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Fidus Writer: Open Source Collaborative Editor For Non-Geek Academics 160

Posted by timothy
from the grad-school-procrastination-is-the-most-satisfying-kind dept.
johanneswilm writes "While writing my Ph.D in anthropology I found out it's almost impossible to get non-geeks to help me with editing my thesis because it was written in Latex. Lyx is almost there, but as it's not web based, it's difficult to use for online collaboration. is online, but typing LaTeX code is a no-go for non-geeks. Google Docs is web based and near-WYSIWYG, but lacks support for professional print formats such as Latex. The Ph.D took longer than expected, so before finishing me and three others were able to code an entirely new editor: Fidus Writer: web based, open source (AGPL), almost-WYSIWYG and with tools for academics such as citation management and formula support and output formats PDF, Epub, Latex, HTML."
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Fidus Writer: Open Source Collaborative Editor For Non-Geek Academics

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  • Editor (Score:1, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward

    Tree isn't the same thing as three. Do your job or give up on it, jesus christ.

    • Re:Editor (Score:5, Funny)

      by Em Adespoton (792954) <> on Saturday July 27, 2013 @06:19PM (#44402371) Homepage Journal

      Do your job or give up on it, jesus christ.

      Are you calling for the apocalypse, or is there something I don't know about the Slashdot "editorial" staff?

    • by iggymanz (596061)

      I would be honored myself if three Ents helped me with a web project while at grad school

      • Ents are not exactly FAST, though. Look what they did to "Duke Nuke'Em Forever"!
        • by iggymanz (596061)

          their code may have a large footprint but it runs really fast, preferring lots of branching over subroutines; for some reason pushing things into stacks sound scary

    • by Smivs (1197859)
      Also a typo on the website page [] as well - '...announce that te Fidus Writer source code...'
      Not creating a good impression, which is a shame as this actually looks like it has potential.
    • Tree isn't the same thing as three. Do your job or give up on it, jesus christ.

      "me and three others" seems a little off as well.

      • by icebike (68054)

        Thought the same thing....

        The Ph.D took longer than expected, so before finishing me and three others

        Ph.Ds generally do take a bit longer than expected when one starts in the 4th grade.
        But if he had waited until he had mastered the 6th grade, his editing task would have been so much easier.

        • Thought the same thing....

          The Ph.D took longer than expected, so before finishing me and three others

          Ph.Ds generally do take a bit longer than expected when one starts in the 4th grade.
          But if he had waited until he had mastered the 6th grade, his editing task would have been so much easier.

          What's really sad, is all the people who don't have the skill and determination to build something of real use to the community or the generosity to donate anything to the community complaining about the grammar and spelling of one of the few people who do.

      • Re:grammar nazi (Score:4, Insightful)

        by markdavis (642305) on Saturday July 27, 2013 @10:16PM (#44403529)

        >"The Ph.D took longer than expected, so before finishing *me* and three others were able to code an entirely new editor"

        A Ph.D that makes a mistake that glaring is a sad thing.... we are talking very basic English.

        • I'm so glad that I decided to check out the comments before saying something about that. Personally, I'm wondering if knowing English grammar is a requirement for a Ph.D at whatever University he's at. And if not, why isn't it?
    • by iggymanz (596061)

      actually, if you're on the radio in the military or FAA, or speaking of equipment/room designations at a nuke plant, it is



  • by Anonymous Coward

    LaTeX and online collaboration. What more can you ask for?
    MonkeyTeX [].

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Sorry, why do you need to collaborate on a Ph.D. thesis? Genuinely curious, as when I did my Ph.D., the work was mine, the text was mine, and it was 10x faster for my advisor to make comments in pen.

    Also... "The Ph.D took longer than expected"... hahaha... (a) of course; (b) so, you're American? (As many European countries have fixed Ph.D. lengths.)

    Also... what is with people trying to make LaTeX WYSIWYG? That's like trying to make an interface for driving a car by giving the driver an R/C controller.


