TeX is a typesetting system. It can be used for all kinds of text. TeX separates the real content from the graphical output/result. Therefore it is really great regarding automation and re-usage of content (and in some ways comparable to (X)HTML). It provides ~300 commands you can put together with your content into .tex files. The real documents are created by the TeX interpreter. Main goals are interoperability, the possibility to write down complex structures like mathematical formulas and to get the same graphical result on every system (“print out text in 100 years like it looks today”).


By only using the basic TeX commands (so called “primitives”), a common usage would be very hard. But these basic commands provide the possibility to define macros. There are many macro packages to make the TeX usage efficient, comfortable and more powerful. And LaTeX is the well-established one. In fact, it is so wide-spread that people often use TeX and LaTeX in a synonymous way.1)

If you want to use LaTeX, you need:

  • A LaTeX distribution2)
  • Any text editor to create and edit .tex files. But it is much more comfortable to use a special LaTeX editor or plugin.

It is really worth it. Take a weekend to learn some fundamental principles and you will be more productive than others because LaTeX and the created documents are so re-usable. Much smarter than wasting countless hours doing layout etc. for every new document or presentation with common office suites.

Main Pros:

  • Lossless conversion into several target formats (including PDF)
  • Very future-proof and stable (TeX is on of the oldest OSS projects → created in 1978!)
  • Very maintainable documents, easy automation
  • Standard system of many academic publishing companies
  • Forces the user to create semantic markup, forcing a logical structured text
  • Uncountable packages, classes and drafts
  • Use any language and alphabet
  • Handle complex formulas

Main Cons:

  • Non-intuitive syntax and commands
  • Lots of basic commands to learn
  • Batch-principle3) is not intuitive

Usage principle:

  • The main process consists basically of:
    1. Write your source as .tex file (=your text including (La)TeX commands)
    2. Let TeX fromat/compile it
    3. View/print the result and go back to step 1 where necessary
  • The process is very comparable with the usage of Wiki software like Dokuwiki or MediaWiki
  • It sound more complicated than it really is. Many editors are helping you to insert the needed commands and providing a built-in compilation + preview. E.g. have a look at the LaTeX Editor screenshots.



10.04 Lucid and above

TeX Live is a wide-spread and complete LaTeX distribution. It brings all important TeX applications + pdfTex + XeTex, macro packages, fonts etc.

Simply install the following package(s):

  • texlive (main) – complete TeX system including additional fonts and often used LaTeX packages.
  • texlive-latex-extra (main) – optional but recommended: additional LaTeX packages.

To get additional, non-English language support (fonts etc.), you have to install the fitting texlive-lang-<lang> package, e.g.

for German. To list all available language packages, open a terminal and run

apt-cache search texlive-lang-

If you want all languages, use the texlive-lang-all package (but be prepared to download several hundred MBs in this case!).

To get local help files (including FAQ and LaTeX catalog), you have to install the fitting texlive-doc-<lang> package, e.g.

for the German documentation. To list all available, localized documentation packages, open a terminal and run

apt-cache search texlive-doc-

The Ubuntu repositories are serving the following TeX Live version:

  • Ubuntu 8.04 Hardy till 10.04 Lucid: TeX Live 2007
  • Ubuntu 10.10 Maverick and above: TeX Live 2009

There should be no more work to do. You can quick-test if the LaTeX tools are working by compiling a .tex file into a .dvi and/or .pdf file on the terminal:

latex example.tex
pdflatex example.tex


XP and above

MikTeX is a wide-spread and complete LaTeX distribution. It brings all important TeX applications + pdfTex + XeTex, macro packages, fonts etc.. Additionally, it privides an integrated package management to download needed LaTeX packages automatically for you.

Simply download the Windows installer and execute it with administrator privileges.


In principle, you can use every ASCII text editor to create .tex files (e.g. Notepad or gedit). But it is much more comfortable to use a special LaTeX editor to create your documents. You might have a look at the following programs:


FIXME Look the Weblinks and Further Reading – You should find very good information there.

Further reading


Basic tutorials and introductions

Specific tutorials and introductions

Blueprints, snippets and examples



  • Detexify2 - LaTeX symbol classifier – Don't know the LaTeX code for a specific symbol? No Problem: just draw it and Detexify2 will give you the answer. Example: Draw ”…” and you will get \cdots, \dots etc. as suggestion.
1) but this is wrong, for sure.
2) commonly TeX Live (*ix/mac/win) or MiKTeX (win only)
3) write source → compile → view result
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