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TeX is a typesetting system[1] used to write boring insanely complicated math stuff.[2]


(Plagiarism warning)

From Wikipedia: TeX is a typesetting system which was desinged first to allow anybody to produce high-quality books* using a reasonable amount of effort[3], and second to provide a system that would give the exact same results on all computers, now, in the future, and beyond. TeX is free software and is popular in academia, especially in the mathematics, physics and TeX communities, and also standard US keyboard export business (see below).

TeX was intelligently designed (not by God, but by Donald Knuth). It is powerful, flexible, easy to use, computer efficient. It also features a mathematical typesetting facility with a quality which beat everything known at time[4]. It is still considered as such today. So much as its extension LaTeX is the system used to produce the formulas in most of today(sep 24th 2007)'s Wikis, like the very one your are reading now.

Example of TeX's math typesetting:

TeX code for this wonder:

\sum_{n=-\infty}^{+\infty}\frac{1}{(z-n)^2} = \left(\frac{\pi}{\sin(\pi z)}\right)^2

As you can see, it has the same philosophy as Reverse Polish Notation: meant to be written, not read**. Some people tend to extend this principle to all they write.

(*) not hardcover though, unless you have a very expensive printer

(**) [Sticky note] do not mention Perl

Versions of TeX[edit]

The version of TeX as a function of time

The figure on the right shows the version of TeX as a function of time, from its official birth in 1982 to now(2007)adays. After version 3.0 of his program, Donald Knuth decided to stop adding features, so there shall be no version 4. Here are the most recent version numbers:






These are the digits[5] of pi. It was meant to mean that TeX gets more and more stable with time. Detractors would say that it rather means it gets more and more irrational, lest transcendental. One could better symbolize the closure of a project by using 2pi=6.2831... Since it takes takes 2pi radians to close the circle... And nobody would recognize it.


LaTeX is a collection of TeX macros and a program named latex to process them. It was originally written by Leslie Lamport. Whence the "La" in "LaTeX". No, it's not for "Los Angeles". Latex is also used for making condoms, humanity's most dreaded enemy. LaTeX is based on the idea that authors should be able to focus on the meaning of what they are writing without being distracted by the visual presentation of the information. But don't worry, people typing in LaTeX are by no means deprived of distractions: Errors, Warnings, backslashes, matching curly braces, etc... LaTeX is much closer to a programming language than to a typesetting system. It makes it a powerful system. The drawback is that it is not always easy to use; many packages have been written by people over time and keeping them compatible is a problem. For instance it is known that the package extra sensitive is incompatible with the package xxl. In academia, this user-hostility is viewed as a feature, not a flaw, since the mandatory use of LaTeX in some publications and conferences prevents people who are not smart enough to master it from actually producing an article, therefore sparing reviewer's precious time. Many worthless papers have been accepted for publishing based solely on the fact that they were successfully compiled the first time.


On pronouncing TeX well

D. Knuth chose the name from the Greek τέχνη (technē) meaning both "art" and "craft" (but neither war nor star). Henceforth, it shall be pronounced "tech" as in "loch". According to him, if you try now and your screen gets slightly humid, then you got it right. However, most people pronounce "tek" like in "technical". Especially since the advent of LCD screens.

He also decided on the way it should be typeset: with the "E" below the baseline and reduced spacing between the letters. Like that*: TeX logo.svg. "TeX" with a lowercase "e" is only an approximation, commonly used when better solutions are not available. And TEX is wrong**, since the "E" shall not be smaller than the other letters.

With time, the TeX community developed neologisms such as TeXnician (user of TeX software), TeXpert, TeXhacker (TeX programmer), TeXhakcer (TeX programmer misspelled) , TeXmaster (competent TeX programmer), TeXas (leading TeX programmer), TeXaleak (TeX programmer's rest), TeXnique, \ldots

(*) produced by typing \TeX in TeX

(**) produced*** by typing T<sub>E</sub>X in HTML

(***) produced**** by typing <code>T&lt;sub&gt;E&lt;/sub&gt;X</code> in HTML

(****) produced***** by typing <code>&lt;code&gt;T&amp;lt;sub&amp;gt;E&amp;lt;/sub&amp;gt;X&lt;/code&gt;</code> in HTML

(*****) STOP!

