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Many people discover LaTeX after years of struggling with wordprocessors and desktop publishing systems, and are amazed to find that TeX has been around for nearly 25 years and they hadn't heard of it. It's not a conspiracy, just ‘a well-kept secret known only to a few million people’, as one anonymous user put it.
Donald Knuth originally wrote TeX to typeset mathematics for the second edition of his master-work The Art of Computer Programming1, and it remains pretty much the only typesetting program to include fully-automated mathematical formatting done the way mathematicians want it. But TeX is much more than math: it's a programmable typesetting system which can be used for almost any formatting task, and LaTeX has made it usable by almost anyone. Knuth generously placed the entire system in the public domain, so for many years there was no publicity of the commercial kind which would have got TeX noticed outside the technical field. Nowadays, however, there are many companies selling TeX software or services, dozens of publishers accepting LaTeX documents for publication, and hundreds of thousands of users using LaTeX for millions of documents.2
There is occasionally some confusion among newcomers between the two main products, TeX and LaTeX:
CTAN. The Comprehensive TeX Archive Network is a repository or collection of Web and FTP servers worldwide which contain copies of almost every free piece of software related to TeX and LaTeX. CTAN is rooted at http://www.ctan.org/ (See Jim Hefferon's article on CTAN in this issue. -Ed.)
Peter Flynn is manager of the electronic publishing unit at University College Cork and also runs a small consultancy handling industrial, research, and legal documentation. He found TeX in 1979 and has used it for everything from business cards to posters. Peter can be reached at