TeX and Other Selected Windows Freeware: Introduction, Utilities, TeX, Editors, Internet

  Editors: other math, compilers and programming,
office suites, text editors & word-processors, graphics, other filetypes


version of 22 August 2008.

Mathematics Programs (other than TeX-related)

Of course, every mathematician wants Mathematica and a few other expensive programs. We do have those installed on our department computers. But here I'm going to list some free programs that even an impoverished graduate student can install on his or her computer. Some of them are pretty good; some may suffice for many purposes.

Following are some good places to look for math software (but some of these websites mix together freeware and shareware, unfortunately):

I will list here a few of the programs that look good to me, but I haven't tried most of them; let me know what you think. I'm giving preference to programs that seem to be intended for a general mathematical audience (i.e., I'm omitting programs that suit more specialized needs). Also, I'm giving preference to programs that seem to be easy to install and/or to understand, and to programs whose installation files are small enough that I can fit many of them onto our department's CD. I'm sorting these programs into a few categories, but there is actually some overlap between categories.

Computer algebra systems (i.e., replacements for Mathematica):

  • Matlab replacements:

  • Miscellaneous programs:

  • Programmers' Tools -- Compilers, Etc.

    I'm not an expert on this material, so feel free to suggest alterations for this section. -- Some of the material described below is included on our CD; in other cases, I'm just including links you can use for downloading from the internet.

    Office Suites

    The standards in the business world are Microsoft Office (including Microsoft Word) and Corel Office (including Wordperfect). I can't offer those here because they're not free.

    Following are some free alternatives:

    Text Editing / Word-Processing

    Though some people use the words a bit differently, I will distinguish between


    such as Word, Wordperfect, Wordpad, or OpenOffice Writer, which can handle boldface, italics, underlining, different type sizes, different fonts, and in some cases color, superscripts, and subscripts; and which generally are WYSIWYG ("what you see is what you get") -- i.e., what you're editing on the screen looks essentially the same as what the printed output will look like;

    such as Emacs, Vi or Notepad, which can only handle plain, unformatted text, with only one font, one size, one color, etc., but are still quite adequate for markup languages, such as Latex or Html. I will further subdivide "text-editors" into several types, below.

    For most mathematical work, text editors are actually preferable to word-processors, because we can describe notation more precisely than we can actually draw it. . We use markup languages such as Latex (for instance, type $\alpha$ to get the lower-case Greek letter alpha, and type {\bf text goes here} to get some text in boldface), so everything can be encoded in plain text. The embedded invisible characters that a word-processor uses to record the beginning or end of boldface (for instance) will just foul up a program like Latex. The advantages of text editors and markup languages are discussed further in Allin Cottrell's rant against word processors. Of related interest is Sam Steingold's rant against proprietary data formats. But your needs may differ.


    Word is the standard in the business world. In the scientific world, Word is also the standard among secretaries, and among some of the people writing grant proposals. In both situations, Wordperfect runs second (despite the fact that it seems to be a considerably better program). Neither of those programs is free, but
    Writer is a free program that does roughly the same things. It is a component of Open Office, mentioned earlier.

    But if a smaller program will suffice for your needs, you may find that it loads faster and crashes less often. Several are listed below.

    Instead of DOC files, you might consider using RTF files. "Rich text format" is a sort of "poor man's DOC file". It can handle underlining, boldface, italics, different fonts, and different colors of text. It cannot handle some fancier features of Word, such as tables or macros. Also, RTF has the advantage that it is fairly standard; nearly every word-processing program can read an RTF file, and can save files as RTF. If you have Word and your neighbor has Wordperfect and your other neighbor has neither, consider writing to each other with RTF files.


    A plain textfile is most often a file whose filename ends in ".TXT", but in fact the filename could be anything. All of the files of type TEX, HTML, HTM, PAS, C, etc. are actually just textfiles that have been renamed in a way that displays, not a change in their internal structure, but an intended use for the file. Any file of any of these types can be edited with an ordinary "text editor," but some specialized text editors add extra features for special intended uses of the textfile.
    Notepad and notepad-replacements
    The Windows operating system comes equipped with one text editor. It is called "Notepad." You can get to it by going through "Start" "Programs" "Accessories" "Notepad." But it is rather rudimentary -- it has no button bar and rather few editing tools, and its maximum file size is a little small. Still, it is adequate for most editing you will need for tex, html, etc. It is small and simple, which has at least a couple of advantages: It loads quickly when you want it, it doesn't distract you or intimidate you with overwhelming features, and it doesn't take much memory away from other programs you may have running at the same time.

    Many people like to replace Notepad with some similar program that is still small and quick-loading, but has a few additional features -- e.g., a toolbar with some buttons.

