The short question: Is there a way for someone with extremely limited TeX knowledge to build and edit a table with some formatting (certain cells colored, double line borders, standard column/table widths, etc.)?

The long question: I'm at a company now that has a long product line with some parts dating back 30 years. The manuals for these parts are currently written in Microsoft Word, and as you can imagine, there are about as many different formats as there are manuals. The solution is obviously to switch to a program like TeX. I'm perfectly comfortable working in this sort of environment, but I'm not the decider. I need to convince my boss, and to do that I need to make the list of required learning as short as is humanly possible.

After a few days of research into LaTeX and three different editing environments (TeXstudio, TeXmaker, and MiKTeX [TeXworks]), it's clear that tables are going to be the biggest stumbling block for us. I've already found a few tools for building tables automatically, though none of them offer easy editing of an existing table. TeXstudio showed the most promise, with features to align columns, add/delete rows, etc, but these features do not work when you use anything remotely exotic (like \hhline or \rowcolor).

So anyway, what ways are there to build and edit tables for the utterly inept? Below are a couple example tables cause pictures are always fun.

color cells

double border

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    There doesn't seem to be anything special in those tables, so you don't need any special editing help really, just enter the text with & between each cell, and \\ at the end of each row, typing the text is more work than adding the table markup – David Carlisle Oct 17 '14 at 17:47
  • @David Nothing too exotic, like I said, but yet they didn't seem to play nice with TeXstudio's Align Columns command. I did, however, just find a possible answer: In Configure -> Advanced Editor, there are settings to handle different special commands. I'm playing with it now, maybe that's all I needed. – Dave Oct 17 '14 at 17:51
  • well to be honest I've never really wanted alignment on the table source just use & as I would sentence punctuation and let it fall where it falls, let tex take care of the alignment. Of course people need to get used to the idea that the output doesn't look like the input, but that's good thing to get used to:-) – David Carlisle Oct 17 '14 at 17:54
  • @David Of course I'm fine with it. Problem is I need to get this to work for someone who's still programming in BASIC! :-) – Dave Oct 17 '14 at 18:08
  • Well so it indeed looks like by setting the right options TeXstudio does what I want in terms of making table source easier to read, but I'd still appreciate if anyone could point to some other tools I might try out. We use a lot of tables and they go through a lot of edits as we change our product specs and features. – Dave Oct 17 '14 at 18:28

I guess this kind of document have some consistent layout that could be defined in a custom template and the informations are stored in some kind of database?

In the company where I work (small company that makes instruments for veterinary diagnostics) the people in production, lab technicians and sales&marketing use LaTeX without knowing for CoAs, labels, QC reports, etc. We have a custom frontend with a friendly GUI where information can be filled in using forms or loaded from our pdm. The resulting pdfs can then be printed or sent electronically. This system works great even for users who are uncomftable working with a PC.

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    This sounds interesting. So if I understand correctly, you have some standard documents and a front-end that hides all the LaTeX stuff so anyone can just fill out a form and produce a lovely document. How is this front-end built? – Dave Oct 17 '14 at 18:27
  • It's build in C++. It interfaces with our instruments (using LIS), our Sharepoint server (using gSoap) and a couple of SQL databases. The information is written to temporary input files with a large \setup{key=value, ...} structure and subsequently, pdfLaTeX is called to process the information based on custom documentclasses/packages. – Martin Heller Oct 17 '14 at 18:36
  • Possibly not recommend to convince your boss to start using LaTeX but it seems very interesting :) – user263485 Oct 17 '14 at 18:41
  • Agreed, a bit too sophisticated for us but I'm making a mental note. – Dave Oct 17 '14 at 18:45
  • The point is that only few (in our company only me) need to know LaTeX to write templates. Everybody else just uses the same frontend to generate documents with up-to-date information and consistent layout. – Martin Heller Oct 17 '14 at 18:51

If you want to convince your boss to start using LaTeX, you can show him/her Excel-to-LaTeX or an online version to ex­ports the cur­rent se­lec­tion of tables in Excel to LaTeX. I don't think migrating from Microsoft Word to Microsoft Excel would cause any trouble for someone who has used Microsoft for a long time.

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  • I agree with @user263485. I've just been getting to grips with LaTeX tables, and I've found that Excel2LaTex is a good way of getting large tables into LaTeX. It's an Excel add-on, and the only fiddly bit with Excel 2010 is getting it installed. Once installed it's really easy to use, and once you've got your basic table into LaTeX it's not too much work to fine-tune it. – Mark Birtwistle Oct 17 '14 at 20:37

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