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

  TeX: distributions, pdf/ps, shells/frontends,
tex-spellcheckers, tex graphics, additional programs

free TeX software available for Windows computers

(Version of 22 Aug '08.)    Beginners might want to first look at my brief introduction to TeX.

For systems other than Windows, you might start with Tex Live. Members of my department may also want to look at how to use TeX on our department's Unix computers. Also, for Macintoshes: you might look at the starting pages by Will Robertson (nice and simple) or Joseph C. Slater (more options for advanced users).

To use TeX, you will definitely need a distribution. TeX will be much easier to use if you also have a graphical shell that works as a front end. And further down this page are other programs that may also ease your use of TeX.

TeX distributions for Windows

At present, the only TeX distribution that I am recommending for Windows is MIKTEX. Miktex is one of the several current "standard" tex distributions for Windows, so most add-on programs written for tex on Windows are compatible with Miktex.

At the time of this writing, the current release of Miktex is version 2.7. It should work in the following versions of Windows:

Vista,   Server 2003,   XP,   2000

(Windows 98 and ME can still use Miktex 2.6, but support for it may end soon. And Windows NT is no longer supported for Miktex at all.)

You can install Miktex 2.7 in either of the following ways:

Don't worry about using Miktex right away. It will be easier if you first install pdf/ps programs and a graphical front end, discussed later on this page.

After you install Miktex, familiarize yourself with some of its features. Here are a few. If you go through Windows "Start" "Programs" "Miktex," you'll see these offerings:

Folders. You can get to these through the Windows "My computer" icon.

Free online support. You can join the MiKTeX-Users mailing list, or look at its archive of past messages. There is also a Miktex help forum.

Some people complain that Miktex has one major omission: It does not include a shell, or front end, program. But that's easily remedied -- there are lots of shell programs compatible with Miktex, for free or available commercially. See the list below.

Programs for PDF and PS

I'm not sure why PS files are still around; I'd have thought they'd be completely replaced by PDF files by now. As far as I can see, PDF is better than PS. Here is the story: Both are filetypes created by the Adobe company. The PS filetype was created earlier, back in the days when computer monitors weren't very good. It was created primarily for printing documents on paper. A PS file looks good on paper, but it generally doesn't look as good on the computer screen. The PDF filetype was created later; files of this type look good on both paper and computer screen. If you can get used to looking at documents on the computer screen, you can save a lot of paper.

When you're emailing a TeX document to someone, I recommend sending either the PDF or PS file. Some people send the DVI file, but I recommend against doing that. The PDF and PS files generally are self-contained, and should look the same on your friend's computer as on your own. The DVI file may require font information that is included in your computer and not on your friend's computer, so it may not display properly on your friend's computer screen nor on your friend's printout. This is an ironic outcome, since "DVI" originally stood for "DeVice Independent."

PDF files

Of course, PDF files were made by Adobe, and the best program for viewing them is Acrobat Reader, available for free from Adobe. (Not included on CD, because it's big and you probably already have a copy.) Recently Adobe has been doing updates fairly often.

If you want to edit PDF files, Adobe wants you to buy their program Acrobat (not "Reader"), which is not free. However, you might not need it, for a couple of reasons.

First, there are some programs available for free that have at least some limited editing capabilities. One of them (which I haven't tried yet) is at http://pdfill.com/pdf_tools_free.html.

But second, if you have the document from which the PDF file was created, you may want to simply edit that document and then create a new PDF file from it.

Some programs include an export-to-PDF feature. For instance, the program Open Office can export to PDF, and Miktex includes PDFLATEX.EXE. Miktex also includes the programs DVIPDFM.EXE and DVIPDFMX.EXE for converting DVI files to PDF files.

If you want to convert PDF files to some other format, Gsview (next section, below) can do that.

And any program that can print, can also be made to create PDF files. This can be done using a program such as PDFCreator (15.1 MB, version 0.95). This is one of my favorite programs; I use it for all sorts of things. It behaves a little differently than most programs: After you install it, you'll find it not among your "programs," but among your "printers"; it acts like a printer except that instead of sending its output to paper, it sends its output to a file that it creates. After you've installed it, here's how to use it: Suppose you're using some other program (e.g., your word processor, your web browser, your graphics editor program, or whatever) to look at some document. In that other program, go to the upper left corner of the screen, where you see the "File" menu. Under that, click on "Print ...". Then look carefully at the Print dialogue box that opens up. The first section of that dialogue box lets you change printers. Instead of using your usual printer, use the "printer" that is named "PDF Creator." This will create the PDF file. It will ask you a few questions during the creation process -- e.g., what do you want to name the PDF file, and do you want to see the PDF file after you make it.

