About LaTeX

Why in earth did I use LaTeX to develop documentation? It is a fair question.

Why LaTeX? Short answer - money

Some time ago, a client requested that I use LaTeX to produce their set of documentation. After taking a deep breath and saying OK, I went about trying to figure out how to do this. At the time I had zero experience with this system. LaTeX is, after all, typically used to write academic and scientific writing and is not often used for high quality product technical documentation.

Why LaTeX? Long answer - it was a challenge worth taking on

With a little work (actually a lot of work) LaTeX can produce quite reasonable technical documentation. However, it only is capable of outputting to PDF. I could be wrong on this, so if you know of a way of outputting to HTML, I’d love to hear about it.

If you are like me and had never used LaTeX before, learning this tool is all about research, trying out some ideas, reading some more, trying again and so on. You learn best by doing.

Frankly, LaTeX doesn’t come “out of the box” very well prepared for creating professional level techncial documentation. In fact, there is “no box” for it to come out of. LaTeX separates content from layout so you need to know the commands and markup language of LaTeX. You also need to know how to generate output.

First, its Lah-tech

Incidentally, LaTeX is pronounced as “Lah-tech”. Why? No idea.

LaTeX is a typesetting language “intertwined with LaTeX commands”. Since it has been around a long time, many plugins called packages are available to customize the layout and design for a wide range of uses.

Know your sources

Where to start? A fellow Canadian living here in Berlin told me to start by going to the TeX User Group (TUG) site. Good advice.

At TUG, you can download all the required software to set up a LaTeX publishing system on both MAC and Windows machines. As I wasn’t sure which OS I would ultimately use, I set up LaTEX on both machines. The site has a Getting Started page which I recommend reading. See Getting Started with TeX, LaTeX and Friends

Some other useful resources include the LaTeX Project Site (www.latex-project.org), as is the Comprehensive TeX Archive Network (ctan.org).