Setting up a proper authoring environment on Windows

Posted by Anton Hughes on Tuesday, August 28, 2012 with No comments
During the course of my PhD I used a number of word processors (or authoring environments). Word and OpenOffice (to see how good a replacement for Word it was) were what I started with, but I had a few concerns:

  1. Handling large documents gets a bit complicated. It's not really what Word and OpenOffice are designed for. You can put various parts into separate documents, but when it comes time to stick them all together, you have new issues.
  2. Formatting issues. Mysterious reformatting of fonts, strange page layout issues are just part of the MS Word landscape that people put up with. Someone in the Law school once lost all the footnotes in their document, and asked me to help find them again. Nothing I could do. Lucky they had a saved version.
So I started looking into alternatives. The main limitations I had to operate under were that I had to use Windows, and didn't have admin privileges.

I eventually found LyX. LyX uses  TeX/LaTeX under the hood, one of the earliest (and probably the most comprehensive) computer typesetting software packages. So the final product it produces is top quality, and it can handle the creation of very large documents. My favourite features are:
  1. Reliability - on the day my thesis had to be submitted, I really didn't have the time to be mucking around with manual edits to footnote numbers, page numbers, or anything else. When I finished editing, I clicked on a button, and a print-ready PDF of the whole 120,000 words of my thesis was ready to go.
  2. Readability - compare the word spacing on a typical word document with the pages of a professionally typeset book. You'll see what I'm talking about.
  3. Cross-referencing - I put in automatic cross-references to page numbers, footnote numbers, section numbers, and let LyX worry about updating them.
  4. Table of contents - inserted a table of contents at the start of the text, and LyX built it based on the section/subsection etc headings that I put in the text.
I wont say that it is for everyone. At times you have to learn a bit of LaTeX to get what you want (at least you did with 1.6.8). And I could never quite get my head around BibLaTeX, and did at times pine for the Zotero toolbar. But overall, it was a very wise decision to choose LyX.

In particular, I found a portable version of LyX and MikTeX (a Windows-based version of TeX) called LyTeX. I used version 1.6.8, but since I've finished, LyX 2.0 has come out, and some kind person has updated LyTeX to work with the new version.

So I've set it up again, with a view to turning my thesis into a book. One hurdle I had on the current computer is that I can't access the MikTeX repository to install things like custom fonts, and so on. But thankfully, I found the following instructions on how to set up a local repository:
  1. Create the folder, for example c:\miktex_pkgs
  2. Copy the following file to the folder c:\miktex_pkgs (If you do not copy the files you will probably get some errors from MikTex. See for the details):
  3. You can copy any packages you may need from to your local folder c:\miktex_pkgs
  4. Update your MikTex system: from the Windows Start menu -> Programs -> Miktex 2.9 -> Maintenance (Admin) -> launch the program "Settings (Admin)"
  5. Go to the tab "Package repository" and choose the folder c:\miktex_pkgs 
With this set up I don't have to download the whole 1Gb repository, just the packages that MikTeX wants to install.
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