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There are many ways to get LaTeX on an OS X box. I prefer to manage my software via fink, and even then there are a lot of choices. At the time of this writing (2010-08-28) I have the following options:

  • texlive (0.20080816-3)
  • xetex (0.996-1001)
  • tetex (3.0-1006)
  • extex (0.0svn8062-1)
  • ptex (3.1.11-3)

And I might have missed some. Which of these works best? Which is most up-to-date? Why are there so many?

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up vote 14 down vote accepted

I'd simply go to http://www.tug.org/mactex/ and download one zip file and that's everything that you'll need. It includes a complete TeX Live distribution, and also some very useful Mac-specific GUI tools like LaTeXiT.

Fink, MacPorts, etc. may be useful for many things, but getting a complete up-to-date TeX distribution isn't one of those cases. See also this closely related question.

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Good link: I'd agree that for TeX the best approach on the Mac is to use TeX Live directly – Joseph Wright Aug 29 '10 at 11:45

Don't use Tetex. Unfortunately, last time I looked, it was the only Tex supported as a binary by Fink.

Your list misses:

  • Gwtex, which is, like Tetex, abandonware, but used to be the nicest Tex install for the Mac.
  • Mactex, which is an up-to-date descendant of Gwtex, and is a reasonable alternative to Texlive.

Your best options are Texlive (the 2009 is considered stable, and the 2010 version is usable) or Mactex. I install Texlive from the ISO image directly to my Mac, and have no problems. Mactex comes with GUI extras.

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MacTeX isn't just TeX Live with a few extra (independent) Mac applications with the standard TeX binaries in a bizarre location? – TH. Aug 29 '10 at 7:29
@TH.: The Mactex people say that it is based on Gwtex. It's certainly very... close to Texlive. Take a look at Gwtex. It creates files in all sorts of weird places. – Charles Stewart Aug 29 '10 at 7:49
MacTeX is indeed 'TeX Live + extras'. I use the MacTeX installer for the ability to choose TeX systems from System Prefs., but don't use anything else from MacTeX. – Joseph Wright Aug 29 '10 at 8:20
@Joseph: Mactex is more than a few Mac-specific configuration items and extras thrown into Texlive's multi-platform install. I should write a postscript saying a bit more about the history and giving some links. But note, there's also a stand-alone Mactex distribution, Basictex. – Charles Stewart Aug 29 '10 at 15:50
It depends how you do the installation. You can miss out all of the graphical extras if you choose to, at least as far as I can see. – Joseph Wright Aug 29 '10 at 16:31

I've never heard of ptex or extex until now, but ptex seems to be something related to Japanese LaTeX. I can't find much information on extex. XeTeX is a particular TeX engine that is distributed with recent TeX distributions, so I'm not sure why it's listed separately. teTeX is old and not updated any longer. TeX Live is what I suggest you use. TeX Live and MiKTeX are the two major TeX distributions. TeX Live 2008 is fairly recent.

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Miktex is Windows only, isn't it? – Charles Stewart Aug 29 '10 at 7:19
I don't think so. I've never used it except once on Windows though. – TH. Aug 29 '10 at 7:21
@TH.: Miktex-tools isn't a Tex distribution, it's a port of some of the programs developed for Mitex back to Unix. You could build a Tex distribution around these, but AFAIK, no one has. – Charles Stewart Aug 29 '10 at 7:26
Ah, good to know. – TH. Aug 29 '10 at 7:27
I'd not call texlive-2008 "fairly recent", when texlive-2010 is being prepared for release (already frozen) :). – Khaled Hosny Aug 29 '10 at 8:38

ExTeX is (was?) a project that aims to create 'typesetting for the 21st century' with a Java-based system derived from TeX (via NTS). It is not finished and in fact seems to be abandoned or at least hybernating (even the nightly builds fail since August last year)

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