    • well, because advisors don't make comments in pen any more, if you are not a native English speaker you are regularly asked to get others to check the text, etc. If you want to publish as a book, you need to collaborate even more.
      • by smoothnorman (1670542) on Saturday July 27, 2013 @07:29PM (#44402785)
        In the late 90s (yeah might as well be 12,000 years ago) i did my PhD in Latex; but, two of my Profs *insisted* on editing bits (in retrospect, mostly adding pointless elaboration) with MSWord. (one committee member didn't even understand how any document wasn't the same as a "word file"). So, i learned to use rtf2latex (and similar tools for bibliography and index), back and forth; email RTF, convert it back, (if the addition was over a three sentences). It wasn't bad at all when one learned maintain all tables and figures as merely included files. It was all worth it when the thesis committees, who check tedium like margins to within a millimeter and equation formatting, passed my thesis right off; while my grad-school mates that used MSWord all had their format go wrong when the "approved font" was applied.
        • by gwolf (26339) <gwolf@gwol[ ]rg ['f.o' in gap]> on Saturday July 27, 2013 @08:07PM (#44402971) Homepage

          A book I published almost two years ago underwent a similar, painful process. I (as the coordinator) had it all typeset in LaTeX. It was not perfect, but it was beautiful already. The university (social science research institute) sent it (the PDF I gave them, as per their request) to the style corrector. I got back... An ugly MS Word document with some corrections included in it (but not version-controlled or anything like that, not even MS Word's sorry replacement for a real version correction). Merging that back into the original was way beyond painful.
          The second round of style correction was, fortunately, done different. I was able to work through the process with our editor, fixing some details out of common aggreement (and not only accepting their changes as during the first round, where I even spotted places where the style corrector misunderstood and even reversed the meaning of some fo the sentences). The second revision was not a piece of cake, but it made me learn quite a bit about editorial reasons and aesthetics, and had me way happier at the end. And the editor even learnt a bit about LaTeX as well.

          • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday July 28, 2013 @12:36AM (#44404037)

            Right tool for the job, stop pounding nails with a hammer, etc.

            Latex is typesetting tool. It's designed to take final materials and make them look good in print publications.

            Word is an editing tool. Word "processing", as they say. It sucks for any sort of high-quality publication, but you can get what you see on your local inkjet printer.

            Word -> Tex is used by real publishing houses as a final step. Unlike the typical PhD student, they have mastered the concept of "division of labor" and don't typeset a document until it is finalized.

            The problem is Word is not the lack of "print ready". It is that Word's collaborative editing model is firmly rooted in the 1990s model of sneakerware and emailing documents. And kludging SharePoint on the side doesn't really change the nature of the beast.

            The endgame here is a collaborative web application, which provides Word-style collaborative editing capability while able to export structured markup to a Latex-style typesetting program. A healthy dose of user-friendly Git-like functionality is needed too. Google Docs is like WordPad.exe compared what could be done in this space.

          • by nbauman (624611)

            I know somebody who works in textbook production for the big publishers.

            She said that authors submit manuscripts in Word.

            They convert Word to pure text and spec them again from scratch.

            It's easier for them to edit pure text to get it to look the way they want than to work with the author's Word files.

            Conversions are not perfect, so you have to review and correct them manually to make sure everything came out right.

            It's easier to just convert the files to text and do it manually from the beginning.

            These are

    • by gd2shoe (747932)

      Also... what is with people trying to make LaTeX WYSIWYG? That's like trying to make an interface for driving a car by giving the driver an R/C controller.

      It's better than climbing beneath the car and moving the steering rack by hand! Seriously, hand-editing of documents is extraordinarily unpractical without WYSIWYG feedback for at least 98% of all edits. Hand editing is for fine tuning only! And people wonder why LaTeX is so unpopular?

      • by gwolf (26339)

        It might feel old-fashioned for some bits, but the results are completely worth it.

        • Let me ask this: have you ever tinkered with Lilypond? It's basically LaTeX for music scores. It is renowned for its beauty. There's a reason why Musescore is trying to build a wysiwyg editor to emulate it. Then again, there's a reason people are composing using Musescore, and not Lilypond.

