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LaTeX environment

TeX installation

The MacTeX distribution is probably the easiest to install (Mac OS X installation package). Other options exist, none are as easy, and I honestly don’t know on what basis you’d prefer a different one. However, I believe it can be installed with fink or macports, or the i-installer (now no longer being supported, however).

You will also probably want to get Tex Live Utility, which is a front-end to the updating program included with the TeX Live 2008 distribution. This allows you to incrementally update packages as they are added to the TeX Live set.

Bibliography management

BibDesk. It’s very nice. I haven’t tried other options, but I doubt I’d be persuaded to move to one of them. It allows you to attach PDFs to the entries, and to create smart folders, so I also wind up using BibDesk just as a reading/research tool as well. It also has nice support for “crossref” fields, so you can have one entry for a collection of papers (with editor, publisher, year, etc.) and create subordinate entries for the individual chapters that pick up the fields from the parent record automatically.

Editing environment

I’ve tried a number of the LaTeX editors on the Mac. What I actually use now is TextMate, which is not free. The standard is probably TeXShop which is also quite good. I have looked at iTeXMac2 a little bit as well. There is also Aquamacs, and Texmaker.

Here are just a couple of my impressions. You really want an editor that can do syntax coloring and preferably also has some macro support. All of the ones listed above have these properties. TextMate has pretty sophisticated coloring and macro capabilities, and the LaTeX plugin works well and makes things run pretty smoothly. I also like the ability to collect things together in projects. I had bought this anyway for other things (it is the standard editor for Ruby on Rails programming), I don’t know if I would buy it specifically for LaTeX. I probably didn’t give TeXShop (or any of the others) enough of a chance, but I’m pretty sure that TeXShop can meet most of your needs. I originally was partial to iTeXMac2 due to the way it leverages the Mac OS X package format to hide away all of the auxiliary files, but it is relatively complicated and I just can’t seem to figure out its development; all of the text on the web about it seems to be quite old, and although there are still occasionally updates, it just didn’t seem easy enough for what I need it to do. Aquamacs is really just a Macified emacs, but it has a well-developed LaTeX plugin. I haven’t really tried it thoroughly, the user interface didn’t grab me immediately. The same goes for Texmaker, which is the only cross-platform program in the bunch I listed above. It looks like it works ok, but I wasn’t compelled to switch to it. Comments on what I might have missed that might make me want to switch away from TextMate are welcome, though.

Lyx is kind of a compromise, the idea is that it provides something a bit more WYSIWYG and word-processor-like. It has recently gotten some additions that are designed for use with Linguistics, but I still find it a bit disorienting to work in and I prefer to just work with the text. I think it is capable now of doing covington-based examples inline, but since I use some modified example macros, as well as pstricks-based trees, I’d still need to have all of this stuff in a LaTeX code block, in which case I might as well just be using a regular text editor. It’s possible that this still might be a good place to start if you’re coming in cold from Microsoft Word.


The normal way to do presentations in LaTeX is to use something like the beamer package, which works pretty well and is quite mature by now. I still have run into a few compatibility complications, but that’s the way it is with LaTeX. The result of compiling a beamer presentation is generally a PDF file that you display with some kind of viewer like Preview or Skim or Acrobat. Of these, Skim seems the most promising for a basic viewer, although don’t expect anything fancy. It does allow you to set a transition between slides (e.g., a rotating cube), but it only allows you to set one transition style that holds of the entire presentation, and almost any transition you pick will get old after about 3 slides.

There is a command-line program called Impressive that adds some nice presentation features, like being able to explicitly set the transitions between slides, as well as zooming in on slides, jumping to other slides in the presentation, highlighting places on a slide, etc. It could be faster, but it’s still the closest thing to a Keynote/PowerPoint type control over a LaTeX-produced presentation that I’ve seen.

You can also just, you know, use Keynote for your presentations. That’s what it’s for, after all. If you do this, you might like LaTeXiT, which allows you to typeset small things like equations or trees in LaTeX and then drag them into Keynote (or PowerPoint). I use (and like) LaTeXiT a lot.

(Refs: Getting started with LaTeX, LaTeXiT indeed rocks. At some point I’ll maybe try to do more thorough reviews of the options, though of course they’re all constantly evolving.)