LaTeX is a must for math writing because of the quality of its typesetting, the availability of style sheets for major journals as well as packages for specialized math needs, and because it is the fastest method to type in equations (far faster than the GUI interface of programs like Word). But for students, LaTeX is daunting because it requires them to learn what is essentially a programming environment in order to write, with a large number of text commands that must be memorized (or tediously looked up) in order to use it to its full potential.
LyX is a free/open-source graphical front-end for LaTeX, available for Windows/Mac/Unix from www.lyx.org, which has been under continual development since 1995 and has become quite mature. Key features:
- Imports and exports raw LaTeX, as well as other formats such as RTF (for word processors) and HTML.
- Supports all major LaTeX functionality via menus and toolbars, from sections and cross-references to bibTeX, eliminating need to memorize commands.
- Supports native LaTeX classes/stylesheets and packages. Also retains ability to insert raw LaTeX as needed (e.g. to exploit specialized LaTeX packages or define new macros). LyX is not a replacement for LaTeX, LyX is LaTeX.
- Fast math input via LaTeX syntax (alpha + x^2 etcetera), but it is typeset on the fly (see a demo video, albeit of an older LyX version without the equation toolbar), and there is also a graphical toolbar of equation elements that you can use if you forget a command. Better yet, using an item from the toolbar gives an onscreen reminder of the corresponding LaTeX command, so it teaches you the LaTeX math commands as you go along.
- One menu command (or ctrl-D) exports the document to LaTeX, runs latex, runs bibtex if necessary, runs latex again if necessary to get cross-references right, and pops up a DVI preview of the document.
- Easy to add floating figures graphically, with automatic conversion to PDF for pdflatex as needed.
- Many, many other features, from spellchecking to change tracking.
On top of all that, it has built-in graphical templates for many of the major academic journals (and you can easily create new templates, e.g. for a class or for a new journal), and it has an excellent built-in help and tutorial (in addition to extensive online help).
In summary: LyX embraces the core LaTeX concepts of separating content from presentation (via LaTeX class files), but removes the need to learn all but a small part of the LaTeX syntax, while remaining fully compatible with LaTeX and fully free and cross-platform.