Setting up TeX/LaTeX on your PC

This page does not attempt to cover all the different options for running LaTeX on your PC. I discuss a couple of configurations that I'm familiar with. They're easy and simple, and they'll probably meet your needs. But chances are that if you look elsewhere, you'll find another configuration you like.

TeX/LaTeX can run on any hardware and OS in common use today (and quite a few exotic ones), and is free to use and distribute. Numerous "distributions" of latex are available over the internet or on software distribution CDs (for example, as part of Linux distributions). There are also commercial add-ons for various purposes (which I won't talk about here). 

To use LaTeX, you basically need to take care of two things:

  1. The TeX/LaTeX system: The style and font files (which are mostly system-independent) and the formatting and viewing software (which is system-dependent, but generally ported to multiple OSs).

  2. A way to edit your documents and run the formatters and viewers.

How best to take care of these two things depends on your system, but also on your background and purposes. 

Where you can run TeX/LaTeX

 Let's start with the easy cases:

LaTeX on a Windows PC

As explained above, you need a TeX distribution and a suitable editor for your documents. Let's take these up one at a time. 

 1. The TeX distribution

I use the MikTeX distribution, which is popular and works well. Other distributions are probably just as good, I just haven't tried them under Windows. From the MikTeX Home Page you'll download an installer program, which you then run to configure and fetch the TeX system. Go through all the steps before you install a front end.

2. The editor or "front end"

Since latex files are plain-text, you can edit them using any editor you want, including Microsoft Word or Notepad. (I've often done that when editing a file on a computer that does not have TeX installed). However, it is far more convenient to use one of the many "latex-aware" editors, or front ends, which facilitate editing and can call the latex formatting and viewing programs for you. (The editor will show you the source document; it will help you open an external viewer, usually Acrobat or Yap, to view the formatted version of your document). Here are just three choices that I know about. I recommend TeXnicCenter, unless you know that one of the others fits your needs better.

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