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I have no experience with TeX or any other typesetting system.

I am going to university soon and have been told that I should learn LaTeX as it will help with bibliographies and essay writing. I am also self employed and would like to generate invoices in the future.

My original intention was just to learn LaTeX, however I found out about ConTeXt and now am a bit confused by the different options!

What are the advantages and disadvantages of the different typesetting systems?

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What will you be studying? That might help people focus their answers. And I'm curious as to which university not only recommends learning (La)TeX but sends that recommendation to people before they start! – Loop Space Aug 17 '10 at 12:36
I'm going to be doing software engineering, with maths and philosophy at the start. Haha, I'd like to know of a university that does that also! It was a relative that recommended I learn LaTex (he's a PhD student). – Annan Aug 17 '10 at 13:39
A note that while LaTeX is useful for bibliographies, I wouldn't use it because of that unless you're dealing with a serious number of references (>50). The primary advantage is good, professional typesetting. Also, while I've heard of people using LaTeX for invoices, I'm not convinced of their business value, as opposed to an invoice generated from QuickBooks. Invoices are ... invoices, people pay them and file them, don't ponder over their beautiful typography. – wishihadabettername Aug 31 '10 at 4:23

3 Answers 3

It is safe to say that in general ConTeXt focuses a bit more on typography and a bit less on structure than LaTeX. There is quite a lot of functionality to handle page layouts, page arrangements, and page layering, for example.

Some other strong points of ConTeXt:

  • Multi-lingual interface with support for markup commands in Czech, Dutch, English, French, German, Italian, Persian and Rumanian.

  • Although extensibility is offered via a module system, the equivalent functionality of many (if not most) of the commonly used LaTeX packages is built into the ConTeXt core.

  • ConTeXt’s unified design avoids the package clashes that can happen with LaTeX

  • Extensive use of key-value setup commands means that defining your own style is quite easy.

  • ConTeXT has an active mailing list that is closely monitored by the core developers.

  • ConTeXt integrates a superset of MetaPost called MetaFun which allows the users to use the drawing abilities of MetaPost for page backgrounds and ornaments.

  • ConTeXt closely follows LuaTeX development.

  • ConTeXt provides a command-line wrapper script that among other this takes care of setting document modes and making sure that enough typesetting runs are done auomatically to resolve all references correctly.

  • It is possible to process xml and mathml files directly.

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LaTeX is more of a standard document preparation system in academia. So if you ever want to submit a paper to a journal or conference and want to do it in TeX, LaTeX is your option. But if you have time, I would recommend learn both and then focus on one for your long term use, business, personal or academic.

BTW, universities usually have free training courses on these computing skills.

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At least in the UK courses on LaTeX are not really that common, I'd have to day. – Joseph Wright Aug 17 '10 at 15:38
You are right. I wish they have more and not just introductory level. – Leo Liu Aug 17 '10 at 16:27
And I think we all know the answer, there is a huge company putting his software everywhere! – Tomas Nov 10 '10 at 1:26

In addition to Taco's answer: there is an entry in the TeX FAQ:

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