          (And yes, Musescore is working on an output to Lilypond (experimental) which goes to my point... Why code the entire thing by hand instead of using an editor and then hand tweaking the result?)

      • by adri (173121)

        Why? Seriously? Because you want your print layout to be tightly controlled?

        It's totally practical to do large scale document editing without WYSIWYG. Know why? Because we all did it before word 6.0 became a defacto standard. We would concentrate on document content first, then design a layout, then flow the content into that layout. Yes, like the HTML/CSS split.

        These days people do poster layouts in _excel_.

        Gah, sometimes I wish my beard were longer.

        • by gd2shoe (747932)

          Good web layout may start with CSS, but it doesn't stop with CSS.

          Please note that I didn't call LaTeX evil. I only questioned why anybody would want to edit an entire document by hand, given a choice. There's a reason why WYSIWYG is so popular. You get instant feedback on changes that you make. You can get a feel for changes that take a hundred times longer when editing something akin to source code. LaTeX is way overdue for a real editor... Yes, even one that encourages sound design principles.

      • by delt0r (999393)
        That is not how you are suppose to use latex as a document writer person. You are suppose to write content only. It does formatting etc. You write chapters, figure captions and paragraphs etc. You *don't* set fonts, adjust margins or other things you probably don't have any idea on why the typesetting industry does things the way it does. And if you do it that way, many non latex people can and for me at least do edit the documents. The only one so far that won't will do pdf annotations.

        Now as someone wh
        • by gd2shoe (747932)

          If I may, I'd like to give an analogy and a hypothetical.

          A compiler, by definition, translates one computer language into another. Typically, general purpose non-scripting languages are compiled in stages. Many compilers translate C code into assembly language first, before translating into machine code. I'm given to understand that the first C++ compilers translated into C, and then subsequently handed their result to a C compiler. This is currently how Qt works (Qt is actually a superset of C++ that g

          • And I really don't see why there has not yet been a good WYSIWYG editor for LaTeX.

            Are there any good WYSIWYG C++ IDEs? The issue with LaTeX is that you have to compile it to see how it will look.

            • by gd2shoe (747932)

              Look at how far we've come in the last few years in terms of JIT compiling. Modern JS engines both compile to native code on the fly, and retain data so they can recompile if things change dynamically. We still need to train web developers to start writing efficient code, but interpreters themselves are no longer nearly as bad as they once were.

              LaTeX, meanwhile, is stuck in the dark ages. There is no reason the same basic philosophies can't be used to speed LaTeX up to real-time for basic editing, or dar

  • Compared to who you were able to find [] to help you code up the website.

    Oh wait, I think there's a typo in there somewhere -- sorry.

  • Personally, I use LaTeX but for docs without many formulas pandoc works fine.

    You don't need a special editor at all.

  • by Colonel Korn (1258968) on Saturday July 27, 2013 @06:48PM (#44402559)

    Why not just create your content in something that all of your non-geek friends are happy to use (Word with track changes, for instance) and then spend a short time formatting it when you're done writing?

    • by johanneswilm (549816) on Saturday July 27, 2013 @06:52PM (#44402583) Homepage
      because this is not "a short time". I have had the job of converting Word to Latex for an anthropology journal in Norway before. it took months and months as te original authors found errors and would send me emails wit instructions such as "on page 218, in the third paragraph, please add a comma after the word 'fish'." I would get tons and tons of these emails every day. a cmplete nightmare.
      • by nbauman (624611)

        I don't understand the process you used.

        In the magazines I've worked for, the writer sends in a MS.

        The editor edits the MS and send it back to the writer.

        The writer reviews the corrections, accepts them, rejects them, or clarifies them, and sends it back to the editor.

        They set the final pages, and (sometimes) send the PDF to the writer.

        There shouldn't be any more corrections by that point, but if there is, the writer makes them, sends the PDF back, and they send it to the printer and/or post it on the web s

    • A doctoral thesis may be hundreds of pages and the embedding of figures, equations, citations, footnotes, etc., is something fundamentally important to what is being presented, not something you figure out after-the-fact, and certainly not something you want to figure out twice using an entirely different set of tools. Anyway, your assumption is that the purpose of using LaTeX is 100% stylistic. A lot of us use it because it's easier and saves time for what we are trying to achieve. Your method with be r

    • If the poster is sophisticated enough to be using LaTeX I would think he would realise that you shouldnt be editing and typesetting at the same time anyway. Edit in an editor. Once the editing is done, format it with LaTeX.

