LyX Devs Release First 2.0 Release Candidates

Considering that the dev team has been working on it for about two years now, the LyX 2.0 release candidates are starting to appear relatively quickly (RC2 at time of writing). The file format is now fairly fixed and should now be forwards compatible with all later versions, so this might be a good time for LyX die hards to check out 2.0, if they haven't already.

If you are an existing LyX user and you're building one of the release candidates from source, consider using something like:

./configure --with-version-suffix=2RC

This allows you to run the RC completely independently of other installed versions.

LyX is one of my favorite pieces of software, but I sometimes hesitate to recommend it as it's not for everyone. Let's just say, it is easy to use, once you learn how to use it. Even then, it's aimed at technically minded people.

In a nutshell, it's a writing tool in the form of a kind of text editor that outputs the finished document via a LaTeX back end. It's main target is academic writers, but particularly in light of some of the new improvements, it ought to be better known to all writers who want to separate content from layout. LyX 2.0 is an improvement of earlier versions of the software rather than a complete departure, which will please veteran users of the program.

Hurrah! LyX now sports a real time spellcheck that underlines misspelled worlds. The traditional step-by-step spell checker still exists, but it is now implemented as a sidebar rather than a free-floating window. The thesaurus now makes use of a different back end, allowing it to be multi-lingual. Unfortunately, for the moment, it uses its own window rather than a sidebar.

LyX 2.0RC1 in action. To the left, the document navagation sidebar in one of its many modes. To the right, a the new advanced search and replace sidebar. In the centre, something complicated taken from the documentation files.

A few of the new features make user of sidebars, improving usability. LyX has an advantage here as it isn't a word processor and can re-flow the text when sidebar is activated.

The advanced search and replace is an example of one of the new features that works as a sidebar. For basic use, it's still extremely easy to use but the advanced features are there for people who need them. In this YouTube video, a member of the LyX team demonstrates some searches that use regular expression searches on equations. It's even possible to specify a search criteria such as bold text. It's impressive stuff. Personally, I wonder if they should remove the old-style find and replace as it now seems superfluous.

Table handling has received some improvements. Some of the new features such the ability to create multi-row cells and to align decimal points and welcome, but frankly, I still consider the GUI to be a bit clunky in this area. For example, although it's a slightly different class of document creation system, the table GUI of say LibreOffice has a more polished look. Having said that, it's perfectly usable, once you get used to it.

While on the subject of table handling, it's worth noting that it is now possible to include a spreadsheet file in a LyX document. The output looks impressive (PDF file), but unless I'm missing something, it's not possible to see a preview of the resulting table within the LyX editor itself. Perhaps this is an enhancement that we can expect to see in the future?

There have been a few improvements in the area of document output. The creation of a document such as a PDF file now no longer blocks the editor as the build process is launched as a separate process, a welcome addition for people who create long, complex documents. The output and debugging pane has been improved, making it a bit easier to track down a hiccup that prevents a document from compiling cleanly. Thanks to a smaller, but useful, improvement, it is now possible to define a default document output format, rather than having to select it from a list in a menu. Also in the area of file output, it is now possible to create document bundles that contain all of the files that are referenced from within a LyX document. Handy for sharing documents.

Documents can now have unique color choices associated with them. This is particularly useful on LyX as it is possible to have a specific background color for, for example, a book project and a different one for articles.

These are some of the main additions and improvements that are part of the LyX 2.0 release. Nearly every area features smaller improvements and the full list would probably stretch into the hundreds. Hopefully, as well as improving the LyX experience for its band of dedicated users, some of the new features will drag some of the uninitiated into our little cult. There's still room for improvement, and as I said at the beginning, LyX isn't suitable for everyone. However, overall, this is shaping up to be yet another great LyX release. Looking forward to the final 2.0 release, guys.

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