Starting out with TeX, LaTeX, and friends
Do you want to begin working with the TeX typesetting system? Most people start out by downloading free versions of the needed software, and a tutorial. This page gets you to the most popular choices.
Step one: Get a distribution
You first need a collection of the software. Such a collection is called a distribution, and comes with TeX, LaTeX, BibTeX, and everything else that will help you to perform TeX's magic on your computer. Each distribution also comes with programs specific to your computer platform, so make your choice from the list below.
- The most popular choice here is the MiKTeX distribution, which lets you easily manage TeX packages. Many people advise beginners to get the proTeXt bundling of MiKTeX, which lets you install by using a .pdf file with links so you can read about your options and then click on the right one. And it includes other components that help you work with your TeX system.
- Unix-type systems, including GNU/Linux:
- The best choice here is TeX Live, which contains many packages and programs. It is freely available over the Internet or on disc; see the web page for details. Note that most Unix systems have TeX as an installation option so you might already have it or be able to easily get it using your system administration package management tool: RPM, or DEB, or whatever.
- Get the MacTeX distribution,
which is TeX Live with some Mac-specific goodies.
Step two: Get documentation
Most people starting TeX today use the LaTeX macro package. The most-often recommended tutorial is the (Not So) Short Guide to LaTeX2ε; this has many translations. Another tutorial is the Indian TeX group's LaTeX primer.
Many people get a TeX system to write mathematical text. For that, get the documentation for the American Mathematical Society's AMS-LaTeX package.
You might also be interested in a comprehensive list of symbols and a tutorial on graphics.
Steps beyond: know where to go
As a TeX user you will have many resources to help you get your work done.
First, TeX is popular and there are probably many people near you who
have experience with it. There are plenty of helpful people on the
Internet discussion group
And, you are most welcome to join a users group.
There are many books available. The English FAQ is authoritative, clear, and up to date.
Finally, this site, CTAN, is our community's archive; if you are looking for something then chances are good that we have it.
But wait, there's more!
The TeX Users Group has a more extensive introduction than this page. They also keep the definitive list of all TeX system choices, including commercial options.