Many of us probably use Google Docs or perhaps even the new Office 365 for collaborative editing. These are great for working on joint papers and those dreaded grant proposals. We have even used Good Docs as an instant messaging system because Google Docs responds in real time such that when a user types some text, every one logged in sees the same text. It great for passing small messages to your collaborators as you work on a document. For those who love working in LaTeX or TeX, neither Google Docs or Office 365 suffice. In this short blog I just wanted to highlight a couple of collaborative online LaTeX/TeX applications that might be useful.
The first is ScribTeX, a US based operation. I know people who use this and they find it works well. There is a basic free package that allows 3 projects, 1 collaborator and 50MB storage. I think this mode would be great for one off projects between two people. The paying options include Basic at $5.99 a month where one gets 10 projects, 5 collaborators and 600MB of storage. The premium package is $9.99 a month, unlimited projects and collaborators plus 1 GB of storage. The nice thing about ScribTeX is that there it is not hard to use and doesn’t require anything installed on the host machine so that is is completely self contained.
The second option is LaTeXLab from our friends at Google. I am not sure how many people know about this but as usual I think it’s in perpetual beta mode. One interesting feature about latexlab is that it is possible to retarget the compilation to your desktop machine which speeds things up rather than relying on a distant server. I’ve had the odd problem with this since you need to know what you’re doing, i.e. install your own LaTeX distribution (eg Miktex on Windows is great) and point latexlab at it.
The third option is verbosus. I’ve not tried this one but it looks very promising. Verbosus is a European based operation, they have two levels of access, standard and premium. With the free version you get 40MB of space (slightly less than ScribTeX) and with the premium version (12 euros per year) you get 250MB of space. It is not entirely clear however what these storage numbers means because they refer to these numbers as the maximum upload size per project, so perhaps it means that each project is limited to this amount of storage. They also talk about “number of resources per type” and “number of shares per project” but they don’t explain what these terms refer to.
Another collaborative possibility I’ve not used is MonkeyTeX. However it is not entirely clear if this works or not because the links on the main page go nowhere and in order to use it one must sign up.
The poor man’s way to do collaborative editing is to simple use some kind of repository version control system. This can be daunting for non-technical people and I wouldn’t recommend it unless you are quite confident. I use an SVN repository on our group’s server to maintain both local source code (other than the code on sourceforge) and papers. The easiest way to use SVN on Windows is to install TortoiseSVN, this makes it so much easier to use. See The Lumber Room for more details on using SVN and LaTeX.
ScribTeX, latexlabs and verbosus use specialized online editors to manage your document and work collaboratively, that is two users can be editing the same document at the same time and see the results in real time. A really poor man’s way to work with a writing team, but very simple to use, to use a file sharing and sync application like Dropbox. Dropbox allows one to share a directory with either other computers you own or with other people. Dropbox provides a generous 2Gb of free storage which is more than enough for most projects. Although it is not possible for two or more people to work on a given document at the same time it would be possible to break a document up into separate files where each file can edited separately. As files are edited and saved they are automatically synced with other users. For example, a book project could be split into separate chapters and ‘\input’ed in the main TeX file. Each chapter could be the responsibility of a given individual. The beauty of this is that so long as people regularly save their work, every ones gets to see the latest version. There would need to be one person who controls and edits the main TeX file but other than that it should work quite well.
See this page for more discussion.