Stack OverflowIs LaTeX worth learning today?
[+188] [38] Mike B
[2009-05-17 13:01:17]
[ latex tex typesetting desktop-publishing ]

I know that LaTeX is big in the world of academia, and was probably a big name in desktop publishing before the glory days of WordPerfect and Microsoft Office but as a Windows user that is interested in the power of LaTeX and the general smoothness of a LaTeX generated page is it really worth learning?

In a couple of months I'll be starting my final year in Computer Science and LaTeX has been bounced around the campus by many of the Linux geeks. In reality, is there any need to use it today? What will I actually gain from it and will I enjoy using it?

Finally, how does one use LaTeX on a Windows machine? What software do I really need? I've read a couple of guides but many of them seem like overkill.

Please help break a LaTeX newbie into the world of professional academic publishing!

EDIT: I've toyed with LaTeX for a while, and have even learned that it's pronounced "lay-tech", not "lay-tecks". I'll agree once again with the accepted answer in saying that MiKTeX [1] is the best solution for Windows users.

(7) Good question :) Sadly, I have wasted an entire evening setting up Latex on my laptop, some 52k files... omg! took forever and then I thought it looked too scary and removed it. Thanks for asking this question, am really curious to see the answers. - Peter Perháč
(161) Microsoft Office surely isn't a contender in desktop publishing... - mghie
(10) If you are going to use LaTeX, make sure you have a dual-monitor setup. I've been using LaTeX for 10 years, and the second I got a second monitor it became a different experience. - Uri
(4) @Uri: Could you clarify how it helped, specifically? I'm curious. :) - Greg D
@Greg More room to have vim and xdvi open next to each other. - Adam Jaskiewicz
(1) @GregD: The main problem with LaTeX, especially when you do math or insert macros, is that you do need to see the "preview" window frequently ,often following micro-changes and recompilations. If every time you edited a formula you switched to preview, it's known to take "readjustment time". If you have your preview window on the other monitor, you just hit the recompile button and get your updated version, in the same exact location, without any switching. So I edit my formula, look at the point in the screen I expect to see a change, and hit compile. - Uri
@GreGD: You can easily do this on a Mac (with TeXShop), and with WinEDT on Windows, I am guessing that it is also trivial in X. - Uri
Here's a good intro guide that my MS advisor wrote, I found it fairly effective ( though it's outdated. - Uri
@Uri xdvi can watch your dvi file for changes. So you have your text editor of choice open next to xdvi and a terminal. Make your change, save, hit up arrow then enter in your terminal (re-run the previous command, which is probably "make dvi" or something along those lines). - Adam Jaskiewicz
The main problem with latex is, that it's ok while you're doing "the usual" stuff. But once you need to do something a little out, problems start. For example, I once tried to do some table layout with company logo and a grid in behind, and to put text and formulas inside in ... and it was very hard. In the end, I gave up and switched to word. But apart from that, for the standard form, it is ok. - ldigas
@Idigas Yeah, stuff like that isn't really a use case for LaTeX, unless you do it often enough that it's worth it for you to create a .sty to repeat that formatting in the future. - Adam Jaskiewicz
@Adam - actually, what I was trying to create is the official frame we use at work. Unfortunatelly, creating sty files is so userfriendly, nobody thinks about doing it in tex (although word does have some drawbacks and an alternative would be welcomed). - ldigas
(4) So many answers to this question use the term "typesetting", which is a term I've never heard used in the context of MS Office. My non-LaTeX-using opinion is "if you care about typesetting, yes. If you don't care or don't know what typesetting is, no". - Greg
My issue with LaTeX is that it is developing slowly. Look at the way .Net framework took off. If MSFT wanted to blow LaTeX out of the water, they could do so in 4 short years. - Hamish Grubijan
(2) @Hamish Grubijan: that's never going to happen. LaTeX is free, open-source and portable across lots of operating systems, and Microsoft isn't known for developing things with those characteristics. LaTeX is over 30 years old which means there are practically no bugs left. LaTeX is used by pretty much everyone in academia. And even more importantly, Microsoft is a corporation, how would they make money out of something like this, given the above considerations? - Mauricio Scheffer
@Hamish Grubijan: BTW what specifically are you missing in LaTeX? - Mauricio Scheffer
(1) @Mauricio Scheffer it just feels too much like HTML. If it were re-implemented today, it would be better of if scripted with a modern language like Python. I can get stuff done, but it feels like I am faking something else. Asking me what I am missing in LaTeX is like asking me 40 years ago what I am missing in my telephone. Well, it is solid, it works, but it is bulky and not as productive as something else could be. I am just not very good at imagining an iPhone4 (imagine this was year 1970), but I can tell you that I would gladly drop LaTeX if something better was produced. - Hamish Grubijan
@HamishGrubijan, the new direction in LaTex (and TeX) is integration with Lua. LuaLaTex is an official development path, does unicode, and allows for many interesting things to be done in Lua both for configuration and as part of the actual document layout process itself. - RBerteig
I use Latex to type everything during the classes in my University. With Lyx I get handy shortcuts and macros to speed up my typing so that it's much faster than writing. I don't carry a notebook anymore. - Asaf
@PeterPerháč: On linux Latex is always preinstalled (or anyway, just a few commands away), and there are some very nice editors. It is really worth a try. - Beni Bogosel
FYI, it's worth checking out online LaTeX editors like,, and Writing LaTeX docs in the cloud has a lot of benefits: no installation, files are accessible and editable from any computer, live previews, and some even make collaboration very simple. - Dennis
[+172] [2009-05-17 13:07:18] John Feminella [ACCEPTED]

I'd say it's definitely still worth learning. LaTeX documents continue to be one of the de facto standards for research papers and conference submissions, regardless of whether they're academic or not. Additionally, I'd say that I (subconsciously?) give a certain amount of street cred to developers who submit their resumes in LaTeX.

However, if you're interested in the general separation of content from form, there are a number of reasonable alternatives to LaTeX; DocBook [1], for example, is very popular in the technical community for writing books.

edit: The OP added some additional questions later.

Finally, how does one use LaTeX on a Windows machine? What software do I really need? I've read a couple of guides but many of them seem like overkill.

Using LaTeX on Windows is a less than terrific experience because many of the binaries you'll need won't come installed by default. But it's not too bad; try just downloading MiKTeX [2] and seeing if that does the job for you.

To get LaTeX working, you need the following (all of which come with MikTeX)

  • Text editor, so you can compose documents. There's no shortage of these. Pick an effective one that you like and that you'll grow into.

  • Virtual PostScript printer to convert graphics into EPS. Sometimes printer drivers come with these (e.g. specialized Print-to-File mechanisms), but often not. Getting the Generic PostScript printer [3] from Adobe is easiest.

  • LaTeX compiler. You need a way to turn your LaTeX source into PostScript documents. MiKTeX provides this.

  • PostScript viewer. Finally, you'll want a way to see the resulting documents themselves! MiKTeX also provides this, but there are plenty of alternatives, like GSView [4].

You can also get a GUI wrapper around LaTeX composition, like that provided by LyX [5]. This may be a good way to hit the ground running and then drop into source mode as your comfort level with LaTeX increases.


