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Copyright (C) 2001 by Steve Litt, All rights reserved. Material provided as-is, use at your own risk.

It was the best word processor, it was the worst word processor,
it was the fastest, it was the slowest.
it output the best format, it output the worst format
it was the easiest, it was the hardest.

It's Lyx

Some software decisions are no-brainers. Nobody conscious of security would use Microsoft Outlook. Everyone chooses Linux as server software.

Lyx isn't so simple. Lyx is a styles-based document processing tool. Its role in life is to allow (and force) the author to format his document with styles representing concepts like headings, code, verses, emphasis and the like, instead of formatting the look of the document. Lyx then translates the styles-based document into a good looking, well typeset, logically consistent Postscript, DVI or PDF document.

I've chosen Lyx to write my next book. That's a serious choice, because a 200 page book represents about $5,000-$10,000 of sweat equity. Not the kind of thing you want to dead-end. I chose Lyx after doing months of research and a week-long evaluation.

Is Lyx for you? I can't say. All I can do is tell you how to evaluate it, and give you a tutorial so you needn't spend an entire week learning enough to evaluate it. Read on...

The Best and Worst

It was the best word processor

Lyx allows you to concentrate on the content, without a worry about its format. Imagine how much you can slam out if you needn't worry about whether you use 12 courier or 10 courier bold to represent source code in your book. Imagine being able to write a simple script to take your tab delimited book outline and transform it into the structure of a Lyx book. Imagine a word processor designed from the ground up to output well typeset text and pictures, properly doing page numbering, two sided printing (with the proper binding margin so text doesn't get lost in the binding).

Imagine a word processor that allows you to represent a math formula the right way, instead of representing it the way a computer programmer would. Imagine a word processor that enables you to write an entire book, including contents, index, footnotes, margin notes, and practically anything else you'd want. Without even thinking about about it. And having the book come out looking professionally typeset.

Lyx is a self-publisher's dream.

It was the worst word processor

Imagine a word processor that won't let you format your pages the way you want. Imagine a word processor so arrogant that it assumes what you want your books style to be. And is so hard to configure that only the bravest dare modify the defaults.

Lyx is a serious committment, and for some there's no guarantee that committment will pay off. The tutorial on this page makes the committment much easier.

It was the fastest

With Lyx, all you do is write content. Just slam out content all the day long. You never lose your train of thought by trying to remember what font to use. There's a style for everything you want to do, and if the style doesn't exist you can make it (though with some difficulty).

It was the slowest

It could take days, or maybe even weeks, to learn enough Lyx, and its underlying markup language called LaTeX, to be able to create the styles you need for your specialized documents. You'd need to use Lyx for quite a bit of writing to justify such an investment. The first few days you use Lyx it's likely you'll curse it as the slowest and silliest wordprocessor that ever existed.

Incidentally, one of the two purposes of this web page is to greatly reduce the learning period for Lyx. But make no mistake about it -- you'll be unproductive for a few days.

It output the best format

When you write with Lyx and print your book, it looks just like a book you'd buy at the bookstore. Headings are crisp and bold. Body text is tight and well justified. There's just the right amount of spacing. It's beautiful!

It output the worst format

The book structure LyX gives you doesn't even have space for a copyright page. Ever see a book without a copyright page? Your choices are to use a different book format (KOMA-Script) that lacks some of the standard book's beauty, or do all sorts of kludges just to put in a copyright page, or modify the basic Lyx styles. Do you want a style for questions and answers at the back of the book? Either hack em, forget em, or roll your own styles.

Making your own styles is a complex undertaking, but it doesn't have to be rocket science. Take an hour to complete the tutorials on this page, and you'll understand the process of making styles. From there, simply read the manuals to learn the proper codes.

It was the easiest

All you do is type. Lyx handles all formatting. You never need to remember your style for source code or for poetry (verse) or quotations. You just type.

Cooler still, the native Lyx format is coded ascii, so it's easily manipulated by my favorite editor, Vim. If for some reason Lyx turns out to be wrong for me, I can use my editor to rescue most of my book's content and convert it to XML or some other open format.

It was the hardest

Hey, we've all made our own styles. We're all veterans of WordPerfect and MS Word. But styles are easy in those programs. In Lyx making or modifying styles is like open heart surgery. Every time you need to do something just a little different, Lyx gets in your face and laughs.

Unless you've taken the tutorials on this page. These tutorials give you a firm foundation to build on. From there it's just a matter of looking up the correct codes for your new or modified styles, and doing a little experimentation.

It's LyX!

LyX isn't an easy decision. If you decide to use it, use Litt's LyX Library as your guide.