TeXstudio - A cushty yet nerdy LaTeX frontend

Updated: October 9, 2019

Many a person in the modern world have had, at some point in their life, to write a document of some sort, usually a CV, and then send it to other people for professional scrutiny. Others have braved their luck writing books and articles, or creating presentations. Many have tried, but few had succeeded.

If you want to write a nicely styled document, you need, well, style. Or rather styles. Ever since computer graphics became powerful enough to show fancy stuff on your screen, document writing has gone from text to a vomit of figures and colorful objects mixed with words in one messy bundle. But if you want to do it right, you want content and style separation. In essence, this is HTML and CSS, and to be fair, this is your modern word processor with the use of styles. Or if you're feeling really adventurous - LaTeX. Or if you're feeling bold and lazy, then maybe LyX. Then, there's another candidate - TeXstudio, and we shall discuss it today.

Teaser

The road to PDF

In the end, you want to have a nicely styled and - more importantly - consistent document you can share with other people with minimal embarrassment. The major difference between classic word processors and TeX frontends is that the latter force you to use content-style separation. You don't get the luxury of manually mangling your documents beyond recognition.

Over the years, I've tried and reviewed many different tools of this nature. LyX is my favorite - and a good baseline for this review. I've also tried Kile, and it was also fairly decent. Now, there are other programs, one being TeXstudio. Going about using Discover in Kubuntu, go figure, I stumbled across this application, I liked what it said in the description and the screenshot was nice, so I installed the program and started testing in earnest.

First steps

The interface is similar to most other frontends - a bit busy, but it makes sense after a few seconds. Once you load the document, the raw code (TeX) will be displayed in the center, with a message log for your operations just below. In the left pane, you can load various other elements, like symbols and equations, and in the right, you can show the preview of your rendered document.

Main interface

I decided to start ambitiously - my Linux Kernel Crash Analysis book, which I've originally created in 2010-2011 using LyX. The final product comes out as a 182-page PDF, with several dozen images and tables inside it. I've also shared with you two tutorials on LaTeX and LyX tips and tricks, which explain the fine details of what I used to make the book prettier - nice headers and footers, table and bullet list styling, and other fancy bits.

TeXstudio loaded the file just fine (it took a few seconds to parse everything), and I could instantly view the final render. It looks identical to what LyX did, and the only difference - at this point - seemed to be the use of the file extension (.lyx versus .tex that TeXstudio expects). But this was quite cool. After all, we're talking a non-trivial project created by another program, almost a decade ago.

Working 1

Working 2

Powerful features all around

TeXstudio can be intimidating - especially if you don't know much about TeX or LaTeX. The interface has loads of options, and many of them do require advanced knowledge of the subject matter. The program lets you work directly with SVN (no Git), you can convert your text/code, use super-advanced bibliography, macros, and more.

Version history

Idefix

Bbliography

The configuration sub-menu comes with still more options. You do need to know what you're doing, otherwise, you may end up changing some of the delicately balanced defaults, and your documents won't behave as they should, and you won't know why.

Options, commands

Options, configure

New document & presentation wizard

I decided to try the wizard mode next - this is a really cool thing. TeXstudio lets you create several templates, including a very cool concept of presentations (slides), based on the Beamer package. However, when I tried to preview the presentation, I hit an error.

Wizard, quick start

Wizard, presentation

Missing package error

File `pgfcore.sty' not found. \RequirePackage

This looks quite similar to the problems I faced with missing packages in a Windows installation of LyX. I then used MiKTeX as my LaTeX package manager, and it would download packages on the fly, based on declarations in my documents. I couldn't find anything similar to that here, and even the Packages Help returned nothing.

No documentation

After some rigorous Internet searches, I learned that this error can be worked around by installing the extra TeX packages package [sic], which brought in some 180 MB worth of data. But the bigger question of how to elegantly replenish the missing pieces still remains, so there might be a follow-up article sometime soon. On Kubuntu:

sudo apt-get install texlive-latex-extra

And then, I had the default presentation show up correctly:

Presentation, working

But this is only the beginning. I spent a good few minutes reading the online documentation on Beamer, and there was a lot to learn. In fact, lots of packages come with super-detailed descriptions that reflect their functionality, and each one demands your respect. There are no shortcuts here.

The plot thickens

I tried PDF export next - and learned this was slightly more difficult and less intuitive than LyX. What you need to do is basically build & compile your document. This may sound wrong, when you think about it. Well, with the crash book rendering fine, I thought, yeah, let's do it. Except I got a warning.

Compiler error

This error is a bit misleading - it can create a sense that the pdflatex is missing - but in fact, the program is complaining that it cannot find the actual file with the .tex extension. Remember, I was using .lyx for my original book, and this is what I loaded here. OK, no problem. I created a copy of the file with the expected extension and loaded it again. And there were lots of errors. So while TeXstudio had no issue loading LyX files, which I find quite impressive on its own, the compilation to PDF or PS is a different thing, it seems. Like I said, no shortcuts.

Syntax errors

Conclusion

TeXstudio is a complex, powerful program, and it definitely appeals to my sense of nerdonics. It's rich in features, and it can take a while before you figure everything out - prior knowledge with similar software definitely helps. But then, I think LyX is friendlier and simpler, especially for beginners. With TeXstudio, there were a few errors throughout my test, which ought to be handled a bit more gracefully. Beamer sounds like a great thing, but then, frankly, most people will make do with Powerpoint, for better or worse.

I definitely intend to spend more time learning TeXstudio, as it may come handy in technical work now and then. Plus, there's the simple joy of mastering difficult tools, which then magically turn repetitive burdens into simple tasks. It's all about the optimization of energy. I believe I'm already there with conventional tools as well as LyX, so this ought to be an interesting experiment. For document lovers among you, this software definitely warrants some extended testing. We're done.

Cheers.

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