Date: Sun, 05 May 2002 10:03:19 -0400

Author: James Frysinger

Subject: Re: Software for Creating Lab Manuals


I know what you're talking about with your frustrations with MS Word. I used
it a few years ago to write a 93-page thesis. Figures seem never to stay put,
one cannot use mixed portrait and landscape modes and still have the headers
and footers come out as desired. I made it happen, but I aged considerably in
the process. Yet, it is a powerful program.

Shortly after doing the above, I migrated to linux for most of my work and
there I have used StarOffice. Two things about StarOffice set it apart from
MS Word: it rarely locks up or crashes and it's free. StarOffice does a
fairly decent job opening and even creating MS Word (and Excel, etc.)
documents. Not only is the unix/linux version of StarOffice free, there is
also a free version for Windows. (I don't know if there is one for Macintosh
OSes.) I have been doing most of my standards work in StarOffice, even while
my colleagues have used MS Word of various vintages. Problems have been

There is a gui for LaTeX called lyx that runs in linux and that is avaliable
(for free and as part of the SuSE distribution). One nice thing about LaTeX
is that you don't have to worry about layout. One bad thing about LaTeX is
that deviating from the preprogrammed layout in the "class" document is
difficult, at least while in this gui. Also, one can select "here, top (of
page), bottom (of page), and (separate) page" as location preferences for
figure and table "floats" (think "frames" in Microsoftware). But, it says in
the fine print, once you have used the gui to take care of the grunt work of
producing a document, you can go into the LaTeX file and do some incredible
tweaking on the text file. I"m just not there yet in proficiency.

Urs reported on a LaTeX gui that runs in Macintosh OSes; others exist for
Windows OSes. I know....., the truly stalwart among us always hand-code their
html and TeX/LaTeX documents. I ain't that bright, so guis are good deals, to
me. One nice thing about the lyx gui (and I presume that the others do this
too) is that I can export to pdf format without using Adobe's Acrobat
Distiller or PDFmaker. Supposedly I can do the same thing for html
production, but it hasn't worked for me yet. It's supposed to be able to
import MS Word files, too.

I just inherited the MS Word masters for our several lab manuals when I took
this new position, so I'll be going through the same process that you are. At
least for awhile, I'll probably stick to MS Word, but LaTeX is appealing and
I may migrate the masters to that format. It's very portable, they say, and
(man-alive!) it does indeed produce some beautiful pages! Good luck to us


On Sunday, 2002 May 05 0706, you wrote:
> I am using MS Word to create lab manuals, which are often more than
> 80 pages. It cannot do some of the things I want it to do (e.g. put the
> footer where I want it
> on a page in landscape mode). Several times I have been told that Word is
> not
> good for big documents like these -- especially when they have diagrams in
> them.
> Have you all used other software? Framemaker? Quark Expires? etc.
> Also, have you all tried LaTex?