(7) I've only ever used LaTeX on windows, and I've had great experiences using TeXnicCenter as my LaTeX environment. :) - Greg D
I've always found TeXnicCenter more confusing than helpful. Besides, the only thing you really need is a way to compile the report (I make scripts) and code highlighting (which you can get anywhere). - Andrioid
(32) You're overcomplicating it quite a bit. MikTex takes care of most of what you need. You don't need a PS viewer because MikTex can either compile directly to pdf (with pdflatex) or convert your ps to pdf. And of course MikTex comes with a DVI viewer for when you don't want to go all the way to ps or pdf. So basically, I'd boil the list down to "get MikTex and a text editor", and even the text editor is optional. :) - jalf
@jaif » That's a fair point, but I wanted to make clear the pieces that were needed. I'll clarify this. - John Feminella
(12) Regarding resumes, the converse holds for me as well. If someone asks for Word-only resumes, I get the feeling that they probably don't have the technical sophistication I would like. - Glenn
@Glenn » Agreed -- I also tend to distrust them a little if they won't accept a PDF. Why do they need to edit my resume? - John Feminella
(8) +1 Among the first things my current employer said to me at interview was "we noticed you wrote your CV in LaTex". - Dominic Rodger
(10) +1 "I give a certain amount of street cred to developers who submit their resumes in LaTeX." - I make effort to create my resumes in LaTeX, sadly I don't think many/any employers notice! I make me cry when they request MS Word version or even plain text. When they advertise their product they use shiny advertisement but they ask me to go down to black/white plain ascii - LaTeX all the way! - stefanB
(1) To convert JPEG to EPS, there is a free tool called jpeg2ps. - riza
(2) I disagree strongly that latex is a "de facto standard" for research papers. It is common in computer science, physics, and mathematics. However, outside those disciplines it is growing rare, and many conferences only accept MS Word documents these days. - Nick
(2) That's a real pity if it's true, but I have a hard time believing that researchers enjoy using MS Word. Almost every (EE/physics in a top 5 school) professor I had in college used Linux almost exclusively. - temp2290
@stefanB I experienced the same. Most recruiters and head hunters seem to require a MS Word copy of the resume (at least across Europe). Shrug. - Stefano Ricciardi
(1) I totally agree that employers notice a LaTex resume, and some silly folks would prefer a .doc file and not a .pdf resume, in such case i suggest using something like "pdf" to "word" converter. now you need minimal effort to fix the minor bugs. - Egon
@jalf It's simpler than that. Windows comes with a text editor these days. - Limited Atonement
[+89] [2009-05-17 13:11:42] Andrioid

My opinions of LaTex. These are not set in stone but are based on my experience with LaTeX.

Where LaTeX is good

  • Collaboration. When many people are editing the same report, it helps that no layout settings are shared across multiple documents and most work can be done without conflicts. I recommend some sort of version control system as well.
  • Math. If you're writing a lot of formulas and stuff like that, I prefer LaTeX to the fancy formula editors of Office and OpenOffice
  • Printing. LaTeX to Postscript or PDF shows your report almost exactly like it will get printed. PDF creation also features automatic indexing, table of contents and other fancy stuff.
  • Bibliography. If you have a large collection of books that you need to cite, LaTeX has some nice integration modules for bibliography [1].

Where LaTeX isn't that great

  • Usability. Error reporting is rather poor. Sometimes it can take up to a half an hour to find a typo or some sort of mistake in the LaTeX syntax. The Python project Rubber [2] helps with this.
  • Learning a new language. It is a mark-up-language, so there is some learning curve. This can be worked around, by using LyX [3] (a LaTeX frontend). The language by itself is not that complicated and Wikibooks have a section on LaTeX [4] that has been very useful to me.

Getting started on Windows

  1. Download TeX live [5]. It's a huge download but it has a lot of features.
  2. Pick an editor. I'm using Notepad++ [6] or just try LyX (link above).
  3. Decide if you're going to make postscript documents or if you're going to work with PDF files directly from pdflatex (it's what I do, it simplifies things a bit). Then you run pdflatex on your files, instead of latex.
  4. Get a nice PDF viewer (Adobe's bloatware is simply not good enough). I recommend Sumatra [7].

I learned it and I'm not sorry I did, but I'm probably one of those Linux geeks, so decide for yourself :)


(3) I use LaTeX nearly every day, and I have a lot of good things to say about it. But I'll admit I've had difficulties with collaboration. Often collaborators don't know LaTeX or they don't know it well. Also, I've had difficulties with different styles and packages installed on both ends. And finally, images are awkward since they have to be passed around separately, unlike putting images and text in one Word document. - John D. Cook
(3) On Windows I use MikTeX (I didn't even know that TeX Live was available). I like MikTeX because it automatically downloads the packages when they aren't installed. For the PDF viewer I'd recommend Foxit reader. - Bastien Léonard
(2) Currently we're using LaTeX with Dropbox for collaboration. But yes, I'll admit that sometimes when we're close to our deadline, time is spent fixing bugs created by inexperienced users in the group. - Andrioid
@JohnDCook I agree about collaboration, I've also found it to be a problem. Also there's no support for tracking changes, it's technically possible with a version control system but you'll never get most non-CS scientists to use one. - dF.
Actually, the language is that complicated (it's Turing-complete) but you don't need to delve into that sort of thing to write a document with it. - Donal Fellows
+1 You're the only one mentionning math. Sharing a modifiable document in latex is really annoying, it never works. In word? Well, since Google Docs and Office Live, it got better, but still... The only place where nothing gets close to latex is in terms of equations. Try to have a superscript with a subscript with a bold greek letter in line with the text in Word! If you mainly write math/physics, you HAVE to learn latex. - PhilMacKay
[+52] [2009-05-17 13:06:05] Fabian Steeg

The thing I like about it is it turns paper writing into programming. And the result looks great.

(47) The thing I don't like about it is that it turns writing into programming. And the results look like they were produced using LaTex. - anon
I made some pretty whiz-bang papers in grad school with it. :) Also kicked out a few in a more professional context, though I got smacked down there pretty quick. :( - Greg D
@Greg D: As in, you did something you thought was cool but people disapproved of your style; or was it that they disapproved of the use of LaTeX at all? - John Feminella
(48) Neil, so I conclude you neither like programming nor awesomely typeset documents ;-) - Fabian Steeg
(2) Disapproved of LaTeX altogether. They thought the typesetting/style was so great that they asked me what Word plugin I used to get it. (I'm sure you can fill in the rest of the story. ;) ) - Greg D
(1) I forgot to add--- I got the job with a resume/CV that I typeset with LaTeX. :) Irony! - Greg D
(28) It also means that it opens up the way to deal with documents in the same way as with source code: use grep and sed on them, put them into version control with actually usable diffs, stuff like that. - mghie
(4) @Greg D » To illustrate the value of LaTeX to someone who's otherwise a solid technical person, I ask them whether they think CSS is stupid and if we shouldn't just embed style attributes into every HTML element. :) - John Feminella
(18) @fabian I like programming. I also like writing. I like lots of things. I don't feel any urge to turn all the things I like into programming. - anon
(1) LaTeX documents would be much more palatable to me if their default font wasn't that hideous Computer Modern abomination. Mathematically perfect in every way, I'm sure, but ugly as heck. - Barry Brown
(22) Ironcically, Knuth is a fan of turning programming into writing :-) - John Fouhy
(2) I also think of it as akin to other markup languages. You have the content (words, sentences, paragraphs) separated from the style. The argument is that this allows you to concentrate on writing without stopping to tweak the layout/display of the content. Also, this makes it much easier to maintain a consistent style throughout the document. - Doug
(7) @Neil Butterworth - could be worse - the results could look like they were produced using Word ;-} - ConcernedOfTunbridgeWells
(6) @Barry: just put \usepackage{palatino} in the preamble, and start enjoying a beautiful font :) - Roberto Bonvallet
You should check out sagetex. Its the power of LaTeX plus the power of Sage (a Python fork) in the same document. - George Steel
@C.Reed Take a look at - Viktor Dahl
@mghie: Those are important, but they have nothing to do with paper-writing-as-programming. They are just a side-effect of storing your document in a plaintext format. - naught101
[+44] [2009-05-17 15:25:01] Cheeso

You Cannot Be Serious?

