Who/what is behind LaTeX?

I hope this question is on-topic.

It is a long story, but more and more these days I run into people who doesn't understand what LaTeX is. In particular people I talk to think that LaTeX is a company and so they don't quite understand that LaTeX isn't a product that you can buy and that (always) comes with a support option. I am fairly decent at actually using LaTeX, but I don't know much (anything) about who exactly is behind LaTeX. I get that various groups are behind various "distributions" (like MikTeX, TeXlive, etc.).

I am looking for a short (maybe more medium length) description of who is behind LaTeX. Is there an organization that "owns" LaTeX and maintains some type of kernel? What status is this organization legally? What is the differences between the types (distributions?) of LaTeX and the kernel? Can LaTeX be compared to Linux? What licenses are LaTeX given under?

(I am in the USA and people who question me about LaTeX usually view everything from an American perspective. I am only saying this in case this is relevant.)

I know this is a big question, so I would be happy to have a reference.

• Why the USA? The core developers of LaTeX are spread over the whole world... and we are all \LaTeX ... package designers, class developers, users. If you need names: Joseph Wright, David Carlisle, Frank Mittelbach, Rainer Schöpf, Karl Berry, Chris Rowley, Johannes Braams, Will Robertson, Bruno Le Floch,... and somehow Leslie Lamport of course – user31729 Oct 9 '15 at 18:55
• @ChristianHupfer: I mention this only in case it is relevant. I don't know. – Thomas Oct 9 '15 at 18:57
• you might take a look at the web pages of the latex project: latex-project.org – barbara beeton Oct 9 '15 at 19:02
• @Thomas The site barbara links to is indeed run by the LaTeX team – Joseph Wright Oct 9 '15 at 21:29
• In 2008 I gave a talk entitled "A (biased) personal history of two years LaTeX development. It never made it into a paper (yet :-) but there is a video available: river-valley.zeeba.tv/two-decades-of-latex-development . Concerning "licensing" as this is listed as a topic of the question you can find a history on LPPL in an article at the project web site: latex-project.org/papers/tb100mittbach-lppl-history.pdf – Frank Mittelbach Oct 14 '15 at 7:17

Citing the CTAN LaTeX entry:

LaTeX is a widely-used macro pack­age for TeX, pro­vid­ing many ba­sic doc­u­ment for­mat­ing com­mands ex­tended by a wide range of pack­ages. It is a de­vel­op­ment of Les­lie Lam­port's LaTeX 2.09, and su­per­seded the older sys­tem in June 1994. The ba­sic dis­tri­bu­tion is cat­a­logued sep­a­rately, at la­tex-base; apart from a large set of con­tributed pack­ages and third-party doc­u­men­ta­tion (else­where on the archive), the dis­tri­bu­tion in­cludes:

– a bunch of re­quired pack­ages, which LaTeX au­thors are “en­ti­tled to as­sume” will be present on any sys­tem run­ning LaTeX; and – a min­i­mal set of doc­u­men­ta­tion de­tail­ing dif­fer­ences from the ‘old’ ver­sion of LaTeX in the ar­eas of user com­mands, font se­lec­tion and con­trol, class and pack­age writ­ing, font en­cod­ings, con­fig­u­ra­tion op­tions and mod­i­fi­ca­tion of LaTeX.

It's published under the LaTeX Project License 1.3 and is considered to be free and changeable. (See LaTeX Project too)

It was developed initially by Leslie Lamport to ease the usage of TeX (which was designed by Donald E. Knuth also named The Grand Wizard (not to be confused with the name from the infamous and dreadful KKK) in the late 70s/early 80s)

Although there are commercial TeX versions which have to be paid for the majority of users download LaTeX (and XeLaTeX/LuaLaTeX as well as TeX) either as the TeXLive or MikTeX distributions or directly from the CTAN server.

A list of current maintainers of LaTeX2e and LaTeX 3 core can be found here: LaTeX 3. A lot of other people design(ed) additions as style oder class packages, all based on the core -- everybody is allowed to use LaTeX and to provide own additions and formats -- that's one of the most thrilling (and sometimes difficult) features of this 'programming' language.

LaTeX users and developers meet in conferences and are organized in global communities such as TUG (TeX User Group), Dante (a German/Austrian TeX user group) and several other local/national groups as well as online like here on TeX.SX, goLaTeX, LaTeX community and some others.

• "The Grand Wizard" - reference ? – 1010011010 Oct 9 '15 at 19:08
• @1010011010 -- don knuth has always been known as the "grand wizard" because, simply, he's the one who is responsible for tex's creation. he is listed thus as an honorary member of the tex users group board of directors. go to the page tug.org/TUGboat/Contents/contents35-2.html and click on the item "inside front cover" to see the official listing. (should work as well with any other tugboat issue.) – barbara beeton Oct 9 '15 at 20:56
• @barbecue -- goes back even further. from issue number 1 of tugboat: tug.org/TUGboat/tb01-1/steering.pdf – barbara beeton Oct 9 '15 at 20:59
• – Mico Oct 10 '15 at 5:57
• @EthanBierlein: Sorry, don't be silly. I am pretty sure most of us TeX users know the term 'Grand Wizard' anyway in this way and I know nobody of us which is connected to the KKK ... I haven't coined that title for D.E. Knuth however – user31729 Oct 14 '15 at 9:07

I would also mention Heiko Oberdiek if only because the incredible Hyperref is really what is getting LaTeX on the Web via pdf. And also whoever MathJax is because it is only because of MathJax that LaTeX mathematics is getting on the Web.

• MathJax uses the same syntax as LaTeX but is setup differently in the background. – user31729 Feb 10 '16 at 3:29