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I've googled around, and I haven't found a definitive compiler for latex (.tex files) on Windows. Any suggestions? Thanks!

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You're looking for a TeX distribution. See e.g. TeXLive or MiKTeX.

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    I personally prefer texlive, but anyway choose a full installation, it makes sure that you can compile everything without the need to add packages later. Also make an update directly after the installation in order to ensure that your system is up to date. Oct 14 '11 at 7:25
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MikTex is the one you want. I love the environment that come with it, TexWorks. Great stuff - and it's free. (Is it still shopping if you don't pay?)

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    You mean texworks, texmaker is a different editor and texstudio a similar one with more functionality - all free. Oct 14 '11 at 7:24
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According to your name "Chi Zeng", maybe you are Chinese, I suggest you use CTeX. It supports Chinese well.

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    Latest TeX Live and MiKTeX both support Chinese well. It doesn't matter. Either is OK.
    – Leo Liu
    Oct 14 '11 at 13:07
  • yes, CTeX is base on MiKTeX. Many Chinese use CTeX, thus beginner use it and can ask question conveniently.
    – Pig Cry
    Oct 14 '11 at 15:36
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    His name changes now. lol Mar 29 '15 at 13:40
  • The ctex package is part of both TeX Live and MikTeX. It supports every mainstream TeX engine, but I would recommend LuaLaTeX.
    – Davislor
    Mar 27 '21 at 21:59
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Compilers are different from TeX/LaTeX distribution. Compiler settings are pdfLaTeX (the default), XeLaTeX and LuaLaTeX. Now, choosing a compiler depends not only on OS, but on each project's needs.

Also, there are many advanced text editors specifically dedicated to LATEX and for the most popular operating systems according to Overleaf.com. While some of them can be downloaded for free others are proprietary software:

  1. Open source: AUCTEX, GNU TeXmacs, Gummi, Kile, LaTeXila, MeWa, TeXShop, TeXnicCenter, Texmaker, TeXstudio, TeXworks
  2. Freeware: LEd, WinShell
  3. Proprietary/Shareware: Inlage, Scientific WorkPlace, WinEdt I think for Microsoft Windows OSs, TeXstudio (my number one), Textmaker and TexWork attached to MiKTeX Console are great. Best wishes.
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Most people took you to really be asking about a TeX distribution; that is, the package you actually download and install. However, you might also be asking what compiler program you should be running after you install the distributions.

LuaLaTeX is the most modern, and the only one adding new features. I recommend you write new documents for it, unless you’re submitting to someone else who uses different tools.

Most legacy LaTeX documents, however, are written to use older 8-bit font encodings. Any document with a line like \usepackage[T1]{fontenc} is one of them. For these, you should compile with PDFLaTeX. As of 2021, the arXiv and many other publishers still use this engine exclusively, so ask your publisher or advisor what they support. The only time this is really a battle worth fighting is when you need to write in a language their preferred engine does not support.

The XeLaTeX compiler is now in maintenance mode, but some documents only work with it. And Donald E. Knuth still is supporting the original TeX/LaTeX with bug fixes. It’s been a long time since I wanted to compile a LaTeX document to DVI for printing out a paper copy on a laser printer, but it’s a legendary work of software design.

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