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I wrote a book about LaTeX, and my proud grandma wanted to have a copy. So she got it, said "What a beautiful picture on the cover!" and - "What is this, LaTeX?".

She doesn't know Word, never used a computer. But she reads books. How can I explain what makes TeX and LaTeX special to a non-technical person? I don't mean introducing in using, and the existing question "What are TeX and LaTeX?" with its answers is still much too technical.

Such challenges are not rare. I need to explain to my boss why I request some days off to go to a TeX conference, and soon my daughter will want to know what daddy does on the computer. My girlfriend needs to understand why I spend so much time at TeX.SE.

Does anyone know eye-opening words? Perhaps an analogy or a metaphor would help? So grandma, girlfriend, daughter, boss - all may roughly understand and say "Ah, such a thing? Useful indeed!"

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    Kids, get off of my lawn! ♥ Commented Jan 22, 2013 at 18:58
  • 54
    Test yourself against The Up-goer Five Text Editor
    – percusse
    Commented Jan 22, 2013 at 19:55
  • 104
    I joined this SE JUST to upvote this question. Commented Jan 23, 2013 at 6:34
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    This question sets a new benchmark: Achieved score of 99 in the first 24 hours.
    – lockstep
    Commented Jan 23, 2013 at 17:20
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    This is possibly the most adorable question I've ever seen on TeX.
    – Aarthi
    Commented Jan 23, 2013 at 18:23

34 Answers 34

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A long time ago, every copy of every book was hand written. This was making books expensive and explains why they had no much diffusion.

Then, say in 15th century, one sharp person called John Gutemberg invented some new technology that made preparation and printing of books faster and more efficient.

In 20th century - quite a long jump, to keep this short - the use of typewriter became very frequent to produce long and short documents, just before computers became the standard.

Typewriter and computer have in common the keyboard, that we still use to type our text when using LaTeX on a computer.

When I use LaTeX to write a book or any text on a computer, I type my text on the keyboard, plus some additional text called markup (LaTeX markup) in some position I know.

We are now not interested in how a computer processes text and markup, I am also very ignorant in this topic. But all that is to be said is that while my text provides the content, the bit of additional text (LaTeX markup) I typed into it provides all the pagination and layout setting you can appreciate in any modern "professional" book of your interest, that you can leaf through in any bookshop.

...good nite grandma :)

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A tool that enables you to create beautiful documents,article,reports and books and thereby attracts the attention of young and old.

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First of all, I am a bloody latex beginner..

I love it when I proudly present my latex-document to my girlfriend and she responses like "Oh, and where is the difference to word? In word, it looks identically!"

When I respond that you can spare a lot of time because your presettings are applied on the whole document and you don't need to do formatting again and again, she tells me that "she likes to have the control".

To sum up, I think that you must be confortable with using LaTeX by yourself. Rest should not count, otherwise I would proceed doing word. :)

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    I really like it when people say "oh where is the difference to Word?" :-) most people don't see the difference between equations, or justified text or whatever. Once I typed the same test document, both in Word and TeX, including justified text, some equations and table of contents. For me the difference was obvious, but most people didn't care, unfortunately. And to be honest, I personally don't save much time using TeX because it offers more possibilities and therefore I am sometimes lost in some details - which is a bit of a pity because most people don't pay attention to these anyway.
    – T. Pluess
    Commented Feb 21, 2019 at 9:05
  • true words! and yes, sometimes one gets lost in details! :-)
    – Jens
    Commented Feb 22, 2019 at 18:30
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LaTeX is the friend you appreciate once you really get to know them. On the surface, it may be hard and the "getting to know" curve is steep, but once you overcome it, there are great gems to be discovered and cherished.

That has been my experience with this.

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    Good for you :). But, I am pretty sure this is irrelevant to the question at hand (it is relevant if someone asks you the difference between MS Word and LaTeX). Commented Jan 14, 2023 at 14:38
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