I'm thinking about an open source project of an online editor focused on content, but based on HTML5 and other cutting edge technologies. I'm not a fan of LaTeX, but I have to agree that documents in TeX/LaTeX are really pleasing to the eye. Maybe I'm not a fan, because I've never known it good enough to feel confident, but I think there are many users like me. They like LaTeX documents but really don't want to write them themselves and here is my question.

As I've mentioned in first sentence. I'd like to try write something like an online editor focused on content - so this is the main LaTeX assumption as I've remembered from class. So in my concept this editor should make it easy to write text, but under the hood I'd like to have any good technology which will give flexibility for more advanced users. And I'd like to ask: is LaTeX a good language/format for documents?

Main goals:

  • online LaTeX compiler,
  • Web interface
    • Easy for new users (click and write, focused on content, styles will be applied later during document creation)
    • Advanced mode - raw LaTeX code
    • collaboration
  • document will be LaTeX document, but this code will be hidden on first sight, if someone will go to advanced mode they can see this code, modify, download do whatever he wants - edit it like in a normal LaTeX/TeX editor

Are there any projects like this? I don't know everything so I'm asking here. Do you think it would be a good idea to use LaTeX as a base for documents? Or ex. document should be html document and styles should be done in some language like css. I think about LaTeX because I think it is really sophisticated and many things can be done using this. Things which aren't available in MS Word, Google Docs and others editors.

Right now my feelings about LaTeX are different. On first sight it's a really powerful technology, is useful when we are writing scientific articles, master thesis etc. but there are really small group of people who are using this. They are mostly students, scientists who are enthusiastic about good looking documents and don't care about raw text editors, many commands and not user-friendly interfaces.

If it's such a good technology why is there no good editor for LaTeX which is usable by normal users (I've intentionally skipped LyX, for me it's like prosthesis for normal users like me who want to use LaTeX, but don't want to learn the whole syntax.

So, are there better document formats, which could be used as base for such online editor focused on content?

  • 4
    Would you consider appending the title of the question to include something about online editors (or something that details the context)?
    – cmhughes
    Commented Nov 30, 2011 at 19:27
  • 1
    I am not quite sure what you are looking for. For a while, it seemed to me that what you are describing is an online version of LyX, but then you specifically ruled LyX out. Commented Nov 30, 2011 at 19:58
  • 2
    I'm sorry, but your question is very unclear and could certainly be improved by searching the web first. You would then have found products like Scientific Word and alternative document formats like Pandoc and Docbook. You may also look at Collaborative editors. Commented Nov 30, 2011 at 22:12
  • related question: Compiling documents online
    – matth
    Commented Dec 1, 2011 at 10:52
  • Important question: will the content that'll be collaboratively edited have lots of math in it? Commented Dec 2, 2011 at 1:53

5 Answers 5


Yeah I've thought about something similar as well, but instead of one output document, I'd go for one document per media. So I think it'd be a good idea to have the user input the document text in a human-friendly format such as Markdown, have your system transform that into HTML5 (with Hyphenator.js, Google Web Fonts API, or Typekit and put some thought into designing your CSS.) while also producing a PDF-file with TeX (for printing purposes). And then on your document-view page, show a link to that PDF-file.

To assist in some of the above, there is a program called Pandoc.

  • I love pandoc, but it does need GHC installed. Installing pandoc on a Mac via Macports requires compiling the lot, and it can take some time!
    – qubyte
    Commented Nov 30, 2011 at 17:28
  • 1
    @MarkS.Everitt: I usually try to avoid compiling from source (too time consuming), instead, I'd go with the Haskell Platform.
    – morbusg
    Commented Nov 30, 2011 at 17:34
  • @MarkS.Everitt: oh, or better yet, just download the binaries: code.google.com/p/pandoc/downloads/list
    – morbusg
    Commented Nov 30, 2011 at 17:36
  • 1
    Yeah, but then OCD happened. ;)
    – qubyte
    Commented Nov 30, 2011 at 17:38
  • @morbusg: Thanks for the tip though!
    – qubyte
    Commented Nov 30, 2011 at 18:36

Too long for a comment, switching answers. (Most obscure Top Gun reference ever?)

What does being "focused on content" mean? It sounds like management-speak to me. If "focused on content" means "presentation doesn't matter" then LaTeX isn't the best option. You might as well stick with plain text, or markdown. But then, these technologies already exist, so you wouldn't need to invent them. I'm sure plain text online collaboration tools exist in abundance.

So the question is "Is there something that is like LaTeX, but easier. No. LaTeX is not needlessly difficult. It is hard (in so far as it is hard, I don't think it is – but that's a different story) because it is powerful.

Now, as to the question of why there aren't good WYSIWYG editors for LaTeX, (if you discount LyX) it is because LaTeX relies on you telling it what you want. If you say "I want this text to be bold", do you really mean just bold face, or do you want this to be a section title? Once you start having to specify that sort of thing, you might as well just write the raw code. That's a bad example, but I'm in a rush.


ScribTeX already does the online compilation part and the collaboration part of your question. What is missing is a user-friendly interface that hides the LaTeX code from the novice user.


Bacoma TeX is basically doing what you want but as an offline program. So it is definitely possible but I am not sure whether this can be recommended. If most users do not know about the underlying LaTeX system they won't use any styles but rather simple tags like underline, bold, etc. which are not of any help when you want to create a useful LaTeX document.

For users that are a bit familiar with LaTeX I would recommend Jonathan's suggestion of trying out ScribTeX. An alternative is always to use normal HTML markup and include small rendered TeX bits like the partner site physics on stackexchange has.

  • 1
    That rendering on physics.SE is done by MathJax which is fantastic. Super-simple to add to a site too.
    – qubyte
    Commented Nov 30, 2011 at 17:32

To my knowledge such an online collaborative editor for LaTeX does not exist. It is true that I very often thought that we could benefit from a somehow user friendly text processor for LaTeX, so that it can be easier to work with. For mundane users and people completely immune to any kind of programming, it is a daunting task to try to tackle a LaTeX document.

I feel that a text processing software, with different processes (text, then markup, then layout, then final document) could be of use for such users. It still allows for the focus-on-content approach that LaTeX emphasize, while allowing for a text input devoid of any kind of esoteric programming input, and hiding some of the complexity of the layout and structure behind the scenes.


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