LaTeX too has its floklore. L. Lamport does not encourage nor discourage any pronounciation. The typesetting of the LaTeX logo shall be as follows, as for version 2e: LaTeX logo.svg. It evolved with time: version 1.0 was typeset as version 2.0 was current version is LaTeX logo.svg and future versions shall be ... ... ... up to

TeX's extensions, variants[edit]

Tux, a TeX forgery?
A precursor to Tex?
A formula written with TeX**

It seems to be natural for human beings to invent their own language and modify existing ones. Project and program names are especially prone to this. Let's make a short anthropoligical non-comprehensive review of the different extensions of TeX one can find on Google the Internet.

e-TeX: ε-TeX (epsilon-TeX). Desinged to Bridge the gap between today's TeX and the next major planned version which will be called NTS (still not released). TeX had \left and \right; ε-TeX added \middle.

ee-TeX Google search unsuccessful. Which means it does not exist (by reversion of Descarte's Principle). Was probably planning to add things like \second\street\onthe\left.

XeTeX Citing: "based on a merger of Donald Knuth's TeX system with Unicode and modern font technologies."

ExTeX εχTeX.

TeX-XeT Mixing right-to-left texts .stxet tfel-ot-thgir htiw

TeX--XeT has been eaten by ε-TeX.

PDFTeX Produce a PDF file from a TeX file.

AMSTeX Produce an AMS file from a TeX file. American Mathematical Society's packages for TeX.

CalTeX Contraction of California and Texas. A famous University that drives your car.

Ω (Omega) an extension of the TeX typesetting system that uses the Basic Multilingual Plane of Unicode.

NTS New typesetting System. A would-be TeX successor.

HEVEA A LaTeX to HTML translator.

LeAtHeR More expensive than LaTeX.

PyTeX Python plus TeX.

OS/tralo-PyTeX A Homo erTeXus competitor.

one-pass TeX It has been often reproached to LaTeX for needing to be called two or three times to handle cross-references. Whence the one-pass TeX project. Was abandoned after version 2.0.

TeX** A project for porting TeX in C++.

Be warned, there are TeX counterfeits, like

Tux. TeX is free, Tux is free. Tux cannot fly, TeX cannot fly. However TeX is a typesetting system, whereas Tux is a bird.

Tax. Tax is non-free, sends a lot of spam. An Income tax form looks very much like a TeX file, and is about as much fun to fill.

Also, it seems that TeX had early precusors as the picture of prehistoric cave paintings on the right shows.

Why I think the Creator (DK, not God) doomed French people[edit]


I had a look at a real 81 page LaTeX document source and asked my computer to count the occurrences of '\'. It found 9723 of them, i.e. on average a bit more than one every 23 symbols. On the right you can see what the typical hand of a French TeX typer looks after 10 years. Now when you meet a guy in the street with that deformation, you'll know. It is estimated that within 20 years, the health cost of the "Alt Gr-backslash affair" will amount to €1 billion. That's of course nothing compared to the soon-to-come yet-little-known but rampant "Ctrl-S affair", given the huge number of MSWindows users in the world.

Reaching Backslash

Notes and references (if any)[edit]

  1. I wanted to write an article about LaTeX but someone already took the entry for some odd meaning of the word latex, so I'll be talking about TeX.
  2. OK, I've been using using LaTeX for too long. So much hitting my head on walls fighting to sort out incompatible packages. Here comes my revenge. Mwhhrraaa ha ha wha ha ha ha rha ha ha ha ha ha.
  3. reasonable...
     |/   |
     |   o.
     |    M
     |    n
  4. at least by me, though I must admit that as a 7 years old kid in 1982, playing with Dad's 1KB ZX81, I might have missed something
  5. for all 10-fingered evolved species throughout the galaxy