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Open Office to LaTeX - Writing Math the real way does not
have to be so hard!
Submitted by Nick Hershman on 2008-12-21
My first year as a math teacher I remember my students taking their state test and being overwhelmingly embarrassed. My students knew a lot about angles but they had no idea what a simple angle sign meant. A few seconds later it hit me. My school did not have a math textbook, I had been creating all the class materials myself, and I was using Microsoft Word. There is no angle sign in Microsoft Word, so for an entire year of math the students hadn't seen a single angle sign. I knew there was a better way so instead of using the computer I went back to working things out by handwriting them, at least that way I could do more. If only someone at the school had known better I could have been saved an awful lot of frustrating hours with Word or my pen and paper.
If you are not already familiar with writing math symbols with your computer I would suggest you begin by downloading and working with Open Office. Open Office is an open source, freely downloadable suite that hopes to challenge Microsoft Office (Word, Excel, Powerpoint,...). In Open Office you may edit worksheets in "Writer" in a fashion almost identical to that in Word, however by simply typing ALT-I-O-F you can edit and insert an equation. In the equation editor try typing 3 over 5 cdot 7 over 8. The effect is a nicely layed out fraction multiplication problem. To do this in Word would take probably around 5 minutes per problem, in Open Office it's a breeze.
After using Open Office for half a year I was turned on to an even more powerful software: LaTeX. LaTeX is used by doctoral students to write their theses. It is completely free and can support the publishing of everything from articles to fully formatted books. From the same .tex file you can publish (1) a fully formatted website with a table of contents and specific pages (2) a book (3) a simple text file. LaTeX is also a powerful tool for writing math. It took me about an hour to get the whole process set-up the first time and I think I can help you get it installed in less time than that. The TUG, or TeX Users Group, has a fantastic list of internet resources for people wanting to learn more about TeX and LaTeX. Try the search results for "installing latex," another site I found userful as a PC user was "LaTeX on Windows" very helpful.
If you want to get another good intro to LaTeX try the Not So Short Introduction to LaTeX. You will need an editor for LaTeX. An editor is a program like Microsoft Word or Notepad that lets you create and edit the types of files you will be using. For a long time I paid to use WinEdit but now I recommend emacs as your LaTeX editor.