While being a TeXnicCenter user for years, I recently switched to TeXlipse for writing my LaTeX documents. In this article, I will discuss pros and cons of both environments from my point of view and motivate my decision for TeXlipse. I am comparing TeXlipse 1.5 with Eclipse Indigo and TeXnicCenter 1.0 RC.
Why you should use TeXlipse
TeXlipse benefits from its tight integration into Eclipse.
Automatically Recognize LaTeX Distribution / Project
On installation TeXlipse automatically found and used my LaTeX distribution (MiKTeX 2.9), successfully without any configuration. In TeXnicCenter I had to navigate to the miketex/bin folder of this distribution on first start. Also, when importing an existing LaTeX project (I am speaking of a bunch of .tex files, no .project or whatsoever) into the workspace, TeXlipse automatically recognized the project as such and attempted a build with the first .tex file I opened. I still had to set the proper main file and the output format (the default is dvi) afterwards, but TeXnicCenter has no comparable automatic project recognition.
Explicit Package Download Requests
When using new packages that are not yet installed on the local machine, MiKTeX downloads these packages during compilation (given they are to be found in a central repository). To enable this feature, TeXnicCenter has to be run in administrator mode. Otherwise, it would just deadlock during compilation and I would have to manually kill the compiler process. TeXlipse instead asks whether the package may be downloaded and administrator rights be given for the install. There is no need to run Eclipse in administrator mode!
Automatic and Partial Build
This is an extremely helpful feature. Just as for any other Eclipse project, per default, the project is re-built and the viewer refreshed on saving a file. No more CTRL+S followed by F7 as in TeXnicCenter. Of course, this might be undesirable for a large project where a complete build can take some time. Fortunately, TeXlipse allows to enable partial building. If enabled, only the currently edited file is re-built. What is more, you do not have to compile your bibtex files seperately and twice. This happens as part of the normal build, if required. To summarize: What is up to six actions in TeXnicCenter (CTRL+S -> F7 -> bibtex -> bibtex -> F7 -> F5) is a single action in TeXlipse (CTRL+S). Huge time saver!
The TeXlipse Toolbar
The toolbar in TeXlipse does not provide a large set of macros as in TeXnicCenter (some can nevertheless be found in the menu), but it provides several very helpful buttons that cannot be found in TeXnicCenter. These buttons allow to comment or uncomment the current selection and calculate a word count of the current selection.
Better Syntax Highlighting
TeXlipse highlights more elements with a larger set of colors which makes the source files more readable. For instance, it highlights reference labels, numbers, backshlashes and square brackets, math mode, comments as well as LaTeX commands all in a different color. In TeXnicCenter on the other hand, per default, there are only three types of elements highlighted with different colors: key words, comments and math mode.
Both, TeXlipse and TeXnicCenter have auto-completion of keywords by pressing CTRL+SPACE. The difference here is that auto-completion in TeXlipse also works while you type, as is normal in Eclipse. You do not have to press the shortcuts, but get a list of options while typing.
Tooltips in the Editor
TeXnicCenter has no tooltips for the source text of a document. In contrast to that, when you move the mouse over a LaTeX command in TeXlipse, it displays a short message that explains what the command does. What is even more helpful, if you move the mouse over a bibtex reference, TeXlipse displays the complete bibitem to which the reference is pointing.
The document outline is more configurable in TeXlipse than it is in TeXnicCenter. You can choose to hide certain outline elements, such as subsections or labels from the outline.
View for Dialogs and Errors
In TeXlipse you have a seperate view for errors and warnings, as is normal in Eclipse. There, all errors and warnings are listed and you can jump to the lines of their occurence by clicking on them. This is by far, repeat: by far, better than in TeXnicCenter, where you can only read the output of the compiler and step through all errors and warnings one by one without seeing the complete list. For instance, diagnosing and dealing with overfull hboxes is by far easier that way.
Support for Tasks
As is normal in Eclipse, you have a task view and can use TODO tags in your comments which are presented in this view. No more writing of custom \todo commands for displaying this info in your compiled documents or using additional packages as in TeXnicCenter!
View for Building Tables
Anyone who has used tables in LaTeX knows that this is not easy and their source code is hard to read. Luckily, TeXlipse comes with a view for building table rows with support for moving or mirroring rows or colums and the option to export the rows to the clipboard to copy it into a table environment.
Integration into the Eclipse Environment
If you have read until this point, I guess it is clear, but I want to say it nonetheless. TeXlipse is part of the Integrated Development Environment (IDE) Eclipse. That gives you integration with a gazillion of other features and plugins and the Eclipse ecosystem is currently one of the largest of its kind. What this means to me for my LaTeX enviroment: Built-in integration with version control systems, such as Git or Subversion.
Why you should stick to TeXnicCenter instead:
Compared to TeXlipse, TeXnicCenter is a small stand-alone editor, but still provides powerful LaTeX support.
Smaller Learn Curve:
In the previous section, I have outlined quite a few times why Eclipse integration makes TeXlipse more powerful than TeXnicCenter. This comes at a price. To really get all these benefits, you have to be used to Eclipse, know its shortcuts, configuration menus, build cycle, pitfalls, etc. This is all fine if you know that already, for example because you are a Java programmer. However, I would not recommend TeXlipse to a complete newcomer. The learn curve of Eclipse and LaTeX in combination simply is too high for a person being new to both.
TeXnicCenter is a simple stand-alone program. You still need a LaTeX distribution, a document viewer, etc. but that’s it. In case of TeXlipse, you need Java, Eclipse, a LaTeX distribution, …. As Eclipse comes with a lot of features, it takes up a lot more space and computing resources. For instance on my machine, TeXnicCenter takes 10M of RAM, while Eclipse takes 150M.
More Macros in the Menus
TeXnicCenter provides an extensive list of LaTeX commands in its menus. This list is by far bigger than that of TeXlipse. Personally, I need 90 % of those commands close to never which is why I do not consider this a strong argument. Better auto completion is much more important to me.
Better Support for Inverse Search
TeXlipse and TeXnicCenter both support inverse search, that is double clicking a line in the output document puts focus to the editing environment and moves the cursor to the source text of the line which was double clicked in the output. In the case of TeXnicCenter, focus is simply transfered to the program. In the case of TeXlipse, Eclipse is first minimzed and then maximized (I guess that this is a programatically easy way to set the focus to a program) which can be bugging if you do it often.
What needs to be said first of all: I do not want to trash TeXnicCenter! I think it is an excellent environment for editing LaTeX files, I have used it to my benefit for many years. Also, I am in no way involved with the TeXlipse team and I appologize for any inaccuracies or misinterpretations of any of the features discussed.
I think TeXlipse is by far the better LaTeX environment if you are half way familiar with Eclipse. The automatic build, better syntax highlighting and auto completion, the additional views just rock the stage. If you look for a simple and small environment that provides powerful LaTeX support but not anything else, then TeXnicCenter should be your choice.