Drawing figures for scientific publications

I recently had to modify a picture (figure) as part of a resubmission to an academic journal.

The picture was created using XFig some time ago. XFig is one of the most widely used applications for creating figures for academic publications, and easily the best application I have used for this purpose. Its ability to incorporate Latex scientific formulas (use “xfig -specialtext -latexfonts -startlatexFont default” when launching XFig) and fonts, means that figures can be easily and beautifully integrated into Latex documents.

As I now have a windows machine, and am definitely no expert on linux (I am slowly trying to remedy this) I was dreading having to jump through the hoops to get XFig working on my new windows box (See http://www.cs.usask.ca/~wew036/latex/xfig.html). Part of the process involves installing Cygwin (a Linux-like environment for Windows). Not being familiar with linux this process seems quite convoluted (and I have been down this path before).

Googling XFig also brings up WinFig. Which is supposed to be very similar to XFig but runs on MS Windows. After downloading WinFig I quickly found out that you can only save figures with 15 or less objects in them without paying for the full version (making the free version not very useful). Something that the homepage neglects to mention.

I soon realised that because I had already installed virtual box and installed ubuntu (the process was very pain free) I should definitely try to use XFig within Ubuntu. Installing XFig within Ubuntu is what one my colleagues would call automagical – with a terminal inside Ubuntu type “sudo apt-get install xfig”, then as mentioned before type “xfig -specialtext -latexfonts -startlatexFont default” and I was cooking straight away.

In order to open my file in XFig in Ubuntu I was hoping to be able to share some folders with MSWindows, and then mount them inside Ubuntu. Alas, despite all my efforts I have still not been able to get this to work. Email to the rescue, emailed them to myself, opened my gmail in ubuntu, saved the file and the problem was solved.

The moral of the story (well this blog) is that if you are trying to get XFig working on windows, – don’t. Use the power that virtual box gives you and run XFig in Ubuntu within virtual box on your Windows machine! Now to move back to the Latex editing applications in linux and away from those I have been using with MS Windows!

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