Jul 15

Writing Math on the Internet

With the development of Google Docs (http://docs.google.com/), one has to do word processing on their computer less and less.  Working online is usually faster (just a browser to load), and allows your data to be stored in “the cloud”–that is, online rather than on your computer, making the files more secure.

However, for mathematicians there has always been a problem with this–LaTeX.  Many of us use LaTeX to write everything.  Academic papers, tests and exams, assignments, and even worksheets and letters (my CV was even made in LaTeX).  Because of this there has not been much opportunity to switch over to using Google Docs (or any other online office suite).  But as more websites are being created, more Web 2.0 apps are being written, we have today some nice options.

  1. Google Docs Equation Editor.  For those who only need a little LaTeX, Google Docs has introduced an Equation Editor.  This allows you to create a document in google docs and add equations by going to the insert menu and selecting equation.  This works a lot like the Word or OpenOffice equation editors.  It’s not great, and it allows you to only create small equations, but if that’s all you need, then it works.  (Also, as of the time of this post, it seems you can only do this in a Google Docs document, not a presentation, nor a form).
  2. Codecogs Equation Editor (http://www.codecogs.com/components/equationeditor/equationeditor.php).  This is really useful if you just need a little bit of latex to use around the internet (for instance, a math blogger on a blog that doesn’t handle latex).  If you want to type up just a little math, go to this page, type in the latex, and it will spit you out a picture (gif) that you can insert anywhere!  The downside is of course that, since it is a picture, it is a raster image, and so if you zoom in at all it will pixelate and look horrible.  But if you just need a bit here and there, this will work well!
  3. jsMath (http://www.math.union.edu/~dpvc/jsMath/).  If you are looking to create your own webpage using HTML, you should take a look at jsMath.  I have not used it, and I am not familiar with how it is used, but their website has some impressive examples that are NOT IMAGES, but rather text formatted and using latex fonts so it looks like perfect latex.  I don’t know how well it scales, but check it out.
  4. Scribtex (http://www.scribtex.com/).  Now this is what I was looking for.  This program allows us to not only completely leave our latex distribution at home, but it also allows us to collaborate on latex files!  So lets say I’m making an exam for one of my courses.  I can make the latex file on here and then share the latex file with the other professor(s) for the course, and we can all work on it together!  I tested the LaTeX-ing ability by copying an entire exam file I had into a file on here, and success!  Fully compiled, outputted to PDF, and I could download it and print it no problem!  The file was now saved in the cloud, secure, and safe from problems with my computer.  Very impressed, and I may be hooked!  Scribtex has “no limit on the size or number of documents and files you can upload and are happy to give you as much space as you need for personal use”.  They don’t seem to be out to make money (the site seems to be 100% free as far as I can tell), as they are run by a “LaTeX enthusiast with too much free time”.  I LIKE IT.
  5. Verbosus (http://www.verbosus.com/).  Now this seems to be impressive, but they also seem to be out to make money.  The service is free, but they restrict you to creating 4 (four) files (you can pay to remove this restriction).  They also have restrictions on the amount you can use: “Currently the following quotas are activated: File upload size may not exceed 5MB (for each file) and the generation of a backup file may not exceed 40MB. Additional quotas might be introduced as the service becomes used by more people.”  All this aside, the interface is nice, setup to fake being 2 screens – 1 for editing, and 1 to view the resulting pdf.  While it looked impressive, and even creates a sample latex document for you, I tried to edit one small thing and re-tex it, and it failed.  Maybe it is because I was using Chrome, but Scribtex worked fine.  My feeling about this is it is impressive, but a little overdone.  I also have not seen any mention of collaborating on LaTeX files, like Scribtex allowed.

I was so impressed when I found these links that I had to post this.  Web 2.0 apps and online apps are getting really powerful…powerful enough to kill the computer app?  Maybe not, but maybe so for the most basic things.  This suggests (and people have already done this) the thought of creating a computer (a laptop perhaps) with a tiny hard drive, not too much ram, and a GREAT (wireless) internet connection.  That great internet connection is all the hard drive space you need when you work in a cloud.  Enjoy!

1 comment

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