sharelatex-thumbnailI recently stumbled across a little piece of magic, ShareLaTeX.

I had just switched OS on my work laptop which meant reinstalling LaTeX again. It’s a windows machine, and I was also keen to be able to use my Mac Mini at home, so I started to look into using google drive with LaTeX. Whilst google drive would sort out the sharing of the source files, it would still mean a second local install of LaTeX, so another hour or two wasted downloading, installing and configuring, not-to-mention I’d have to use a different editor.

ShareLaTeX solved this issue, and opened up other possibilities. It has a very similar concept to google docs, with all document editing done in the browser, support for real time collaboration and storage of sources documents. It is very simple to use, with a good working example to get started. Also it is surprisingly quick; for example, when adding a citation to a document one usually has to fumble around with running LaTeX twice and running BibTeX, not with ShareLaTeX, just one click and it works. According to their blog, the backend is using ScribTeX for the actual compilation.

I tried it out with my last beamer presentation ‘Valuation of CME Deliverable Swap Future‘. I have made the ShareLaTeX project public (read only) so that one can see how easy it is to use. Click here to view the source and hit the PDF button to see it compile the LaTeX sources and produce the pdf.

There are two immediate criticisms,

1. No common folder across projects. Typically, one has a common bibliography file to use across all documents for consistency and convenience.
2. No autosuggest/autocomplete. I don’t mind this for basic latex commands, I know those commands well, but I do not remember the id’s for bibliography items, I really want autosuggest/autocomplete to help when making citations.

It is a fairly young site and one can imagine there are many other ideas for improvements, however it really is quite impressive as it is and I can imagine it will become popular amongst those who use LaTeX. I will certainly use it for my next LaTeX based document.

Although the site is currently in beta, there is a suggestion of the freemium model to be used on the original announcement of the site. The free account would have full functionality but restricted to a certain number of projects. I would have preferred something similar to Cloudbees or Google Apps for business, where primarily it is the number of users (collaborators) on a company’s account that forces the conversion from free to premium as a company grows.

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