LaTeX is a document writing system allows you to focus on the content of the letter or paper. In this post I describe how to set up a LaTeX typesetting program and TeX editor on Windows.
Why install LaTeX
LaTeX is primarily used in the academical fields where many scientific papers are written using its typesetting features.
The primary difference with LaTeX compared to something like Word is that you first type up the document with your figures and styling rules. Once you have finished the content and defining the styling rules you compile your document. This compilation process produces the finished document. This is unlike word which is constantly reparsing your document to show you the output immediately.
There are a number of advantages of compiling the document once the content is written instead of constantly doing it. One is that it allows optimising the output based on the entire document. This came from the fact that TeX was originally used to typeset books and was designed to format and improve the placement of text and figures. Since TeX handles the formatting based on the entire flow of the document can properly flow the content across the pages. The compile process may take several passes to lay the content out in the best way according to typographical conventions.
This compilation stage removes the main problems with WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get) editors. This is that they continually reformat the document as you type. Since it has to run once at the end it can spend a lot longer flowing your page (normally a couple of seconds for small documents). However, this doesn’t stop you from compiling your document multiple times throughout writing it as this time is still small.
Another advantage is that all styling and layout is performed by LaTeX. This means that you define how you want it to style the document and LaTeX ensures he document styling is consistent. LaTeX provides limited styling but the primary ethos of LaTeX is to let it do as much of the work typesetting your document as possible. You merely provide the content and the rules about how to style the document and it follows them.
Installing LaTeX on Windows with MiKTeX
To install and run LaTeX you need a LaTeX distribution. This includes LaTeX and all the styling and typographical information needed to compile LaTeX files.
My recommended LaTeX distribution for Windows is MiKTeX.
I found this really easy to install on windows as you just need to install download it from their website then run the installer. During this process, it downloads all the latest styles and programs needed to compile most LaTeX files.
One of the advantages of using MiKTeX is that if it detects you are trying to use a style you haven’t downloaded it can automatically download it. This option is available during the installer and I normally ask it to prompt me before fetching new styles. This feature can mean that even if you are using some non-standard packages as long as they are available in the general LaTeX distribution it should detect this and find them for you.
Installing a UI to use with LaTeX
While it isn’t required to install a UI to create your LaTeX documents I find it easiest to do so. My current personal favourite is Texmaker.
One of the main reasons I like using this editor is the ease of creating PDF files. Texmaker has a “Build and View” feature which will compile the LaTeX file and open it in a PDF viewer. This is really helpful when typing up formulae in LaTeX (one of the areas LaTeX excels). This can allow for quick protypes and changes to see how it looks.
In addition, Texmaker provides code highlighting and simple templates to help get you started with writing LaTeX. This is useful to start a document from a template and then quickly start adding your content. Since the styling is done by defining global styles you can go back later and define the style.
If you are looking to start working with LaTeX I highly recommend MiKTeX and Texmaker as an introduction. If you have any other suggestions or wish to ask questions please feel free to use the comments section below.