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Alt Equals

January 31, 2013

I recently discovered that some colleagues are unaware of the math typesetting capabilities in PowerPoint, and so as a responsible Microsoft employee I thought it my duty to inform the public of these potentially time-saving and slides-beautifying features. This is also for my own benefit, as I seem to always forget where to find the documentation for these when I look for it.

It used to be that even something as simple as adding a “tilde” or “hat” symbol on top of a letter was nearly impossible in PowerPoint, and the things that were possible required a large number of mouse clicks and menu choices. But things have dramatically improved with the recent versions of PowerPoint (e.g., PowerPoint 2010 and later on a PC, not sure what’s the Mac situation). In fact, all Office programs now have an equation editor that allows to do nearly anything we can do in LaTeX, and using nearly the same keyboard shortcuts (a fact that can come in handy if you want to send someone a techincal email and have access to Outlook). Thus you can type something like “\doubleE \tilde  f^4(x) \preceq 9^d ( \doubleE \tilde  f(x)^2 )^2″ to get something like

Equation editor

The keyboard shortcut for that equation editor is, as the post title’s suggests, Alt+=.

The following document by Thomas Co contains a fairly complete manual of all the shortcuts and symbols (see also this cheatsheet I came upon through this post). If that whet your appetite for more, Murray Sargent’s blog should give you enough reading material to waste an afternoon or two becoming an Office math master. Murray and Alex Mamishev are writing a book on the topic, but in the mean time, you may find Chapter 3  in Alex’s book useful as well.

If you have any more PowerPoint tips, feel free to share them in the comment section below. In particular, an alternative equation editor is MathType, which I never used, and I’d be interested to hear of people’s experiences with it. MathType can work not only with Microsoft Office but also an impressive number of other applications, including gmail (though gmail users might also want to look into GmailTeX).

And of course, none of this is meant to disparage any other editors or presentation software, just to provide some information I wish someone told me a couple of years ago..

8 Comments leave one →
  1. January 31, 2013 7:29 pm

    What internal latex engine does it use ? and can you add a preamble to get style consistency ?

    • February 1, 2013 6:24 am

      To my knowledge it doesn’t use a latex engine, and also the language it uses is not identical to latex but something called “linear math” that uses many latex shortcuts but is somewhat different since it’s meant to be as close as possible to readable math formulas.

      One of the biggest practical differences is that you use round parenthesis instead of curly ones in things like e^(2\pi i) , and it will automatically remove them when they are redundant.

      As you can imagine compared to latex, the equation editor takes a different position on the tradeoff between power/flexibility and ease of use/WYSIWYG , What I like about it is that I can embed mathematics inside other text in powerpoint (e.g., use math symbols in the middle of a text sentence), something that is awkward to do if you create latex in another program and then copy paste.

  2. January 31, 2013 9:47 pm

    Suresh, the engine doesn’t use LaTeX. New versions of the Windows Rich Edit control provide very rich line and paragraph formatting capabilities. Using these capabilities, the control can display very complicated math formulas. (Unfortunately, RichEdit is not very compatible with LaTeX. It seems that its designers wanted to make it simpler for people not familiar with LaTeX and thus decided to use somewhat different syntax than in LaTeX.)

  3. Yury permalink
    January 31, 2013 9:49 pm

    Suresh, the engine doesn’t use LaTeX. New versions of the Windows Rich Edit control provide very rich line and paragraph editing and formatting capabilities. In particular, using these capabilities, the control can display very complicated math formulas. (Unfortunately, RichEdit is not very compatible with LaTeX. It seems that its designers wanted to make it simpler for people not familiar with LaTeX and thus decided to use somewhat different syntax than in LaTeX.)

  4. Krzysztof permalink
    February 1, 2013 5:08 am

    For Thunderbird, LaTeX It! is quite nice:
    https://addons.mozilla.org/en-US/thunderbird/addon/latex-it/

  5. yixincao permalink
    February 1, 2013 6:24 am

    Is it free?

  6. February 1, 2013 10:57 am

    I do not think this feature is present in the Mac version. As a result, I often cannot use presentations created by my “Windows colleagues”. I would suggest that *if* you intend to share your slides with others, using bare bones PPT for subscripts/superscripts etc is a more portable solution.

  7. Tom Dietterich permalink
    March 23, 2013 11:19 pm

    I’m a huge fan of this equation mode. It works in many applications include Outlook, OneNote, and Word. There are still a few rough edges, but in general, it is much easier to use than latex, and the results are just as beautiful. Kudos to the development team!

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