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Software review: TeXnicle LaTeX editor

TeXnicle is a relatively new free Mac OS X TeX editor. I just had a go at it (for about an hour) to wheedle out some of its basic features and possible flaws. It is of course (i.e. conforms to current trend in LaTeX editors) one of that “all the things in a big window” style editors, with a information section to the left, the editor in the middle, and the output PDF on the right. Small console window under the editor. You can “live update” the PDF.

TeXnicle

You can customise which engine you use by default; I use xelatex. However once I did that I found it still compiled the file I had open with pdflatex. After clicking about a bit I found that one of the icons in the information section (the little cog) allowed me to change which engine I was using for the current file, which is apparently remembers.

The build started to complain about a file I was \input’ing which could not be converted to UTF-16, However this is not a problem I have encountered with the same files under TeXShop. For the sake of getting things to work I commented out the \input line and continued with my demo.

Like most of these programs if you’re used to a really powerful editor (e.g. BBedit, Textmate, EMACS, a programmer’s IDE) you’ll find the editor lacking in many advanced features. It’s not even up to TexShop’s ability yet. That’s why I’v always found it necessary to keep versions of those editors around and available to edit file if I need to do complex search-and-replace based on regex, for example.

It has some syntax highlighting which is customisable to some degree. The default syntax highlighting is a little too subtle, everything being various shades of blue, except maths macros, which are red (not being a maths/science person, I always feel a little left out). I tried out the maths macro just to see and it puts only the dollar signs ‘$’ in red, the content between them is left in the default colour.

Some more work could be done on the syntax colouring. All arguments in braces {}, including the braces themselves, are coloured the one colour. So if I write a footnote, it looks like this following screen cap:

syntax colouring

(I’ve change the default colour here to green). As you can see, what is hidden from immediate display, is my use of embedded formatting commands inside the \footnote{}, viz, the ‘\emph{lectisternium}'; it’s all just a big block of green. I think a number of solutions ought to be applied to improve this:

  • embedded, recursive, arguments should be coloured differently (perhaps just getting darker with additional recursion, or cycling through a preset palette selection).
  • commands inside commands ought to be highlighted.
  • certain common commands like \footnote \emph \textit \textbf \section etc should have separate colour schemes.
  • the brace colour should be subtly different to the colour of the argument content (eg. slightly darker).

By default the editor is set to “hard wrap” which meant my soft-wrapped tex file line ran off the right of the page. There is a global option to change this, which I had to discover, only after looking for, and failing to find, a “view” style option to apply to the current window.

The “live update” is an interesting idea but its execution needs improving. Of course while you’re typing the poor thing is just about continuously compiling or trying to compile to PDF. But what happened is that the PDF preview did not jump to the place where I was typing. It did seem to jump around (to the last page in my case) but not exactly to where I had made changes. Which sort of defeats the purpose a little.

Well, that’s about as much time as I should spend on this, took me longer to write than to demo.