LyX: A text editor that stays out of the way

January 20th, 2008 edited by Patrick Murena

Article submitted by Nicolas Brailovsky. And guess what? We still need you to submit good articles about software you like!


Did you ever get to struggle against your text editor’s random format feature while trying to write a document? Open Office may be a great project, but when you want to focus on the content, it can be annoying to have your editor format or unformat your text, seemingly at random.

Well there are good news for those of us using Vim to create content and then Abiword to format it: LyX is a text editor that produces beautiful documents, without the need of being a designer, and yet manages to stay out of the way. From the tutorial and the homepage (

LyX is the first WYSIWYM (What You See Is What You Mean) document processor. The basic idea of LyX is that you do not need to handle style, or actually, you use a set of predefined styles and concentrate on your document content, This makes sure that your resulting document will be typographically correct and good looking visually. [...] LyX uses Latex as its back end typesetting mechanism.

Sounds great already, doesn’t it?

A first look into LyX

Upon start LyX looks more or less like any other graphical text editor in the universe:


Well, it’s logo may look nicer, but that’s about it. Anyway, the magic starts just as you start writing: you’ll notice most of the common format options seems missing, but you can define what you’re writing instead:

lyxMenuNote that we don’t tell it to center it or to make the font larger and bold. LyX takes care of all that automatically. Simply click on the format menu (below File, and it has the default value of “Standard”).

So instead of defining Times New Roman 12px bold centered, you say «Title». WYSIWYM, remember? In the homepage there is a «Graphical Tour» with all the basic functions, it’s quick and it’s great:

Some useful features

LyX also provides a great support for math formulas (and all the weird symbols you can think off). Just click the button «Insert Equation» and a box to enter math symbols will appear. No more struggle to align the dividend and the divisor!


Of course, LyX provides the usual features such as tables, spell checking, footnotes and many more. The tutorial of the application is more than complete, and easy to follow.

LyX documents formats

LyX documents can be exported to a wide variety of formats, mainly because being based on Latex it takes advantage of the already existing conversion programs. Some of the possible export plugins installed by default are PS, PDF, DVI, Latex, HTML and Plain text, but custom ones may be defined.

What LyX isn’t for

Although LyX may be a valuable piece in anyone toolkit it’s worth noticing it isn’t exactly the Swiss army knife of the text editors. If you need to define a very customized layout or format, like slides for a presentation, this is the wrong tool for the job.


According to it’s homepage, LyX 1.5.3 was released the 16 th of December, 2007. It’s available in Debian since Sarge ( Lyx Version 1.5.1, released 4 th of August, 2007, is available in the repository of Ubuntu 7.10. Development is still active. There’s also a Windows version for those of us stuck with primitive a OS at work.

Posted in Debian, Ubuntu |

7 Responses

  1. Gerhard Says:

    You can use LyX also very well for slides, when you have the LaTex Beamer packsge installed. Highly configurable and just beautiful :-)


  2. Todor Says:

    The best description of LyX would be an easy to use LaTeX. You don’t need any other word-processor. LyX is the best there is ;-). I have created my diploma thesis and my MSc thesis in it.

    “What isnt LyX for” section is not really true: Lyx implements a plethora of the LateX document classes (some of them very specialised ones). Also wealth of good examples you can use (e.g. CV, letters, …). If there is something very special, like in every other word-processor you can define your own.

  3. coastGNU Says:

    I’m using LyX since Version 0.10 and unlike common known office suites I never had to fiddle around with file changed formats. In most Office suites file format changes are a known problem.

    Imo LyX is also a very good tool for use in school where the kids start to write their documents with a computer. They start writing a document according it’s structure (Title, Subtitle, Chapter, and so on and don’t tend to use it as a classical typewriter machine.

  4. ex-Lyx User Says:

    Lyx is great for doing basic document structure, however when you start writing larger tables, around 4×10, Lyx performance drops to the point where it is unusable.

  5. Karl Schmidt Says:

    Arghh! I sure don’t like the background image on their website - makes it hard to read. (When will people learn!) (I finally turned it of with the prefbar extension for iceweasle).

  6. Seasoned LyX user Says:

    I find LyX to be the best word processor. Done my diploma&MSc thesis in it. It brings all the power of LaTex - a standard for typesetting professional scientific documents (and more) in an easy to use package. Hey, but the wealth of document types (from science journal articles to various types of business letters, CV formats) and excellent example document give even more versatility. In this respect “What LyX isn’t for” part of the text is not really true.

  7. Phil Says:

    Nano is a text editor that stays out of the way. LyX is a word processor that stays out of the way. (OK, done being pedantic now…)