NO NO NO. If you ever look forward to a professional life outside of the university, do not expend the effort to learn LaTeX! If you place value on being commercially relevant, do not travel down that academic cul-de-sac. There are many better things to do with your time than spend it on a baroque 1970's technology for page layout.

I think there's a named disorder in the DSM-IV for the phenomenon where after a person has invested (time, money, emotion) in a particular thing, the thing becomes more lovely or more valuable in his or her eyes. The responses from people above about LaTeX seem to fit that pattern to me. They say: "I spent my entire life in LaTeX, and finally figured out how to get a sub-bullet to appear the way I had imagined... I love LaTeX!" It's the Patty Hearst syndrome or something. Based on the effort expended and the skill so hard won, LaTeX becomes precious. To admit otherwise is to admit that they have frittered away their time, that they have made sub-optimal choices. No one wants to admit that.

The things you can do with a modern word processing program are astounding. It's not just page layout - it's collaboration with markup notes; it's versioning, rights management, instant re-sizing of graphics, embedding other documents, embedding data from external applications, voice dictation, automation. And WYSIWYG is implicitly valuable. Anyone who dismisses modern word processing tools is engaging in a dramatic self-deception, or willful ignorance.

LaTeX Strengths - Really?

Look at some of the things LaTeX experts have said:

  • LaTeX has the ability to add comments into the doc that don't appear in print. In MS-Word, this has been possible since...? Word 97? And - the comments from different parties appear in different colors on the screen.
  • Word is for small simple tasks. LaTeX is for complex ones. This is opinion. If a person spent the time developing skill in Word rather than LaTeX, the person would feel the opposite way.
  • no layout settings are shared across multiple documents. huh?? This is also not hard to do in a modern word processor.
  • by obscuring presentation and design, LaTeX lets me focus on content. Right. Design is so useless. That's why ipods will never take off, and why haircuts are stupid (everyone should just shave their heads), and showering is a waste of time. It's all about content.

And What About these Tricks?

Have you ever used the speech-to-text feature of Word to dictate a document? Have you ever compared two versions of a doc side-by-side in WYSIWYG mode? Reset a paragraph property and watch the page breaks re-flow automatically in front of your eyes? This is useful stuff.

If you did not know about some of these features or have not used them, then are you really fit to make pronouncements about how good LaTeX is in comparison to the alternatives?

Be Open to using Modern Tools

Why are all you LaTeX people not using the Motif library for constructing GUI applications? or better, X-Intrinsics? Why? Because there are better tools and frameworks out there now, that's why. And the same is true for LaTeX.

Why are you not all using TCP and ONC RPC? Because better tools and frameworks - HTTP and REST and JSON and XML - have come around. Modern tools are commercially useful, beyond the academic arena.

LaTeX advocates to me are like expert C programmers who swore off learning anything new 20 years ago, who assert that OO is too memory inefficient, that scripting is for kids, that GUI designers are shortcuts, that garbage collection is for sloppy programmers. Whatever. Have that opinion if you like. Everyone is entitled to hold unfounded opinions.


Here is the radical thing that no one has mentioned: if you really prefer markup languages, OOXML is a markup language that you can work in directly, yet still allow normal humans to read your work in MS-Word. You get all the joys of non-WYSIWYG emacs-based document construction, yet other people can actually use what you've produced.

Bottom Line

LaTeX was justified when the cost of commercial tools was high, and the quality was low. Now, for any university student, the cost of modern word-processing tools is very low. Once upon a time, LaTeX made sense. Not anymore.

Update: What I find funny is that this answer got upvoted and downvoted many times - but I still see nothing in the comments that disputes what I wrote. Only variations on "I disagree." Clearly the topic is subjective. But the interesting thing is how LaTeX advocates are so unwilling to admit that alternative viewpoints are valuable. I bet all you downvoters think you are open-minded, huh?

