What is LaTeX?

LaTeX is a system for high-quality technical typesetting. Most mathematicians and many other scientists use LaTeX to typeset papers, exams, books, and more. The LaTeX Project Home Page has additional information.

 

Getting LaTeX on your personal computer

Many campus computers have PCTeX installed on them. PCTeX is a one-installation-does-it-all program, but it has a fee. There are free versions of LaTeX available online for both the PC and the Mac.

To get LaTeX for the PC: go to http://www.miktex.org and choose to install their basic system. This will likely be plenty for all you ever want to do with LaTeX; you will save yourself time by not choosing the complete system. After getting MiKTeX, you will probably want a graphical shell to help you interact with it. One option is TeXShell. It is pretty easy to install, and you can set up your own buttons to make your life easy and, among other things, create PDF files, so all your non-mathematically-set-up friends can still read the beautifully typeset math files you send them.

To get LaTeX for the Mac: go to the MacTeX distribution page and download the installer package MacTeX.mpkg.zip . Once you have opened the zip file and run the installer you can use TeXShop to create, edit, and typeset your documents. TeXShop is included in the MacTeX installer package so you don’t need to download it separately. In addition, the TeXShop documentation page includes links to free LaTeX guides to help you get started.

 

Pronouncing “LaTeX”: fun facts!
The pronunciation of “LaTeX” is more controversial than you might think. We found a whole web page of TeX Frequently Asked Questions. Their comments are:

  1. “Lamport [LaTeX’s creator] never recommended how one should pronounce LaTeX, but a lot of people pronounce it ‘Lay TeX’ or perhaps ‘Lah TeX’ (with TeX pronounced as the program itself; see the rules for TeX). It is definitely not to be pronounced in the same way as the rubber-tree gum.”
  2. (From The Rules for TeX): “The ‘X’ stands for the lower case Greek letter Chi (the upper-case Greek letter doesn’t look in the least like a letter “X”) and is pronounced by English-speakers either a bit like the ‘ch’ in the Scots word ‘loch’ ([x] in the IPA) or like ‘k’. It definitely is not pronounced ‘ks’.”