Today I logged in my Google Docs account to edit some documents and found out that Google had, perhaps quietly, added some new and neat features to this already very useful web application. Among them is one I find very helpful: the ability to insert and edit LaTeX-based mathematical equations to documents. Currently only word documents support this feature, so you cannot insert equations directly into presentations or spreadsheets.

In any document, you can insert a new equation using the menu Insert/Equation. Google Docs provides a dialog with several buttons allowing users to enter commonly used mathematical symbols and formulas, such as the Greek letters and the square-root symbol. However, because this feature uses LaTeX as its language to represent and render mathematical expressions, you can enter the formula directly in LaTeX. Moreover, Google Docs accepts most LaTeX math commands and environments – many of them are not included in the dialog. For example, you can enter a matrix using the following syntax:

`\begin{bmatrix} a & b \\ c & d \end{bmatrix}`

which will render as

My guess is that Google Docs equation editor supports not only basic LaTeX mathematical commands but also the packages: amsmath, amsfonts, and amssymb. For more information on LaTeX mathematical syntax and commands, a good (and free) reference is Chapter 8 of the excellent book “The LaTeX companion,” which is available on the Internet (e.g. this link).

Even MS Office and Apple’s iWork cannot do this well. Good job, Google! My only wish is that Google Docs will implement this feature in presentation documents.

Have fun with Google Docs mathematical equations!

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