(3) From what I've seen, Word's versioning is pretty clunky. With LaTeX, you can use SVN and whatever diff tool you're most familiar with. - Adam Jaskiewicz
(23) And if you consider OOXML comparable to LaTeX as a hand-editable markup language, you've never used LaTeX. Or never looked at OOXML. - Adam Jaskiewicz
(3) I'm sorry, but I spent 3 hours trying to get Frigging Microsoft Word to let me have different header text on each page, only to have the whole document f**cked when I moved to a newer version. All programs have learning issues. - Uri
(43) I'm not sure if you've tried to write a long document (50+ pages) in both Word and Latex. As everyone has mentioned, Latex is the standard for math heavy docs. Word cannot make a subscript print directly below a superscript. Nor can many diff tools handle merges of Office documents. That said, if my cowriters were only comfortable with Word I would conform. - Alan
(2) Version control software already has the rights management and versioning stuff covered. Even collaboration notes (commit comments). Why do I need that stuff in my publishing software when it's already handled elsewhere? Including other documents? Simple. Graphics resizing? Graphics software does a much better job than Word on that. Embedding data from external applications? No problem, there are tools for that, too (gnuplot, etc.) - Adam Jaskiewicz
(2) Yes, all programs have learning issues. What I'm saying is, spend your learning effort on something that is usable outside the walls of the CS department. Yes, I have used Latex to write many docs, and since I left it behind, I have not regretted it. And Yes, I have written multiple docs that are over 100 pages, with both Latex and Word. Version Control does not have rights management covered; it covers rights to modify the doc. It does not cover managing readers of the doc after consumption (for private docs)? Graphics resizing in word is a 1.5 second task. Another program? Seriously? - Cheeso
(3) If you spent 3 hours in Word trying to accomplish something mundane, then you don't know Word. Likely a competent Word user would spend 3 hours trying to do something similar in LaTeX. - Cheeso
(41) Controversial post, but I think it was good for someone to provide this perspective. - RexE
(1) I am inclined to agree with you. I would never claim to be an expert with Word, but people often struggle to do simple things like alter headings and text correctly when all it often takes is a few seconds editing the styles or creating your own. That being said, Word isn't suitable for complex tasks, and even though nowadays Equation Editor is part of the normal Office setup I still think it'd be good to give LaTeX a try, seeing as I am still in academia. - Mike B
(19) Actually, if you've spent three hours in Word trying to accomplish something mundane, then you do know Word. - Glenn
(13) My biggest problem with Word is that it's not a stable document format. If it was written in Word 2008 on a Mac will it open in Word 2007 on WinXP? In my recent experience the answer is "sometimes". What do my Word documents look like on other computers? When printed on other printers? I find Word to be untrustworthy and do not count on it for critical applications. In this regard I feel better about text-based solutions, including LaTeX. - Glenn
(9) This post cracked me up. A Word biggot is screaming at the LaTeX bigots for being closed minded. Nothing like the pot calling the kettle black! - Bob Somers
(3) Programming languages aren't stable, either. Will that Java 6 program you wrote run on JVM 5? - Barry Brown
(8) I'm sorry but we're talking about academic publishing, and Word's support for bibliographies and equations is still rudimentary. And OOXML? Of course it wasn't designed to be human-readable never mind human-editable. - dF.
(2) OOXML is not intended to be human editable or readable, but rather to be machine- or program-generated or manipulated. And I've neevr had trouble with a bibliography in Word?... Hmm, I guess I'm a Word super-expert. --the bigot - Cheeso
(18) I wish I could upvote this more. Don't get me wrong, I would rather use a chisel and stone than Word, but it's a shame the only opinion besides "OMG LATEX ROX!" is this far down on the page. - TwentyMiles
(2) Finally some common sense in this thread! Publishing is for academic dinosaurs. - Mr. Brownstone
(7) LaTeX is not for everyone. If you're doing graphic-intensive document, or that you wanna get really creative, LaTex is not for you. There're better, modern tools out there. However, LaTeX is good for mathematics-heavy paper or really long documents (such as thesis or book). I would say that people who goes for LaTeX values consistency, quality and content more than control and design - Hao Wooi Lim
(8) Have you ever tried to do a 2000 page document in Word or build a word document that imported a generated (and commented) data dictionary from a repository tool? Have you ever tried to do the previous and maintain stable cross-references between the body of the document and the data dictionary? Have you ever tried to maintain an index on a complex word document? I'll argue that anyone who thinks word is a good technical publishing tool has probably never had to maintain a large technical document in it. - ConcernedOfTunbridgeWells
(2) "Now, for any university student, the cost of modern word-processing tools is very low." This is not the case in the third world country. For example, USD50 is equal to about one-tenth of a fresh graduate. - riza
Microsoft offers an MSDN subscription for an entire university CS department, for about $US199. Or it could be $99. I can't remember exactly. MSDN includes dev tools like Visual Studio as well as server programs (like SQL Server) and Office. Suppose you are in a CS program in the University in El Salvadore. Your university pays $199, once, and everyone in the program is licensed to use all that stuff, including MS Word. Suppose there are 33 people including faculty in a department; that means a cost of $US6. If that is still too much I'm sure Microsoft will cut a deal for your school. - Cheeso
How can you even think about comparing OOXML to LaTeX? - alternative
(29) Of course LaTeX sucks; it's merely better than everything else. What is the alternative? Definitely not OOXML (were you serious?), definitely not Word (too hard to do things right, output substandard), and definitely not InDesign (too hard to typeset mathematics). The moment something better than LaTeX comes along, we'll quickly jump ship. - ShreevatsaR
(12) There's a lot of things wrong with this, but the most glaring is that you're presenting a bit of a "straw man" argument by listing 5 points which are not presented by LaTeX advocates as the top 5 by any means, and not really addressing them properly at that. - Draemon
(1) "Graphics resizing is a 1.5 s task" That is per image and excludes scrolling to each image. In LaTeX I can resize all 100 relevant images in 20 s. I want better software, but for large documents there is nothing else - Stephan Eggermont
"Be Open to using Modern Tools" you say, "Be Open to using Better Tools" I say. I used both Word/OpenOffice and LaTeX (w/ and w/o LyX) and the latter wins, although they are very different. BTW, HTTP foundation is TCP, in case you are wondering. - Dan Andreatta
(5) The reason I down voted your answer is that you obviously don't know anything about Latex and greatly exaggerate the effort it takes to learn it. I'm currently looking into reST as the modern option for Latex :) - Matti Pastell
(7) Too many straw-man arguments. (But almost amusing enough to be "helpful" as stress relief.) You've missed Word's main strengths: it's everywhere, so everyone can use it, and it's visual, so everyone can use it. As with most things, an expert is better in Word than a novice, but the gap between the two is much smaller than with LaTeX. And you've thus missed the main argument against learning LaTeX: will you put in the time to master it? Wouldn't you rather just struggle with Word for a little while to get mostly what you want than learn LaTeX for months to get it exactly? - Rex Kerr
(2) The biggest benefit of using LaTeX is that it does exactly what you tell it to do. The biggest problem with using LaTeX is that it does exactly what you tell it to do. - Larry Wang
@Larry- This is exactly like programming, which is why some people like/hate it. In my opinion, both are good for different purposes- LaTeX is pretty much about structure, and Word is more about just getting your document done. I couldn't see myself using LaTeX to rush a last-second document. And on to math equations- Word's math equation editor is coming along pretty good, and Windows Vista/7 comes with a bundled Handwriting Math Input Panel that is surprisingly good. However, I'll still add LaTeX to my skill set, as well as Word. - DMan
If you need your documents to display the same way no matter what the environment or medium, why not use PDF? - Exception
(1) "Why are you not all using TCP" - this is when I /facepalm and stop reading. Yes, yes we are. To clarify: thinking that HTTP is somehow better than TCP reveals a massive lack of understanding of both protocols. - André Paramés
(1) Andre, if you don't agree that there is a difference between programming to the TCP layer, versus programming to the HTTP layer, then /facepalm all you want. You are simply spoiling for an argument. - Cheeso
(1) For a mathematician there is no other better way to write your documents. For those who argue that it's hard to learn, I totally disagree. There are tons of articles on the web about how to use the symbols and formulas you need, there are editors with live previewers with live sync between the pdf result and the source code. Anyone who has learned Latex will not go back to other text editors. - Beni Bogosel
Lovely answer. Good job! - Developer
Just want to say how much I love your answer. LaTeX in this day IMO is not worth learning at all by anyone, and it's only going to become less and less relevent. - S200
(1) I understand your personal feeling that LaTeX isn't better than Word. But do you think you can work on OOXML directly? I almost laughed out your "surprise!" It was a nice joke. Try unzip .docx, and open document.xml. You must be a serious XML person. - Raymond
I like to write semantic documents whose content is separate from form (something that you should be familiar with if you're really a 59k SO user). I like to commit my documents to my existing version control system to go along with my code and be able to see ASCII, useful diffs. I like my documents to look the same everywhere. I like to be able to embed diagrams into my documents, semantically, rather than plastering GIFs everywhere that cannot be edited again. Word has some diagramming tools, but I still can't diff those. I am a "modern" coder and would still be lost without [La]TeX. - Lightness Races in Orbit
The argument that something is obsolete just because it is old is utterly unfounded. Some old technologies are superceded, and some are not. Until I see another text-based document markup language that does what I want (OOXML? Are you kidding? OOXML is horrific. And it is the closest to something surpassing LaTeX for this "modern age" you're so desperate to represent for whatever reason) then I will vehemently you oppose teaching the new generation these lies that TeX is to be avoided. - Lightness Races in Orbit
I was organising a workshop recently. Participants were sending contributed papers. Both LaTeX and MS Word was allowed. So we received papers made in both environments. Workshop proceedings were made by combining all papers together in one PDF file which looked nice. Even test print of the proceedings was nice. We did printing of proceedings in 140 copies by our publishing department. At the end formulas were lost for two papers in the proceedings. Guess the software... Those two papers were made by the latest MS Word and the latest equation editor. Conclusion - you are not safe with MS Word. - djhurio
(1) I can have typed out a whole paragraph's worth of content for my document every single time you reach for your mouse. - LordStryker
@DMan I've used LaTeX several times for last-minute documents while in university. It's not difficult to pull off if you use a LaTeX IDE (many exist nowadays) and of course, my documents turned out beautiful. - Dennis
[+40] [2009-05-17 13:25:16] Agos

