to change some details across a 200 page long document then Lyx is teh Editor:) And the thing that get’s me is that the .lyx file that it uses for saving is basically a rich-text document and it stays small, while the .docx grows like hell with every page you add. So, using online back-up with .lyx is a breeze comparing with syncing 30mb .docx document every time you change something.
    + I love the way it does all of the typesetting for you so it all looks professional and stuff.

    Anyways, excellent app, can’t write without it but it does take some time to learn how to use it properly!

  2. Patrick said on January 27, 2009 at 7:23 pm

    I love LyX. I use it for all of my professional documents and even for my site using hevea. Also if you would have read the introduction you would realize that LyX is aimed at properly displaying content than word processing. So you focus on what youre writing not how youre writing it. Anyways great app and I hope you use it more.

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