What is LATEX?
LATEX is not a What You See Is What You Get (WYSIWYG) word processor like MS Word or OpenOffice. LATEX is instead a mark-up language used for typesetting technical documents. Mark-up languages take plain text documents as an input, and then convert them to documents containing special symbols and pictures. A more familiar example of a mark-up language is HTML. To use any mark-up language you need to have three things: an editor, a compiler, and a viewer. In HTML the editor can be any program you use to code web pages (Notepad, TextEdit or pico for example), and the browser is both the compiler and the viewer.
LATEX was created in 1985 by Leslie Lamport, and is a collection of add-on packages for a program called TeX. TeX (pronounced such that it rhymes with blech) was created by Donald Knuth to typeset his series of books called The Art of Computer Programming. You can find information about Donald Knuth at his website:
While this tutorial will focus on technical documents, LATEX has many other uses. For example you can typeset documents in other languages (even if they do not use the Roman alphabet), create presentation slides, or make sheet music. This tutorial will give you everything you need to get started with LATEX, as well as some suggestions for where to go next.
Note: Throughout this document, text that should be typed exactly as shown will be typeset in a mono-width font, and text where you have a choice as to what goes there will be typeset in italics.