Pros and cons have already been discussed in other answers, so I'll just my 2*10^-2€.
Last year, a lot of my friends began writing their master thesis. I suggested (both when prompted and on my initiative) using LyX (a frontend for TeX), but was confronted with the usual diffidence: "I don't have the time to learn to use another program". My answer: "I don't have the time nor the will to learn how to cope with MS Word (or OpenOffice, or NeoOffice, etc) nonsense".
None of them did switch, and they all fought with word processors to have them to their job.
Since you're a programmer, learning a new language is in your mindset: if you at least once in your life found yourself struggling to get a word processor do what you told him, then probably LaTeX is a very good choice for you. Community support is great also, so any issue can be easily solved (at least IME).

(10) +1 "and they all fought with word processors to have them to their job." That's the beauty of LaTex - like a programming language, it does what you tell it to do. MSWord, on the other hand, does what it thinks you want it to do, usually with irritating results. - Bill B
(31) It looks like you're trying to apply specific formatting. Do you want me to screw it up? yes|sure|absolutely - Adam Jaskiewicz
(4) I wrote my masters thesis in LaTeX and I haven't regretted it one minute. None of that "damn it, Word shows my picture on the wrong page" bullshit. - Carra
(3) I just finished my first year at Duke Divinity School, and when the serious term papers came around at the end of the 2nd semester, I used sbl-latex to generate Society of Biblical Literature style papers. Like Agos, my friends thought I was some kind of crazy person. At the end of the semester, though, they were fighting with getting their bibliographies and page formatting to be just right in MSWord and I was laying out in the garden. - Robert Fischer
(1) Upvote for TeX being easier; A little bit of a learning curve, but a couple times through and a reference makes doing pretty much anything infinitely quicker than trudging through a WYSIWYG document editor. Trying to write lab reports in Writer? Oh gosh. - Sanarothe
(1) @Carra: I also just wrote a thesis in latex, and I certainly had pictures showing up on the wrong page, and causing formatting problems. It can be fixed, but it can also be fixed in Writer, or what ever you're using. - naught101
[+31] [2009-05-17 13:12:13] Ed Woodcock

I'm currently in my final year at uni, and believe me, LaTeX is actually brilliant.

If I'd had to do my project, or even 90% of the pieces of coursework I've done this year, in Open Office or Word, I would have spent twice as long and they would not have looked half as nice.

Also, LaTeX's referencing and general formatting abilities completely destroy any WYSIWGY document editor, once you get your head around the odd way you have to format tables, and putting pictures inside figures, etc., it's actually remarkably simple and intuitive.

Also, the fact that it's basically code means you can work remotely using something like VIM over SSH, which for me was a big bonus as it meant I could work from home without having to carry around multiple copies of my entire report!

[+21] [2009-05-17 13:10:21] shoosh

If you ever consider going to grad school and eventually publishing anything in a scientific journal or publication, LaTeX is practically the only way to go. If this is your case, it is never too early to start getting some real experience with it.
Other than that, one of the more popular uses for it is for writing formulas an math equations where it is arguably much better than any other solution, most notably MS Equation.

That is, grad school in computer science, mathematics, or physics. In e.g. the medical sciences, manuscripts are almost always typed in MS Word. - Jouni K. Seppänen
(6) The weak minded! - shoosh
Trust me there are word templates out there, in which you can copy paste your material before sending it over to a conference/journal. You might argue that there are LaTex templates as well! As far as the math goes, Word has come a long way, but not long enough. People use Latex for creating presentations and thing like that : I haven't seen a more silly thing! MS PPT, is brillant and so simple! - Egon
I'll agree that using LaTeX for presentations is silly, but it certainly is more professional looking than MS Word for typing up a paper. - Sean
(1) I find the beamer class to be quite useful as it allows me to merge results from measurement series and various data evaluated with gnuplot and octave as tex output into a presentation. No hassle, clear and brilliant graphics. For things that matter (thesis defense etc.. ) I wouldn't do it anyway else! - mmoment
[+18] [2009-05-17 13:20:53] John D. Cook

Word is easier for small, simple tasks; LaTeX is easier for large, complex tasks. It's easier to do a resume in Word. But past some level of complexity, LaTeX becomes easier. I'd rather write a memo in Word but write a book in LaTeX.

LaTeX wins hands down for mathematical typesetting. That's why math and CS journals accept (sometimes require) LaTeX.

But LaTeX is also good for complex non-mathematical typesetting. For example, if you need to have fine control of typographical details (e.g. kerning) or you need to mix languages (e.g. using right-to-left language like Arabic or Hebrew and a left-to-right language like English in one document).

(9) I'd rather write a memo in LaTeX. It's just a big block of text, so there wouldn't be any complicated syntax involved, and the formatting isn't going to need any tweaking on a per-document basis, assuming you have a .sty for your typical memo format. Plus you can version control it and edit it in the same text editor you use for everything else. - Adam Jaskiewicz
(1) I found that using LaTeX for my CV was a big win. By some clever use of macros, I can use the same body for both "short" and "long" versions of my CV, so I am sure they're in sync (the main difference between teh short and the long is that in the short version, the "what I did" is limited to just my title). I'm sur eit'd be possible to do in Word, but, meh. - Vatine
[+14] [2009-05-17 16:05:53] Uri

If you are going to be doing academic publishing in CS - yes, definitely learn LaTeX. As you handle more figures, more references, more stringent formatting requirements, more math, etc., LaTeX is the way to go.

Many conferences will only give a Word template as a secondary option - to really adhere to their requirements, you should use LaTeX. The only exception is typically HCI conferences where more people come from a non-CS background.

If you version control your stuff (e.g., dissertation, large papers, etc.) - LaTeX is great. Better than Word. Things also really look the same on every machine - I have not yet been able to achieve that with MS tools.

To me the main drawback of LaTeX used to be that I could not see the source file and the result at the same time, back when I was writing my masters thesis 9 years ago on my old T20. As far as I am concerned the drawback is gone - If you have dual monitors.

I really don't think that "learning" LaTeX is such a problem, and you can always use books or google searches or SO for small things.

Just use it when it applies - You'll probably write your CVs, cover letters, etc. in Word, there is no point using LaTeX for them although it is possible.

