LaTeX Online: Options continue to grow

The idea of using ‘The Cloud’ for working with documents is very much on the rise. For collaborative work, particularly with less-experienced users, the idea of leaving things like version control ‘built in’ is very attractive. This approach is also a good way to use LaTeX on portable devices, where installing a TeX system may be tricky.

There are now several online services, all of which seem to offer a core set of idea (an editor, previewer and TeX system for compiling, and almost certainly version control). Keeping up with the different services is tricky: I’ve come across

All of them offer those core services, and some advertise other goodies such as DropBox integration (SpanDeX does).

What people want to know is probably ‘which service is best’. Some of these have been round for a little while now, but none can claim a long history, so at the moment there’s probably no one clear leader. Not everyone will be comfortable with an online service: letting other people store your data is not something that’s risk-free, while if you want the latest version of every package you use, you’re likely to need to have your own set up.

I’d love to hear people’s experiences of these services: my colleagues don’t use LaTeX, so I don’t have the opportunity to test out the big ‘selling points’ of these sites.

6 thoughts on “LaTeX Online: Options continue to grow

  1. Last October my Open University students used ShareLaTeX to collaborate on writing the solutions for a maths exam paper. Being new then, it was free to use and it was very successful. To make it easier to collaborate each question was in a separate file and there was a special style file students use, which was easily uploaded. All the files could be easily downloaded into one zip file.

    Discusssions were on an internal OU forum and you could tell ShareLaTeX was a success because no-one asked how to use the service – the talk was about the maths or the LaTeX code.

    Other online services that I know about are:
    MonkeyTeX at http://monkeytex.bradcater.webfactional.com/
    Verbosus at http://www.verbosus.com/ (inbcludes Android and iOS apps)
    blue.publications.li at http://www.publications.li/blue

    See http://sixthform.info/steve/wordpress/?p=233 (section B) for a short description of these, a bit out of date as it was last updated in May 2012 :(.

  2. Since I do quite a lot of collaborative editing with new clients, I watch these new sites with interest.

    I’m particularly interested in client confidentiality – I’ve noticed that the privacy statements for these sites are not what I would call convincing: from what I saw, all but Write Latex talk about the data they hold as if the only data was identifying information about user accounts, and not talk about sensitive data that might be contained in documents, e.g., a patent application, a medical study.

    And again only Write Latex gives its users a meaningful right to delete data. That makes them the only one I would consider that even tries to be a serious candidate for professional use.

  3. Hi Joseph – Thanks for your article – I’ve been looking around for a place to work with my LaTeX documents for a couple of years and have yet to find anything that ‘just works’. I was pleased to find writeLatex as it looks promising, as does SpanDex.
    Having said that, only one of the services in your list produced a pdf when I uploaded the project I am working on at the moment.

    writeLatex: files upload (more or less) as expected and appear in a dropdown, unfortunately there doesn’t seem to be any obvious way to edit any file but the ‘root’ file and as I have my preamble in a separate file, this is a problem for me. Also, as I use Japanese in my writing I tend to use XeTeX, at the moment this doesn’t seem to be supported. However, at least I know why my document won’t compile as the error dropdown stays available.

    shareLatex: not a clue what’s going on here. It’s possible to upload a zipped project but only the root file (which you specify) actually appears. This does not seem to be editable. It is also possible to create a new blank project but there doesn’t seem to be any way to add files except cut-n-paste. As for compiling a usable PDF…who knows…

    spanDex: looks the most promising and actually gave me a PDF! The interface makes obvious sense, uploaded files appear as expected. It is possible, in the Project Settings, to choose different compilation engines. The PDF if not entirely as I would want but this is partly my problem – I use ‘fontspec’ to specify the Japanese language font to use, I assume this has to be changed to one that spanDex has available. I may also have to adjust the way my bibliography is produced – but as for actual writing and production of PDFs, spanDex looks like the winner (for me at least) at the moment. If I can solve my fontspec and biblatex compilation problems then DropBox integration makes spanDex look very attractive.

    Cheers,

    Scott
    ++++

  4. Thanks to everyone for all of the feedback: very useful. I’d agree that data security is an issue here, as it is with all cloud-based services. I might try to take one or two of the ‘leaders’ and investigate in more detail.

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