How they test – Papeeria, ShareLaTeX, and Overleaf

Pretty Tired

Unfortunately, users who chooses the free test version are informed that their jobs are queued to compile behind all of the paying customers. The right-hand frame in Figure 1 shows the dialog window.

In most cases, this downgrade also meant that the website displayed the cached or erroneous modules instead of those most recently updated. Therefore, free test access does not actually work for meaningful testing. The tester should request access that does not have these restrictions; otherwise, you will check your well-written code in vain for errors. The situation is similar with embedded graphics, which are often not depicted by Papeeria in test mode, and a warning failed to appear that would explain what caused the behavior.

It was possible to compile the two uploaded LaTeX projects with both the TeX Live 2015 and 2013 releases. The results for the 2013 version added empty pages, and none of the available settings corrected this issue.

If you compile frequently to do things like code-checking, you will encounter yet another problem with Papeeria. The embedded scripts demand so much performance from the browser that it offers to stop the running scripts.

On a positive note, Papeeria has done a good job of implementing both the visual display and the menubar. The menu provides quick access to essential tasks and makes the service easy to operate, so it is not necessary constantly to switch between various screen pages. Because the online editor responds correctly to the usual shortcuts, you do not have to learn new ones.

The associated spell checker does not know many German language terms (my language), which gave me the impression during testing that language sorting does not work properly and would not be suitable for professional use.

The editor only supports UTF-8 character encoding and displays text in Western ISO Latin 1 incorrectly. However, LaTeX reacts well during compilation, as long as you do not make any changes to the text that would serve to create faulty character encoding. Even then, the editor displays the compiled Latin 1 texts incorrectly, albeit not each and every time (Figure 2).

Figure 2: Even an erroneously displayed text encoding can give correct results. By default, Papeeria is set for UTF-8.

DVI, AUX, and LOG (device-independent binary, auxiliary, debugging) files created during compilation are not accessible; you can only download the PDF files from the server. Papeeria offers the following options for compiling: pdflatex, XeLaTeX, Legacy TeX Live 2013, and PGF 3.0.

Divide and Plot

If you want to share text with other users, you click the Share button at the upper right. The platform then sends an email message to the target users, who need to confirm. The user interface is silent during this procedure, and the need for action is only revealed when your coworkers, perhaps accidentally, take a look at their inboxes. Papeeria applies color highlights to each change and marking made in the text by the sharing recipients. The program augments the highlighted changes and markings with the email address of the user who made them.

In addition to LaTeX, the platform offers gnuplot [12], which can create impressive graphics from existing data. However, this utility is only available with a fee-based account. The free version includes a simple plot builder.

Thanks to Papeeria's session management, it is possible for a user to work on multiple projects simultaneously, supporting team effectiveness. If this option is missing, you have to log out of a project constantly to jump into another one before helping out. Then the logout-login procedure has to be repeated to get back into the other project.

Support (e.g., for operation of the interface with embedded programs such as the editor, PDF viewer, file browser, etc.) is not well integrated at all, including interaction with LaTeX itself. Contacting the developers is possible through various services like Twitter, Google Plus, and TeX-LaTeX Stack Exchange [13]. However, it takes time to find the right people and the proper communication channel.

Paying customers can operate a maximum of 10 private projects and synchronize them with public and private Git repositories. Additionally, Papeeria offers regular snapshots for back ups.

ShareLaTeX

Most of the developers working on the second online service tested, ShareLaTeX [5], are British [14]. The start page evaluates the language of the browser and indicates that your interface will display in your language, if supported, which you select with the flag symbol located at the lower edge of the page. However, ShareLaTeX documentation and support are only offered in English.

Once you log into ShareLaTeX, the first thing to appear is an overview of existing projects. New projects are set up in the overview by loading existing LaTeX files as a ZIP archive into the corresponding document directory or by selecting a template for starting a new project. Alternatively, you can import a project from GitHub. The overview helps keep you organized if you are working on multiple projects simultaneously and want to participate in more.

Also in the overview is an easily accessible and convenient logout button for those working on multiple projects. The button is only available on this page and is not found elsewhere. The user should keep in mind that only one project can be open per browser session. The session administration currently implemented does not handle multiple projects in various browser windows or tabs. Therefore, you would have to install a number of browsers to work in parallel on projects. When it comes to teamwork, this could be particularly disadvantageous.

When you open a ShareLaTeX project from the project directory, another view opens for editing the files. Once the online platform recognizes a main file, it will compile the file and display the PDF generated in a frame next to the editing area. Usually this occurs surprisingly fast. Even a very large piece of work with 300 pages appears within just a few seconds, thus giving the impression that you are sitting in front of a local installation.

The screen display is divided into coherent frames, each of which is devoted to a particular task (Figure 3). To the far left is a simple file tree. This is where the files you have uploaded appear. The support and logfiles remain hidden; however, they become visible when you download the document directory with the DVI files.

Figure 3: ShareLaTeX divides the screen into frames. Project files appear to the left, LaTeX code is in the middle, and the results plus comments are to the right.

General settings applicable to the current project are located above the file browser. Settings include options for compiling, language selection for spell checking, and a few display settings. The compiling utilities offered by the service include pdflatex, LaTeX, XeLaTeX, and LuaLaTeX.

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