      You can use any editor you want, although MSWord is probably the worst excuse for an editor you will find, it's still capable of spitting out text so it should work.

      • by greg1104 (461138)

        Separating text creation and formatting into two steps doesn't help with anything but very early editor review. Most of the really useful editing and review happens after formatting. Editing feedback should even include comments on whether the formatting is working usefully to improve the message quality.

        Even if you did split these phases up more usefully on the document creation tool side, there are a good chunk of thesis works where the text without formatted equations isn't readable at all. The text s

        • by nbauman (624611)

          Editors tell me that Latex isn't good for editing because it doesn't track changes well. You can't easily see the changes, and you can't easily revert the changes. True?

          • by Arker (91948)

            LaTeX isnt good for editing because it is not an editor.

            It's amazing how much difficulty people cause themselves by insisting on using the right tool for the wrong job.

            • by nbauman (624611)

              Technical editors tell me that when they edit LaTeX documents, they usually edit the PDF. Then they send the PDF back to the writer who makes the edits in the LaTeX document.

              Sometimes they convert the PDF to Word and edit in Word.

        • by Arker (91948)

          "Most of the really useful editing and review happens after formatting"

          Then that is what needs to change. It is far more efficient to do this right - edit in an editor, typeset it once the text is done.

          Equations and other things may not look as pretty, but you want your editors to focus on content rather than presentation anyway.

    • by delt0r (999393)
      My main beef with using word is everyone thinks they are a typesetter and do a crap job at it. Even when using templates people still mess with margins and fonts and everything they know nothing about.

      Oh and math formula that makes my eyes bleed.

      Oh and the ui is insane.

      Oh and i don't use windows or OSX.
    • by Rich0 (548339)

      This sounds a lot easier than it is in practice. The problem is with the sheer volume of formatting.

      For starters, every single quotation mark in the document will need to be modified (Latex uses `` and '' instead of "). Anyplace there is emphasis/etc will require reformatting. Any place with a footnote will require a fair bit of reformatting.

      In something like a paper this will add up very quickly.

      The Latex way would be to split up the file into many smaller text files included into a master document, and

  • by sk999 (846068) on Saturday July 27, 2013 @06:48PM (#44402561)

    Help with editing your thesis?

    For my thesis I did have help - wrote everything out longhand, then had three department secretaries typing up various chapters. (This was all on IBM Selectrics with acid-free paper. Figures were outsourced to the Graphic Arts department, where professional artists did a much better job than the computer-generated junk of today.) Editing was done with liquid paper and glue.

    What is this "Latex" thing?

    • by Trepidity (597)

      What is this "Latex" thing?

      It's like roff, but better.

    • by nbauman (624611)

      Back in my day we had MANUAL typewriters.

    • by delt0r (999393)
      How many kids do you let play on your lawn? Did you walk through snow to get to school in the good ol' days in bare feet? You know i have read a few older PhDs and papers and things... they don't look better.. if fact they look like typed POS. Figures were even worse.
    • by mjperson (160131)

      "three secretaries and a graphics arts department."

      Sure, with an unlimited budget, my thesis would also have been a work of art. It must have been nice to prepare your thesis in an environment where money was no object.

    • What is this "Latex" thing?

      Apparently instead of acid-free paper, he is printing his thesis on condoms.

  • While writing my Ph.D in anthropology I found out it's almost impossible to get non-geeks to help me with editing my thesis because it was written in Latex

    is this really a surprise? seriously, why would you expect for someone someone that is doing you a favor to learn something that is alien to them?

    Google Docs is web based and near-WYSIWYG, but lacks support for professional print formats such as Latex

    ok, so you expected people to learn LaTeX but you can be bothered to reformat the page after someone edits it for you? WTF?

    i understand you want peer review but people are putting in effort to help you. the very least you could do is to put in some effort to accommodate them in return. it's this kind of bullshit behavior that gives geeks like me a bad name.