Postscript (PS and EPS) files

To read postscript files, you will need to install two programs.

program latest version comment
GPL Ghostscript 10.1 mb, version 8.63 Install this first. This is the core program.
Gsview 1.43 mb, ver 4.9 A user-friendly front-end for Ghostscript. (Install this second.)

Note that GSView has the capability of converting PS files and PDF files to other formats, such as for instance BMP (which you can then edit with Windows Paint). Just click on "File" "Convert".

Note that GSView also has the capability of reading PDF files, so you don't really need Acrobat Reader for that purpose, if you're trying to make do with fewer programs. However, I prefer to use Acrobat Reader for that purpose, because I think it does the job better -- i.e., it offers more options.

Also I should mention that any program can be made to "print" directly to PS files. Just install a printer that uses Postscript. It doesn't have to be a printer you own. Install it with the setting "print to file". I've been using the printer driver for the Apple Color Laser Writer 12/660 for this purpose, but you may prefer some other.

Shells, or GUI front ends, for TeX

A program like Latex.exe (found in Miktex, above) compiles source files into documents. The shell programs listed below are used for editing the source files. That's two different things. The shell program is optional -- strictly speaking, any text editor will suffice -- but these programs have extra features specifically designed for tex source files, to make the editing job much easier. Beginners may want to look at this introduction. In all or nearly all cases, you should install your shell program after you have installed Miktex. If you are not familiar with TeX shell programs, I suggest that you look at my brief introduction to TeX shell programs.

name M
Reviews. (These are a bit out of date -- I haven't had time to test any new shells lately.)
[18mb, ver 1.5.6-1]
? y y This may be a really great program, but I haven't tested it much yet. Earlier versions of Lyx were complicated to install, but the current version is extremely simple: just run the all-in-one installer program (after you've installed Miktex). LyX has most or all of the usual features of Latex editors -- you can hop back and forth between editing the source code and looking at the results in the YAP previewer -- but LyX has a third way of looking at your document, not found in most other editors: a latex partial WYSIWYG editor (what you see is what you get), so that creating and editing your document presumably should be as easy as if you were using Microsoft Word. But, unlike Word, LyX does not cost you the precision of TeX. In fact, you can open a split screen display, so that the upper half shows the almost-WYSIWYG editor, and the lower half shows the source code (complete with the color coding that is now commonplace among tex editors). For complicated equations, you'll want to temporarily switch over to the built-in equation editor. There's also a built-in spellchecker.

I may review this program more extensively in a later edition of this anthology, after I have tested the program more, or after someone reading this tells me about their own experiences comparing LyX with one of the other full-featured shells listed below (e.g., Texniccenter),

I suspect that the partial WYSIWYG may be convenient, but I do not see it as crucial. Computers are so fast nowadays (at least for a program like tex) and the forward and inverse search capabilities of YAP are so good, that with any editor that uses YAP you essentially have "what you will see in just a second is exactly what you get."

[4.7mb, ver 1b7.50]
y y y This is the shell that I have used most extensively over the few years. It seems to have nearly everything, and it's free -- in fact, it's open-source. Development on it has nearly stopped, because most of the volunteers have other demands on their time. But the program is already very good, far better than any other free tex shell for Windows that I know of (though it takes a while to learn to use it). It is mostly self-installing, but I recommend that you follow my installation tips. TxC comes with some help files, which have improved in recent versions; I haven't investigated those thoroughly yet. I also haven't tried the current version of the built-in spellchecker. --- The interactive error-finding is great. This program works well both with single-file documents and with multi-file projects (e.g., one file for each chapter); I may add more documentation about that after a while. --- Beginners may be overwhelmed by all the buttons, but the button bars can be edited easily once you get used to them. For instance, I only use around half of the buttoms, so I've deleted the others from my computer's copy of TexnicCenter to conserve desktop space. (It's not a permanent deletion -- I can get them back if I change my mind later.) Moreover, I have two different customized versions of the "latex" button bar -- one for single-file documents and one for multi-file projcts; I switch one bar off and the other on depending on what kind of document I'm editing.

