What is TeX?
Peter Flom, Hans Hagen, Joe Hogg, Nicola Talbot, Philip Taylor, Christina Thiele and David Walden
Notes from David Walden, compiler
Recently I wrote a one-page answer to the question "What Is TeX?" The idea
was to have something short that someone more or less unfamiliar with TeX could
read to get a hint what it is. Then it occurred to me that a collection of
several such answers to the "What Is TeX?" question could be interesting. The
- indicate that there are a variety of ways people think about what TeX
- among the collection, readers might find a version they would feel
comfortable giving to someone who asks them what they are doing, i.e., "What is that
you are using instead of a 'normal' word processor?"
- the several answers to the question in sum might help people already
familiar with TeX themselves explicitly think about how they view TeX
Therefore, I invited several people to provide one-page answers to the question from their own point of view of talking to someone who they might be answering this question to. I emphasized that the point of these what-is-TeX answers was not to
persuade, since in my experience people are seldom persuaded by the arguments
of other people, and I'm better off merely telling them my perspective.
Answers to the question may be be found via the following links from the respondents' names. The answers are ordered roughly and very subjectively by how far the author's view of TeX ranges from the typical new user's view of TeX as basic LaTeX.
- Peter Flom is a mathematically-inclined social scientist
who is a former user of Word. He only uses LaTeX, so he
answers "What Is LaTeX?" by saying what it can do for other people like himself.
- Joe Hogg is a real estate broker in Los
Angeles. He uses TeX in his business and non-profit pursuits. He answers "What
Is TeX?" by describing his experience with TeX and how it appeals to his
- Dave Walden uses LaTeX (with a tiny bit of TeX
thrown in) for writing non-scientific, non-mathematical papers, books, and even
some general correspondence. Thus, he uses TeX for what might be considered the
mainstream of applications of Word (which he also uses extensively).
- Christina Thiele typesets books and journals for a
living using TeX. She describes what TeX means to her and (implicitly) how it helps her
do her job (and could help others).
- Nicola Talbot is an applied mathematician and computer
scientist. She uses TeX/LaTeX in her mathematical work, has
taught LaTeX at the University of East Anglia, and is the author of
several LaTeX packages including datetime and glossary.
She doesn't make much of a distinction between computer programming and
- Hans Hagen is the developer of ConTeXt, and he spends a lot of time dealing with the intricacies and oddities of TeX in his business (PRAGMA-ADE) of high quality automated typesetting.
- Philip Taylor is a long time TeX user/developer who chooses to work outside of the LaTeX framework. Philip's answer mentions TeX's ability to have a different command syntax; for an example of this, see the links below to the sources files for his answer.
To print out all seven of the above answers as one PDF file, click here.
For another what-is-TeX answer, see:
Readers with their own one-page answers to the "What Is TeX?" question are invited to submit them for consideration for publication. Use one of the links at the bottom of this page.
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