WYSIWYM (What You See Is What You Mean)

by Tom Mrak

Many of us have used a word processor at some point in our lives to write a letter or perhaps even to design a web page. Modern word processors, such as Microsoft Word, Sun's StarOffice and AbiWord, use the principle of WYSIWYG, what you see is what you get. This basically means that the way text appears on your screen is what the hard copy will look like.

However, in the UNIX/Linux world there are many programs that don't work this way. One is called LyX (www.lyx.org), and it is an open-source document processor that encourages users to spend more time working on the structure of a document rather than focusing on its appearance.

LyX uses the LaTeX typesetting language to produce high-quality, professional-looking documents in such formats as HTML, PostScript, DVI and PDF.

Rather than concerning yourself with formatting and spacing, like you would with a normal word processor, you tell LyX what you wish to do, and it uses a template called a "style" to construct your document.

This approach to the creation of the written word could best be described as WYSIWYM: what you see is what you mean.

At first sight, LyX looks a lot like a regular word processor. In fact, its interface is very WYSIWYG-like. But, LyX does not behave like an ordinary word processor. For example, it is impossible to create multiple spaces and multiple line breaks with the keyboard. Instead, the program will do this formatting for you.

Every element of your document, whether it be the title, a paragraph or even a table of contents, can be categorized. Through the use of a pull-down menu, the type of element you'd like to create can be selected. For example, Title can be selected from the menu. Rather than using a bunch of widgets to change the appearance of the text in the title, LyX automatically makes the text large and adds emphasis. The creation of the title alone would take several steps with an ordinary word processor.

Although LyX can be used to write small notes and memos, it really shines when a user is making complex documents. Its ability to add sections automatically to the table of contents as they are created, and to do section and list numbering, saves a lot of time and strain.

Navigation through a large, complex document is made easy by the use of links pointing to figures, captions, pages and quotes. The table of contents can even act as an outline browser. LyX is quite a powerful application; going over every one of its capabilities would be difficult in a short article such as this.

Although LyX is mostly used for the creation and processing of documents that contain text and sometimes graphics, the program also contains a mathematical formula editor. Entering mathematical equations and symbols into a document that are not part of a standard character set has usually been difficult and time consuming. LyX solves this problem by providing a WYSIWYG interface to LaTeX's superb mathematical capabilities.

By default, LyX comes with many styles and even a few templates to get you started. Other templates are easily created, providing guidelines for future projects. Although knowledge of LaTeX is not needed to use the program, LaTeX commands can be used in LyX documents to extend the program's functionality.

LyX may work differently from a regular word processor, but it is not all that difficult to learn. A copious amount of documentation is bundled with the program, including a beginner's tutorial, user's guide and other documents describing advanced features.

LyX makes the creation of documents easier, quicker and, in some ways, fun. For more information about LyX and to download the program, visit www.lyx.org.

Editor's Note: Stay tuned for a LyX tutorial, coming soon.

Tom Mrak is an aspiring 20-year-old writer and musician who happens to enjoy tinkering with GNU/Linux and technology in general. He currently lives in Duluth, Minnesota.

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