    • by Darinbob (1142669)

      No one has to know LaTeX to edit a LaTeX document. It's the simplest possible thing to do other than editing plain text. Just edit the text and leave the commands alone.

      On the other hand, if it's in Word or some other strange format, strangers can and will mess it up by editing it. Most word processors do not discourage editors from tweaking styles and layouts and the look and indentation and whatnot. WYSIWYG is the enemy of good writing.

    • by delt0r (999393)
      I don't use windows or OSX. Yet word people expect me to learn word/install windows word to help them all the time. They complain about converting it to a pdf *every* *freaking* *time*.
  • ... is why you write your thesis in whatever is the standard editor for your field. In the humanities and some sciences that's often Word; in mathematics / IT / etc it's usually Tex.

    First you look at the journals in your field where you're likely to be published, then you choose an editor, and only then do you start properly writing your thesis.

    (p.s. Most journals across most fields accept .pdf as a baseline - but you'll have fun when it comes to receiving back revisions, tracking changes, etc.)

    • by Darinbob (1142669)

      And then if it's wrong, it takes 2 minutes to copy all the next to a different format. Provided it doesn't have lots of equations.

  • by wiredlogic (135348) on Saturday July 27, 2013 @07:46PM (#44402867)

    It's not like you can't convert *TeX to some other format that can be reviewed by your colleagues. You know like PDF or *gasp* pain text. Then you just take their notes and use them to revise your thesis. Problem solved.

    • by greg1104 (461138)

      It's hard enough to get reviewers to look at things, provide feedback, and then usefully apply that feedback when it's clear and unambiguous what they are commenting on. If your review feedback annotation isn't very tightly tied to the original document, you're just wasting everyone's time. Good review feedback isn't in the form of scribbled notes. It's very tightly targeted to avoid ambiguity, and easy to merge back into the original document too. Every additional step put into the way makes the proces

  • by knarf (34928) on Saturday July 27, 2013 @08:01PM (#44402953) Homepage

    I gave it a try, installed the source, followed the instructions, opened the page in a browser and... was greeted by an error message telling me it needed a 'Facebook app' or some other social drivel.

    Facebook? Are they serious? I opened a bug report:

    I thought to give Fidus a try by installing the source and following the directions. When I tried to log in to my freshly minted server it told me I couldn't because I had not configured a 'Facebook app'. Looking through the Django config page I noticed it only gives the options of using Facebook, Twitter and Google. Neither of these are acceptable in any environment which has even the slightest respect for an author's privacy and confidentiality.

    Please make it possible to use Fidus using either a 'private' 'social' 'app' (lots of quotes there, for different reasons) or by foregoing on the social fad entirely. Since Fidus seems to be about getting work done I don't see the need for more 'social' distraction anyway.

  • by alfski (2885853) on Saturday July 27, 2013 @08:36PM (#44403095)
    The Latex-lab guys have LaTeX for Google Docs working very well. Our maths faculty use it all the time. See [] Source []
    • Well, this does look interesting. I played with it for 15 minutes and: I can't think of anything worse than writing anything of any significant length inside a browser. This bypasses all of the hard work that my OS provider (Apple) has spent for decades polishing a decent user interface. As far as I can tell, everything has to be done using the mouse/trackpad—no keystroke shortcuts.

      Also, compiling even the short sample document is excruciatingly slow. There is an option to use my local TeXLive install

  • Does Not Work (Score:2, Informative)

    by hduff (570443)

    Hey there!

    Unfortunately, Fiduswriter currently only works on Google Chrome. We are working to provide support for Mozilla Firefox.

    I'll be back then.

  • Perhaps as an exercise in pain? Any word processor will do.

  • Uhm, it's YOUR THESIS. This isn't a collaborative undertaking. You're supposed to write it yourself. (*)

    (*) Just an important safety tip, to prevent you from waking up one day and finding out the hard way.