LaTeX is also extremely portable - I use Linux, Mac, and Windows and can compile my text on all of them. The only drawback is that the good editor for Windows (WinEDT) costs money but it is quite worth it. The LaTeX distribution (MikTeX) is of course free. Installation on Mac is much easier, and on Linux it is trivial.

[+13] [2009-05-17 13:20:02] dF.

I don't use LaTeX for much else, but I do find it indispensible for academic publishing. What you gain compared to e.g. Office, is:

  • Sane and straightforward handling of figures, equations and references. Sure you can sort of get that in Office with external add-ons (MathType, Endnote) but if you're moving between computers or exchanging the file with others, as you often will, you can't rely on these being installed.

  • Compatibility: It's just a text file, it works the same on any architecture and OS.

What you lose:

  • WYSIWYG, of course.

  • Precise control over the appearance of the document. Yes it's possible but depending on what you want to do it can be a major pain. But for academic papers you don't care anyway, since it will be reformatted for the journal later.

What I'd suggest is getting a copy of LyX [1]. It's a "what you see is what you mean" GUI that will generate (readable) LaTeX. It's free, and bridges the gap between a word processor and LaTeX code. It's a great way to learn LaTeX since if you want you can highlight any part of your document and look at a live view of the generated code. And generating a PDF is just a click of a button.


LaTeX isn't really meant for precise control over the appearance of the document. Think of it as a Word template. If you want precise control, that's what TeX is for. - Adam Jaskiewicz
(2) You may not get precise control over the appearance of the document, but you can be extremely sure that you get the appearance your document finally has on each and every output device, whichever this may be. I have seen too many people preparing a Word document with much pain until they were satisfied, only to have things break completely when they tried to print everything out in the CopyShop, on a different printer model. Such reliability trumps the last missing bit of control for me. - mghie
@mghie Yeah, plus you can abstract your formatting into a .sty and re-use it for future documents using the same format. So once you get your preferred format for the "weekly whatever document", you just \usepackage{weeklyWhatever} and type up a big 'ol block of text without really needing to think. - Adam Jaskiewicz
@mghie I absolutely agree, I've had all kinds of compatibility issues with Word even between different version of Word itself, or different OSes. Zero such problems with LaTeX/LyX. - dF.
[+11] [2009-05-17 13:13:28] miloshadzic

It's not hard to learn and it is very good for math typesetting. I say it's definitely worth it.

[+10] [2009-05-17 14:04:50] Maxfrank

Can't help to agree that LaTeX is a fantastic tool for publication. I'm currently writing my thesis with a friend, and before we did anything we sat up a subversion repo for the .tex files. Two things that is worth mentioning: You can divide your project into smaller .tex files. Let's say you have a "part1.tex", with the command: /input{part1} you can simply include the contents of that file.

Another thing you have to look into is BibTeX, which simply is staggering. More info here:

[+10] [2009-05-17 14:29:41] Johan

As stated above LaTeX and a version control system (like svn or git) works great, since it is just text. No problem with branching and merging when you work more that one person on a file.

The possibility to add comments in your document that don't show in print.

Have scripts that add stuff into the LaTeX file when you create the pdf, I usually add some "svn info" to the end so I know what version I printed.

etc etc

So if you like stuff like that, LaTeX is really worth the time it takes to learn it.

(On windows you probably just install cygwin...? )


Update: Pictures and LaTeX is often painful thou...

Update: WYSIWYG takes focus away content and forces you to focus on layout, it happens since you react on the things you see. But if you write something important you should not react to layout issues, you shall focus on what you are writing.

Update: And your text will be readable in 10-20 years time, that has definitely not been the case for the different office programs. Try open a 20 year old MS Office document and see if Office 2007 can read it?

Shall we call this long term stability, since LaTeX is open source it will still be around 20 years from now....

[+9] [2009-06-11 10:37:53] Alex Basson

I'm a high school math teacher by day, and I write absolutely everything in LaTeX, for many reasons, most of which have already been mentioned. But I'll add one more:

Because LaTeX files are plain text, it's incredibly easy to generate them programmatically. For example, I've written a number of Python scripts that randomly generate certain quiz questions (e.g. sin(pi/3), cos(5pi/6), etc.), based on parameters that I can specify. And because I can invoke LaTeX from the command line (I'm running it on Mac OS X, btw, not sure if this applies to Windows), the scripts automatically take the resulting plain text file, run it through pdflatex, and produce the final pdf. This way I can produce multiple versions of the same quiz really easily and with minimal effort.

FWIW, no one else in my department ever learned LaTeX, or had even heard of it until I arrived. The steep learning curve still prevents them from learning it -- everyone else still uses MathType in Word -- and yet everyone is amazed at the high quality of the printed output, so much so that my department head thinks I should consider submitting my worksheets for publication. Nevermind that the content of the worksheets don't merit publication; she's that impressed by the beauty of the printed page.

[+8] [2009-05-17 13:08:16] Adam Jaskiewicz

The depth you need to go into to get a simple document out is pretty simple. Anything fancier than that, you can learn as you go. It makes formatting math stuff really easy, too. You might as well learn it.

[+8] [2009-05-17 15:42:18] lhahne

I've had plenty of terrible experiences with Word and OO.o when editing large files. Usually at some point styles, references, and numbering just break down and there's no easy way to fix those.

I've done several larger documents in Latex and I've never had such problems with it. It is likely because in Latex you edit mainly the structure, not the presentation. In addition, Bibtex is really nice for managing citations as all the major article databases give you the Bibtex codes.

I just finished writing my Bachelor's thesis with Latex and had pretty much no problems whatsoever whereas people using Word were complaining about everything breaking down all the time. I'm currently of the opinion that when writing lond and complex documents, people using Latex are much more productive than people using Word or OO.o. But for short documents I wouldn't use Latex because of its initial overhead.

Whatever your platform is, Tex Live is currently the shiznit.

[+7] [2009-05-18 03:34:06] John M. P. Knox

I wouldn't consider myself a LaTeX expert, but I have used it to write a book I later self-published using Create Space [1]. You can probably guess that I like it.

Here are a few points which might be of interest:

  • LaTeX offers some really precise control over how the page is laid out -- if you're patient and get really technical.
  • But in general LaTeX lets you focus on writing while it worries about layout.
  • LaTeX works really well with source control.
  • You can edit your document using vim or vi. Maybe some other editors too.
  • Images live outside of the source file, where you can edit them with real image editors. When you build again, the updated version will get baked into the output.
  • You can easily use scripts to automate the creation of pretty PDFs, complete with images, internal links, and hyperlinks. Software documentation, anyone?
  • LaTeX justifies and kerns the output to look professionally typeset. I don't think that Word output looks nearly as good.

That said, if you're looking to tweak a document to make it look exactly so, you might drive yourself crazy in the process. The design of LaTeX favors a more relaxed attitude towards placement: don't worry, LaTeX will find a spot for everything. Usually everything works out okay, and the placements are acceptable. Sometimes you need to debug.

A WYSIWYG editor generally gives faster feedback and generally leaves layout up to you. That said, Word sometimes responds to formatting tweaks by throwing all the images randomly across the document. Then you get to spend an hour dragging everything back into place. Pick your poison.


[+6] [2009-05-17 15:35:59] Joshua

Added bonus -- LaTeX is amenable to source control, which can come in handy if you're writing program documentation in it.

