What is LaTeX?

LaTeX is a system for typesetting which is used widely in mathematics and other technical fields because it is extremely flexible. Virtually every scientific journal article today is typeset using LaTeX. In mathematics (and probably other fields, but I wouldn't know), this is usually done by the author (this could be you one day!). If you are a math major, you will almost definitely want to get comfortable with LaTeX. If you give yourself the challenge of typesetting all your homework for this class using LaTeX, you will find it a very rewarding experience.

To typeset something using LaTex, you create a source file with the extension .tex, and compile it into a .pdf or other readable format. LaTex can be a little intimidating to learn, especially if you have never done any computer programming, or written a webpage in html. The secret is, you just start with a .tex file that looks similar to what you want, and then just edit it to fit your needs. Here is a sample .tex file, and the pdf that it generates:

To get started (on your own computer -- if you want to use a campus computer, they may already be set up, so you can skip the first two steps) :

1. Google "how to install latex on [your operating system]" and do it. It should be free!
2. Download and install a program for editing and compiling LaTeX files. I recommend TeXShop for Mac OS and kile for Linux. I don't have a recommendation for Windows... Google it! (If you are hardcore unix person, you could just do everything from the command line instead, and use emacs or something).
3. Download my sample .tex file above, and try compiling it. You should be able to produce a pdf that looks like the one above.
4. Start editing it, and see what happens to the pdf! Anything you want to know how to do, you can usually find by Googling. For example, if you want to know how to make a table, Google "latex table," and ignore anything about rubber furniture.