  • I mean, really talk about lazy. You want your editors manually correcting your document files? Editors should be reading final hard copy and you making the corrections.

  • LaTeX is quite simple for people to learn. In fact, in my experience, many people find it easier than learning some app because all they really need is a cheat sheet listing the commands. Looking at FidusWriter, it doesn't seem easier to me than Writelatex.

  • Hello, I've been writing books for close to 20 years. In addition, for most of the last decade, I've also been a co-maintainer of ~30,000 pages of technical documentation for a well-known family of Open Source software products (one of which is used on Slashdot's backend). This documentation is updated and re-published in toto on a daily basis, in about a dozen end-user formats.

    If you're an author, then you're supposed to be writing meaningful content. This means that you should be concentrating on data and semantics.

    Presentation and layout should not be your concern--leave this to the professionals (editors and layout people).

    Otherwise, use DocBook XML and MathML to author your content, then transform to PDF, RTF, Word, HTML, or whatever end-user format(s) are required using the appropriate toolchain and transforms. There are heaps and heaps of XSLT stylesheets out there for this purpose. You can tweak these as desired/necessary, and it's at this stage--and not before--that you should be even the slightest bit worried about how things look.

    If there is one thing that many years in this game have taught me, it's that futzing with presentation issues while you're trying to write merely serves as a huge distraction. And that it is counterproductive to reinvent the wheel for every writing project, which is what formats that munge together content and presentation at the expense of semantics invariably force you to do.

    I know it's fashionable around here to disparage XML, but text + semantic markup + styles/transforms works very, very well for producing dense technical material that preserves semantics while providing an easy way to publish something that's pleasing to the eye. For the last 10 years or so, I've refused to use anything else for this purpose. I strongly encourage anyone who's planning to write anything over a few paragraphs in length to check it out.

    As for collaboration--why do you even have to ask? Pick a revision control system and use it. Depending on the project and who I'm working with, this would be SVN or BZR for me, but there are many choices. Choose one of them.

    • by dkf (304284)

      use DocBook XML and MathML to author your content

      The reasons you give are approximately the same ones as people give for preferring LaTeX; the differences seem to come down to whether people prefer angle brackets or backslashes. (Yeah, there are many more differences, but not so many that most authors actually care about.)

    • by itsdapead (734413)

      Presentation and layout should not be your concern--leave this to the professionals (editors and layout people).

      TFA was about a PhD thesis. Let me briefly explain the organisational structure of PhD thesis production:

      Author = you
      Editor = you
      Layout people = you
      Graphic artist = you
      Printer = you
      PDF production = you (most Universities now want an electronic copy as well)
      Binder = your responsibility (typically, you have to submit two professionally bound copies, although all but the most hardened Renaissance-persons pay someone to do this.)
      Finance = you least, that's how it works where I live. Most theses d

  • by he-sk (103163) on Sunday July 28, 2013 @02:38AM (#44404471)

    I wrote my thesis in Orgmode and converted it to LaTeX when finished. Orgmode is an outliner for Emacs which supports plain text formatting (e.g., *bold*, /italics/, etc.), lists, tables, images, code block, and everything else you could wish for.

    Since the file is plain text it is dead easy to edit. On the other hand, you have to use Emacs, so your non-geek friends are probably still out.

  • I'm embarrassed for all the PhD students out there. " me and three others were able"

  • Framemaker in structured mode is an alternative for technical and book publishing. It supports content management systems natively and is all XML under the hood in structured mode. Being Adobe and meant for professionals, it's fairly pricey as you can imagine. Lyx/Latex is a pretty decent alternative.

  • Two good options I'm surprised that haven't been mentioned are sharelatex [] and a former rival (now subsumed into sharelatex) scribtex [] Both are a "Google Docs meets LaTeX" solution that work well for various settings. I've had good luck using them with student collaborators who may not want to learn all the ins and outs of LaTeX for a joint project but who can edit text, draw figures, etc. and learn at least some of LaTeX without just starting with a blank

Thus mathematics may be defined as the subject in which we never know what we are talking about, nor whether what we are saying is true. -- Bertrand Russell