[+6] [2009-06-12 22:24:12] bluebrother

While a lot of reasons for using LaTeX have already been named I'm still missing something:

  • Word is a word processor. LaTeX is a typesetting program.

There is a rather important difference between both. I learned LaTeX during my uni years and I'd never regretted it. Why? Because it teaches you the beauty of typesetting. Even if you have to use worse tools later (like MS Word -- it is much worse than LaTeX, even with the problems LaTeX does have!) you get a good feeling about how a text should look like and the system behave. For example, correct spacing between words and paragraphs (Word completely fails to do this pleasantly looking to the eye), formulae (this is one thing where you can easily see the difference between Word and LaTeX: Word look butt-ugly. Wrong spacing in almost every possible location, I've seen formulae that got almost unreadable due to broken spacing), producing PDF files (if you have Acrobat you can create a hyperlinked PDF from Word. If you don't, you almost can't), handling references and other things generated from the text like table of contents. LaTeX just works in this aspect while Word does somewhat work.

One important hint from my perspective: don't use DVI. While the idea is nice pdflatex works absolutely fine, can (in contrast to the standard latex) cope with jpg, png and other image formats directly and is a format everyone should be able to read.

If you care for a good typographic result: never use Word. And as a side-note: I even used LaTeX for typesetting sheet music in the past. Once you get used to it the syntax isn't that confusing anymore, and the result is amongst the best I've ever seen for sheet music.

Not having used LaTeX, done any publishing or really knowing anything about typography, I can't appreciate the claims made about aesthetics. Some visual aids would be useful. - Greg
Some comparison between Word and LaTeX is showed at though what (in my opinion) is worst in Word compared to LaTeX are formulae, which are not shown on that page. However, one can already see subtle differences that make Word simply look ugly. Another issue is that LaTeX helps you avoiding common errors (like additional spaces between words), and once one get used to the correct look it's much easier to avoid them even in Word -- you simply "feel" what's wrong. - bluebrother
In addition to the link posted by bluebrother, see also Latex font installation guide at… (pdf) for an example of a well-typeset document using Latex. - Alok Singhal
[+4] [2009-05-17 13:27:34] Ole Lynge

For your last question:

how does one use LaTeX on a Windows machine? What software do I really need?

I use MiKTeX [1] as the LaTeX compiler and write the source .tex file in some texteditor like notepad, programmer's notepad or notepad++.


[+4] [2009-05-18 12:41:09] Adam Pope

For anybody looking to use LaTeX on Mac OS X, I can recommend TexShop. It provides a nice GUI (not WYSIWYG) for text editing and macros and has a 1-click publish to PDF. Very easy to setup and get going with.

[+3] [2009-05-17 16:37:53] bromfiets

Yes, because LaTeX appeals to programmers.

LaTeX is not without problems, but for many it's about using the same tools (like your favourite text editor) for your code and your documentation or thesis or whatever on the same platform side by side.

[+3] [2009-05-18 02:02:16] Matt G

You don't necessarily need to write LaTeX in order to get the benefits of a LaTeX. MultiMarkdown [1] lets you use an extended version of Markdown [2] to generated LaTeX documents. (Markdown in the markup language used for Stackoverflow messages). The webpage has samples of what you can do with it. For some documents you are still going to need to hand write LaTeX, you'd be surprised at how far you can get without resorting to that.


[+3] [2009-05-18 03:12:29] mlp

What will I actually gain from it

I prefer my documents to appear the same within the limits of the output device's ability to put dots on media, whether it's an old impact printer or a phototypesetter. The DVI (device independent) output format is my friend, and may be yours too.

(Skip this paragraph if you don't care for an illustrative anecdote.) Back in the mid '90s our corporate Standard Operating Environment included MS Office, and we had a couple of generations of HP LaserJet printer around the site. Having been a LaTeX and DVI fan for some time, I naively expected that a document would look identical, modulo resolution issues (e.g. 300dpi vs 600dpi), whatever printer I pushed it out to. But no, Word insisted that the printers were so different that changing from a LaserJet III to a LaserJet 4 caused the line breaks to move (i.e. break after different words). After the next version of Office was released and we were all sent to a training course I asked the trainer if the behaviour of the new Word was the same. The response was "Of course - why wouldn't it be?"

and will I enjoy using it?

That depends on what type of programmer you are, and what front-end you choose to drive *TeX (LaTeX being a macro package on the front of TeX, and BiBTeX [1] a companion tool).

  • If you like programming in an imperative language with source code in text files (e.g. C, BASIC, PHP, Java ...) then you may like LaTeX.
  • If you are happy with Makefiles and the Edit/Compile/Test cycle you'll probably love it like I do (editor, Xdvi, and terminal to type make foo.{dvi,lj,pdf}; Xdvi auto-refreshes when the DVI file changes).
  • LyX [2] will give you a WYSIWYG interface if you prefer.
  • If you need to do something that LaTeX can't then you have access to raw TeX under the hood.
  • CTAN [3] has lots of info and add-ons
  • If you don't like to RTFM [4], you won't like it. The Companion [5] is good, and has apparently been revised and expanded [6]. And the TeXbook [7] and METAFONTbook [8] can be thought of as the exploded diagram with full parts list and timing diagrams.

[+3] [2009-12-17 00:14:50] Draemon

With Latex, everything that defines the document is visible in an easily editable format. With Word and friends, much of the document state is hidden and editable only through a long winded process of menus or dialogs. The editing is less predictable because you're editing the underlying state through a rendered presentation which doesn't show all of that state.

What makes it unbeatable for me is the ability to use the vast array of tools which operate on plain text, and the way you get consistent styles by default.

[+2] [2009-05-17 16:43:07] warp


It depends on what your needs are. For me, using LaTeX is overkill, I use XHTML instead.


  • Seperates content from presentation very well. (Or not at all if you prefer).
  • It's easy to create a good looking .pdf if you have access to prince xml (
  • As a webdeveloper, I don't have to learn anything new to use it.
  • Easily version controlled (svn/git/bzr/etc...)
  • If you need to publish on the web, no conversion needed :)


There is basically one very big downside to it, which is that XHTML is rather limited, and definitely not suited for publishing on paper. So you will often have to add a number of custom XML tags, with some XSL style sheets to parse them and replace them with whatever you need. (For example, princexml doesn't generate a table of contents for you, this isn't too complicated to do with some XSLT, but it will be quite a challenge if you don't speak XPath).

(3) Whilst I've seen a lot of good come from online tools and the use of XML, XHTML is in no way a replacement for good desktop publishing or word processing. When such simple things like Mathematical Equations cannot be generated in a textual format the language is flawed. Not only that, but fonts online are flawed. Web pages are in no way a substitute for a word-processing document. - Mike B
I upvoted because XHTML (well, XML) has something to do with DocBook, which can be converted to LaTeX if I recall correctly. Yet XML's such messy a notation, I wouldn't bother. - progo
[+2] [2009-05-18 07:39:18] Hao Wooi Lim

I really can't speak for everyone. However, learning how to use LaTeX is in my opinion the single most worthy knowledge that I gained in the realm of academic publication. I find LaTeX invaluable in helping me to focus on the content and less on the way the document is to be formatted. This is important because back when I was writing my thesis, I felt like I spent a quarter of my life trying to tame Microsoft Word, dealing with stuff like page number, citations, mathematical equations etc. In terms of using LaTeX, I did took a shortcut that enable me to not learn the LaTeX syntax. What I did was I got a copy of Bakoma TeX WYSIWYG editor. As such, I do not really consider myself a real LaTeX user. But, suffice to say that if you are going to write thesis with many mathematical equations, or you're writing a conference paper and you wanted it to look professional, you will find that LaTeX is a godsend. Do note however, do expect to google around for LaTeX-related problems even if you're using WYSIWYG editor. It's a small price to pay; It's not going to be free. At least not for me.