Actually, some of the programs listed below are either entirely new programs, or new versions of old programs, and I haven't tested them. Possibly one of them would be a lot better than TxC. If you think so, let me know.
WinShell y y y [2.87 mb -- ver 3.21] I haven't tested this version, but it looks pretty good.
LaTeX Editor (LEd) y y y [4.85 mb, ver 0.52 beta] This program supposedly works not only with Latex but also HTML and other languages. Some features include forward and inverse search; code-folding (i.e., temporarily hide parts of your file that you're not currently editing); coloring of parentheses to show their nesting depth. On the CD, I'm including some add-on files: the US dictionary, math dictionary, and thesaurus.
Texmaker ? y y [6.01 mb, ver 1.7.1] Questionmark because I haven't tried yet. The web page says that there is a built-in spellchecker, which uses OpenOffice.org dictionaries. I haven't tried it yet. I would guess that English is already installed, which means you don't have to do any installation at all to use the spellchecker, though you might have to turn it on.
Winedt y y y [7 mb, ver 5.5] $30 (student) or $40 (educational), for one person. (All other programs in this list are free.) This program can do nearly everything one might want to do with tex, installation is very easy, and the program is largely self-explanatory. But most people I've spoken with, who have tried both, actually like TexnicCenter better than Winedt. (screen shot) This program has a support community, http://www.winedt.org/, with free plugins, addons, macros, etc.
TeXShell y y n [386 kb, ver 0.71] This program can do far less, but it has the advantage that it is very simple; thus it may be preferable for some beginners. I used this program for a long time, so I've written additional documentation for beginners. (screen shot)

Tex-compatible stand-alone spellcheckers

Tex users require a special kind of spellchecker, one that can distinguish between ordinary text (which you do want to spellcheck) and tex commands (which you don't).

I may remove this section from the web page soon, because it may now be unnecessary. Some of the new latex editors, or new versions of latex editors, include built-in spellcheckers. I haven't tried those yet. If I try them and find that they work well, then there will be no reason to install a separate spellchecker such as one of those listed below.

Graphics editors to use with Tex

Particularly noteworthy is Xfig, a scalable vector graphics program compatible with tex. However, to run it under Windows, you first have to install Cygwin. ... Xfig belongs in both of the columns below. See this page in the Xfig user manual for information about different methods of exporting from Xfig to Latex.

The following programs are classified into two main types, which were discussed in the graphics section of the introduction to tex.

The "included graphics files" method. EPS files, when inserted into TeX documents, do not get distorted by size changes during printing. The "direct latex use of picture environment" method. Latex has a few built-in drawing commands, such as "\circle".
Some graphics programs can export their images as EPS files. (Look under "files" "export", not under "files" "save as".) This is true for Mathematica (not free), as well as some free programs, including these:
  • Inkscape ver 0.46 (33.4 mb)
  • DIA ver 0.96.1 (12.2 mb). This is a diagram editor.
  • TPX ver 1.4 (0.78 Mb)
  • The "Draw" component of Open Office -- I am listing all of Open Office under office suites.
I haven't worked much with these, so I can't recommend one over another; they all have different styles and you may find one better suited than another to your needs.

If all possible, you should not take a bitmapped image and convert it to EPS using a converter such as ImageMagick; that will not result in the highest quality image. There's no way that such a program can completely guess and recreate information that has already been discarded.

You could write those lines of latex code by hand, but it's easier to generate them automatically using a WYSIWYG graphics editor. These editors seem to work adequately:
  • LaTeXPiX build 3198 (1.19 mb)
  • LatexCAD (478 kb, ver. 1.9, no longer supported) drawing tool
  • TeXCad32 ver 4.4.2 (394 kb including docs)
  • TeXCAD 4.2 (1.3 mb, ver of Aug 2007; no longer supported)
After you've drawn your picture in one of these programs, click on "save as latex file", copy the resulting text into your latex source file, and be sure you have \usepackage{epic,eepic} and/or \usepackage{pstricks} in your preamble.

TeXCad32 is definitely not self-explanatory; to use it you'll have to read the manuals (downloadable separately). It has an interesting feature: With some effort this program can be made to produce parametrized curves and graphs of functions --- anything composed from +,-,*,/,^, sqrt x, exp x, ln x, sin x, arcsin x, etc.

Of related interest: dratex, mfpic, pdftricks, pict2e.

Additional programs to help with TeX

I'm including here some programs that I don't use, because your taste may differ from mine.


A number of programs are available for converting between Latex (or other kinds of Tex) and various other document formats, such as HTML. The program TeX Converter makes a nice front end for several of those converter programs.

Converting from TeX to some other format (e.g., web pages) is reasonable. However, converting from some other format (e.g., Word) to Tex makes no sense to me. You can't possibly get high quality documents that way; you're just going to get all the problems you have with WYSIWYG editors.

Here is a brief overview of the current tex-to-html situation:

For longer documents (e.g., a research article), you probably want to preserve the great formatting that Tex provides.

For shorter documents, e.g., notes for your students, you may want to sacrifice the Tex formatting, in order to produce a web page that can be viewed quickly without any special software. There are several options for this, but none of them are ideal.

Also deserving mention is RTF, or "Rich Text Format". This is a sort of "poor man's Word" format -- it just includes a few of the most basic features of a formatted word-processor: boldface, italics, underlining, choice of font, choice of font size, etc. For converting between RTF and Latex (preserving some of the formatting, but certainly not all), use rtf2latex2e (2.3 mb, version 1.0fc1).

Recent additions
(I haven't tried these.)