LaTeX and PowerPoint presentations

I use LaTeX for math documents and PowerPoint for presentations. When I need to make a math presentation, I can’t have everything I want in one environment. I usually go with PowerPoint.

Yesterday I tried the LaTeX Beamer package based on a friend’s recommendation. I believe I’ll switch to using this package as my default for math presentations. Here are my notes on my experience with Beamer.


Beamer is available from SourceForge. The installation instructions begin by saying “Put all files somewhere where TeX can find them.” This made me think Beamer would be another undocumented software package, but just a few words later the instructions point to a 224-page PDF manual with plenty of detail. However, I would recommend a couple minor corrections to the documentation.

  1. The manual says that if you want to install Beamer under MiKTeX, use the update wizard. But the update wizard will only update packages already installed. To install new packages with MiKTeX, use the Package Manager. (Command line mpm.exe or GUI mpm_mfc.exe.)
  2. The manual says to install latex-beamer, pgf, and xcolor. The Package Manager shows no latex-beamer package, but does show a beamer package.

The installation went smoothly overall. However, the MiKTeX Package Manager doesn’t let you know when packages have finished installing. You just have to assume when it quits giving new messages that it must be finished. At least that was my experience using the graphical version.

Using Beamer

I found Bruce Byfield’s introduction to Beamer helpful. The Beamer package is simple to use and well documented.

It’s nice to use real math typography rather than using PowerPoint hacks or pasting in LaTeX output as images. I also like animating bullet points simply by adding pause to the end of an enumerated item.

Inserting images

The biggest advantage that PowerPoint has over LaTeX is working with images. With PowerPoint you can:

  1. Paste images directly into your presentations.
  2. Edit files in place.
  3. Carry around your entire presentation as a single file.
  4. Include multiple image formats in a consistent way.

The last point may not seem like much until you’ve tried to figure out how to include images in LaTeX.

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Accented letters in HTML, TeX, and MS Word

I frequently need to look up how to add diacritical marks to letters in HTML, TeX, and Microsoft Word, though not quite frequently enough to commit the information to my long-term memory. So today I wrote up a set of notes on adding accents for future reference. Here’s a chart summarizing the notes.

Accent HTML TeX Word
grave grave \` CTRL + `
acute acute \' CTRL + '
circumflex circ \^ CTRL + ^
tilde tidle \~ CTRL + SHIFT + ~
umlaut uml \" CTRL + SHIFT + :
cedilla cedil \c CTRL + ,
æ, Æ æ, Æ \ae, \AE CTRL + SHIFT + & + a or A
ø, Ø ø, Ø \o, \O CTRL + / + o or O
å, Å å, Å \aa, \AA CTRL + SHIFT + @ + a or A

The notes go into more details about how accents function in each environment and what limitations each has. For example, LaTeX will let you combine any accent with any letter, but MS Word and HTML only support letter/accent combinations that are common in spoken languages.

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Contrasting Microsoft Word and LaTeX

Here’s an interesting graph from Marko Pinteric comparing Microsoft Word and Donald Knuth’s LaTeX.

comparing Word and Latex. Image by Marko Pinteric.

According to the graph, LaTeX becomes easier to use relative to Microsoft Word as the task becomes more complex. That matches my experience, though I’d add a few footnotes.

  1. Most people spend most of their time working with documents of complexity to the left of the cross over.
  2. Your first LaTeX document will take much longer to write than your first Word document.
  3. Word is much easier to use if you need to paste in figures.
  4. LaTeX documents look better, especially if they contain mathematics.

See Charles Petzold’s notes about the lengths he went to in order to produce is upcoming book in Word. I imagine someone of less talent and persistence than Petzold could not have pulled it off using Word, though they would have stood a better chance using LaTeX.

Before the 2007 version, Word documents were stored in an opaque binary format. This made it harder to compare two documents. A version control system, for example, could not diff two Word documents the same way it could diff two text files. It also made Word documents difficult to troubleshoot since you had no way to look beneath the WYSIWYG surface.

However, a Word 2007 document is a zip file containing a directory of XML files and embedded resources. You can change the extension of any Office 2007 file to .zip and unzip it, inspect and possibly change the contents, the re-zip it. This opens up many new possibilities.

I’ve written some notes that may be useful for people wanting to try out LaTeX on Windows.

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