[+2] [2009-12-02 15:45:27] Charles Stewart

I agree that latex has the edge over MS word for publishing in intensively mathematical sciences, but talk of word's lousy formula layout is a bit complacent: Word 2007 has tremendously improved support for formulae; the word team essentially started from scratch with a new formula layout engine modelled on the tex algorithm. A blog post by Murray Sargent of the Word team, talking [1] of his meeting with Knuth about representation of equations, may be of interest.


[+2] [2010-02-26 14:12:27] Jose M Vidal

Yes, but learn only what you need. If you just need to submit a paper to a conference then that conference will already provide you with a style file (.sty or .cls) which you can use, along with a sample document that will look like:


\title{Title of my paper}
\author{Jose M Vidal}
This is my abstract

\subsection{Related Work}
and so on....


All you have to do replace the text with your own, re-compile, and now you have a PDF that will likely look much better than one created with word. If you have math, which you probably do, then you have to learn how to type that in like: $E = mc^2$, and $\sum_{i = 0 \ldots 100} i^2$. This will take a few minutes and you will likely want to have a symbol reference handy.

You can learn all this in a couple of hours and this is most of what 90% of the people who use latex will need to learn, the other stuff includes figures (\begin{figure}), references \ref{fig:1} and citations \cite{turing42}.

The other 10% of the people are interested in controlling the layout of the final paper, as in "I want my paragraphs' first line to start with an indentation of 1cm". These people will need to buy a latex book and take a few days to learn this, and a lifetime to master. You probably only want to invest this time if you plan to be generating many pretty-looking papers/books/whatevers in the future.

[+2] [2010-05-08 00:57:18] Adam

I have a slightly different answer but still believe people should learn LaTeX.

I'm a graduate student in a social science Ph.D program but I use a lot of quantative methods. Latex wins, hands down, if you need to write out any sort of math. Moreover, the beamer class makes such pretty (and waaaay) better slides than power point. The Bibtex bibliography 'program' is also one of the best.

I spent so long dealing with formatting issues in Word that I just hate. I hate having to try to keep headers consistent, I hate dealing with differing fonts, and I hate dealing with spacing. Latex makes that stuff so simple.

Also. I use winedit to edit my latex documents. You'll still need some sort of latex compiler (like lyx) but the front end is very useful and the ide features are great.

[+2] [2012-03-23 22:14:47] Efraín Soto A.

It is of my strong believe that all depends on what you need to do. For example, I use my leisure time to create math teaching materials for all acadeic levels and I would not consider any other tool besides LaTeX to this task.

The quality of the products are far beyond Word or any other tool I know. Chech this document done in LaTeX (everything in the document comes from source-code + complination tasks)

The size of the document is small (1095 kb), considering it has 333 figures in it. If I would use something as a WYSWYG I would need to insert jpg images (or the like) causing a huge file size.

Quality of the equations, formatting, figures, etc., is quite good. And besides all, it is free.

I agree with some comments, It is not the easiest tool to learn. But if you have tasks like mine, it helps a lot.


[+1] [2009-06-19 08:58:10] ustun

Another option is to use XeTeX which allows you to use UTF-8 and system fonts easily. See: Wikipedia Article on XeTeX [1]


[+1] [2010-01-06 06:55:29] Alok Singhal

For me, it boils down to two things:

  1. Ease of use:
    • I don't have to worry about manually managing equation/figure/table/section/chapter numbers and references to them, they "just work". I can add/delete/move things around and the references are all going to be okay.
    • It is fairly painless to create a good index in Latex. All good technical books have a good index. Getting the index right is painful, but Latex makes it as easy as possible (IMO).
    • Contrary to what many people think, the learning curve isn't that steep. A given document is mostly text, and can be easily read by anyone. Latex makes common things easy, and esoteric things possible.
  2. Professional typesetting. Throughout human history, we have developed a set of guidelines and schemes to make written text easy to read. This includes kerning [1], ligatures [2], letter-spacing, rules about spacing, hyphenation, etc. Most WYSWYG processors get most or all of it wrong. A great example of how superior Latex is for professional typesetting is The Beauty of Latex [3].

I would say that Latex is definitely worth learning. With Luatex, and Xetex, it is also keeping up with the times.


[+1] [2010-07-22 15:03:13] progo

One thing to use LaTeX is that the source code is (naturally) human readable. It allows you to use any content versioning system you ever want. Not sure how or what Microsoft Office features in the CVS errands but with LaTeX you have the whole market. For instance, the traditional options such as git and subversion with their nice, colorised diff outputs easy tracking the progress. And you can collaborate with others using these de-facto applications.

[0] [2010-02-10 18:38:06] SztupY

For Windows there is also the LeD LaTeXeditor, which is free, and helps writing LaTeX files much easier, and decreases the learning curve

[0] [2010-03-28 13:23:46] soroush

Finally, how does one use LaTeX on a Windows machine? What software do I really need? I've read a couple of guides but many of them seem like overkill.
Everybody likes MikTeX but TeXWorks is not the best, if you have installed MikTeX, have a look at TeXMaker [1] and enjoy using LaTeX with TeXMaker-bidi. It provides a lot of eases with LaTeX :-) and is very nice tool for getting start...


I second this! TeXMaker is awesome and cross-platform! - billynomates
[0] [2010-08-31 10:03:33] something_new

I have been using Latex both in the acedemic and in the professional environment and I must say it is worth mastering it. Most of the other people said enough, but I want to add the simplicity that Latex provides handling the layout of your document. Immediately looks professional, readable and immutable.

[-8] [2012-02-22 13:11:45] Aldo

Latex does not work properly on Windows 7. Perl.exe crashes during installation. I was unable to use LiveTex 2011 for writing a paper for Elsevier. Sometimes you need to run de program several times to see a preview of your final draft. Commands does not work for all .tex editor. There are no detailed instructions to install LaTex on Windows 7 on the internet, the ones you find on the internet do not consider the installation of auxiliary programs. I couldn't find what program should have been installed first. Sometimes you can install different program, auxiliary programs, but then you need to make them interact somehow. I couldn't not work out how to use %path% on Window 7. Knowledge people of LaTex can talk about GUI, auxiliary programs, compiler, pdftext, etc, but the practicability of this software still remains hiden. Should we use it just because it seems to make things beautiful? Jornals mentioned that you can submit your Latex files but they will change many settings. So, why should we wait too much time using Latex if at the end journals will display your paper differently. If you commit an error, it's good to know it, but there is a lack of information on how to solve it. I don't see the point of using LaTex when Word can give you good results and many ways to display whatever you want.