At the start of this month I wrote about trying LaTeX or LyX to see if it suits my requirements better than OpenOffice. Quickly I decided to dump LyX, because it seemed like another abstraction layer which added complexity and that prevented me from being in control, so I started to use LaTeX directly. I think LaTeX is awesome. I was able to learn the basics easily by reading this LaTeX book on Wikibooks. It’s great how presentation and content is separated in LaTeX. While the basics may be easy, it gets more complicated when you want to to customise the layout. So far I didn’t need to do that, because there are different packages (add-ons for LaTeX) with a lot of options to fine tune the layout. To give some examples to illustrate the power of LaTeX, you can divide the document’s text in two columns or make it suitable for double-sided printing by merely adding an option to the document class command in the document preamble. Try doing that in OpenOffice or Microsoft Word. LaTeX can automatically hyphenate the text – also in the Dutch language if the right package is installed – which works great, OpenOffice can’t do that either.
I do have a problem though. BibTeX offers the possibility to automatically generate the bibliography and the literary references. In principle it works great, but at my History department a rare, uncommon style for literary references and bibliographies is used. An example can be seen here. As you can see footnotes are used for literary references, and if a second reference is made it is displayed in a shorter format than the first reference. For this style of referencing literature, I haven’t been able to find a BibTeX style which resembles it exactly. The most similar one I have been able to find is the Chicago Manual of Style BibTeX style, which I found here. You can create your own BibTeX style, but that seems like rocket science to me. I think I’ll have to do the literary references manually. That would suck, but I had to do the same in OpenOffice.
I use the gedit text editor which is included with GNOME to edit LaTeX files, in combination with the LaTeX plugin. In the upcoming Ubuntu 9.04 release a.k.a. Jaunty Jackalope, it has also been packaged under the name gedit-latex-plugin, which makes it easier to install. The plugin gives error messages if you try to compile a PDF document, so I’m using the terminal to issue a pdflatex <name of my document> command to build a PDF document of my LaTeX file. On KDE you could use Kile, and there are BibTeX editors for KDE as well, KBibTeX and Kbib. Unfortunately, none of these three has been ported to KDE 4 yet.