What is it? LaTeX by Leslie Lamport is a document preparation system used for writing scientific papers and theses. LaTeX is the de-facto standard tool of scientific writing in many disciplines. Most importantly, it is the standard of writing in almost all fields of computer science. Almost all journals and conferences in the field provide standardized templates for LaTeX submissions, and many of them support no other typesetting system.
LaTeX is implemented as a macro package on top of TeX. TeX is the creation of Professor Donald E. Knuth in the Department of computer Science at Stanford University. Knuth wrote TeX when he could not bring himself to terms with the state of the art in publishing of mathematical texts which was used for his The Art of Computer Programming book series.
LaTeX is not a word processor like (God forbid) Microsoft Word, nor is it a text editor like Emacs or vi. It is rather a kind of a formal language by which you describe what your document should look like. Thus, you write your text, which includes formatting commands (this is the formal language bit), using vi, Emacs, or your favorite text editor (even Pico, or even Notepad if you are on a Windows NT/95/98/2000 system). Then you run LaTeX on your text file to produce output that looks better than that of Microsoft Word. It is easier to run LaTeX on UNIX, but you can also run it on Windows.
If you still do not understand what LaTeX is, try this alternative explanation.
Why use LaTeX? Getting better output is not the only reason to use LaTeX. People have learned the hard way that Microsoft Word and other WYSIWYG systems which are great for writing short business letters are useless for the preparation of scientific papers. I lived to regret every paper I tried writing in MS-Word, and I tried several. Issues like consistent style, mathematical equations, scientific citations, cross-references, diagrams and other such embellishments are difficult to do in such systems and the results are often visually unpleasing. Moreover, Word has a nasty habit of crashing on complicated documents, being incompatible across systems etc. The rest of the WYSIWYG is not much better in these respects. Even the new kid in town: style sheets of Word, are no match for what you get from LaTeX.
In comparison, LaTeX never crashes! Never, ever, you heard me right! It will never erase your document. No task is too big for it (well, almost no task- it is extremely rare to see LaTeX complaining that its limits were reached, and it almost always possible to make minute changes to your input to circumvent these problems).
My graduate students invariably complain when I make them use LaTeX. Then, after a couple of weeks of using it, they become avid converts.
See what others have to say about the philosophy of LaTeX and why you should use LaTeX over WYSIWYG systems.
My rules of thumb for using WYSIWYG systems:
The rationale is of course that the longer the document is, the more likely it is to change, and the more time you spend in modifications.
What LaTeX versions are out there?
|LaTeX 2.09: The original and by now obsolete version, developed by Leslie Lamport. Still used by many.|
|LaTeX2e: The current version. This is the version you should be using. There are small and few, but quite important differences that make the transition from the older version worth your while.|
|LaTeX3: The new generation of LaTeX. Still under development and not available yet.|
Quick Start for Mr. Smart: If all you quick to learn by example, and all you want to do is figure out how to run LaTeX at the Technion, a good starting point to start from is my "howto" file, which gives both sample input and lots of tips on how to run LaTeX, proof read it, and also a bit of advise on scientific writing.
Tiny examples, to see how it works.
|Hebrew Babel A package done at the Technion which uses the babel system of LaTeX2e.|
|tkTeX: a Hebrew editor for LaTeX by Tomer Kol.|
|he standing for Hebrew Editor,written by Arie Tal, that is quite comfortable for editing Hebrew LaXeT files. Use the following alias to activate it from Marcelo Glusman's directory:|
alias he 'xterm -bg black -fn "heb8x13" -fg white -geometry 80x40 -e ~marce/bin/he.new !$ & '
Leslie Lauport LaTeX - a Document Preparation System' Addison
Wesley 1975 ISBN 0-201-15790-x|
The first LaTeX book, documenting LaTeX209.
Leslie Lamport LaTeX: A Document Preparation System (2nd edition).
Addison-Wesley 1994. ISBN 0-201-52983-1|
Minor modifcations to describe LaTeX2e
Donald E. Knuth The TeXbook, Addison Wesley, 1986, ISBN
Michael Spivak The Joy of TeX (2nd Edition) Addison Wesley,
1990, ISBN 0-8218-2997-1|
Describes AMS-TeX which once rivaled LaTeX by now has become a LaTeX package. Obsolete.
M. Goossens, F. Mittelbach, and A. Samarin, The LaTeX Companion
Addison-Wesley, ISBN 0-201-54199-8|
Essential for the serious LaTeX hackers (you can get by without all the other books, but not without this one!)
|A Guide to Latex. P., W. Daly and H. Kopka., Addison Wesley Longman 1999. 0-201-39825-702/99|
|.L. Botway and C. Biemesderfer, LaTeX Command Summary, published by the TeX Users Group, Providence, RI is a good companion.|
|A. Diller, LaTeX Line by Line, published by Wiley.|
|N. Walsh, Making TeX Work, published by O'Reilly & Associates, ISBN 1-56592-051-1.|
There are several systems that give a GUI wrap to LaTeX. I tried some of them, and never liked them. They invariably fail for the real sophisticated stuff, such as maintaining two versions of your manuscript in the same file (say one for a journal and one for a conference).
|LyX - a graphical front-end to LaTeX supposedly WYSIWYM (what you see is what you meant. Installed in the department computers. Freeware. Recommended by Tzafrir Cohen who has been using LyX for the past year (20002001) for writing the assignments. He says that that it does a good job as a simple front-end to LaTeX, and is good for simple documents, although it sometimes tends to get in the way when the need comes for special tricks. It might be good to sart with LyX, and then export and switch to LaTeX|
|SciTeXta Java based wrapper for LaTeX. Freeware. Alpha version.|
|Scientific WorkPlace my copy represents the worst waste of $549 in my life.|