    My favorite Notepad replacement program is Metapad [46 kb, version 3.51, full (not light) version]. It has a few buttons that I consider crucial even in a basic text editor -- e.g., copy, cut, paste, save. It has a few unsual text-editing commands that I have not seen in many other text editors -- e.g., commit wordwrap, change case, launch link. Also, in the search and replace commands, you can use backslash-n for a linebreak, so you can include linebreaks as part of your search string.

    Gizmo Richard, who also does a pretty good job of anthologizing software, has a different preference; His favorite Notepad replacement program is EditPadLite [3.1 mb, version 6.4.3]. It has a fairly good collection of buttons and commands. One of its less common features is that it permits tabbed editing -- i.e., you can edit several textfiles at once, and switch from one to another by clicking on its tab.

    There are many other "Notepad replacement" programs available on the internet. Here are two others that caught my eye. (1) Notepad2 [247 KB, ver. 2.1.19] -- lots of features, but it's still very fast. This one also acts as a syntax highlighter for HTML and several other languages, but unfortunately not for TEX; I've listed it here instead of in the section on syntax highlighters because this one is fast enough to use as a Notepad replacement.. (2) "Notepad" (a poor choice of name) by "Small Team Software". This one has 25 buttons across the top, which is great if you like lots of buttons. The company has gone out of business, but you can still get this program from some archives.

    Some people (including myself) take the term "Notepad replacement" more literally: I'd like my chosen replacement to come up whenever I doubleclick on any textfile. But it's not a simple matter of replacing one copy of Notepad with a new program, because Microsoft has set up a File Protection System to prevent you from accidentally deleting or changing any system files. You have to be very persistent to beat it. Here's how to do it: Search in *all* your folders, including system folders and hidden folders, for files named "Notepad.exe." Wherever you find one, rename it as "Oldnotepad.exe" (in case you want it back later -- don't delete it), and then copy into that folder a copy of your favorite replacement program, renaming it "Notepad.exe."

    Ports from Unix -- new editors for old users
    Older members of academia grew up in an era when personal computers were not yet prevalent; nearly all academic computing was done on X-terminals running off of a Unix server. In those days, the two main text editors on Unix systems were vi and emacs. I can't say which is better; most people were satisfied with the text editor that they learned first (and so they never bothered to learn the other). Each of these programs has grown and split into many different variants, and some of these variants have been ported to Windows. People who already know some version of vi or emacs may feel comfortable with those ports, but I can't recommend them to anyone else, because they lack one of the chief advantages of programs that originated on Windows. Windows programs share a "look and feel," a common user interface -- on any Windows program you know where to look for "File," "Edit," "Help," etc., and so once you've learned one Windows program the others aren't so hard to learn. For that reason, this part of my software collection is decreasing in importance as time goes by, so I'm just going to include a few links, not reviews or the software itself. If you're really interested you can investigate this further on your own.


    An editor that can parse some programming language or markup language may display different parts of the text in different colors -- e.g., literal text in black, commands in red, variables in green, etc. These colors make the editing easier. The colors are only in the editing display, not in the text file that you actually save and use. One editor may be able to switch between several coding languages -- tex, html, c++, python -- and may automatically figure out which language to use according to the ending of the filename (.tex, .html, .c, etc.).

    I would guess an editor of this sort is most useful for someone who does coding in several different languages, and likes using the same editing techniques in all of them. If you're doing all your coding in one language (e.g., Latex), you're probably better off with a more specialized syntax highlighter that is only designed to work with that one language (e.g., TeXnicCenter), since that program will probably have extra features built in for that language. And if you're coding in two languages (e.g., Tex and HTML), you might prefer the advantages of two specialized editors, instead of try to cover everything with one general-purpose editor.


    Other tools related to the editing of text


    How can you make screenshot graphics like the ones I've got on this web page? Arrange the screen the way you want it.. Then click on the "Print Screen" key which is near the top of your keyboard. Then open a graphics editor like Irfan View or Wscanner, and use the "Paste" command; the picture of the screen will appear in the editor. Use the "Crop" command to cut the picture down to the size you want. Use the color depth commands to reduce the number of colors to 256 (or 16, if that doesn't look bad), so that the pictures won't take forever to load when someone views your web page. Finally, convert to a GIF file, since that is the format recognized most readily by web browsers. (JPG is more suitable for pictures with more colors -- e.g., photographs.)

    There are dozens of free graphics editors and viewers available on the internet. Following are a few that caught my eye:

    Other filetypes


    For Mathematica (.mma) files, if you don't have Mathematica on your computer, get yourself a free copy of
    Mathematica Player (81 mb). It will display and print Mathematica notebooks, animate graphics, play sounds, and copy information from notebooks to other documents.

    Audio tools

    These programs aren't really very useful for mathematics, as far as I know, but I couldn't resist mentioning them. They may brighten up your nonmathematical time.