Windows TeX Users: MiKTeX or TeX Live

I was talking to someone at work recently, and the topic of whether to choose MiKTeX or TeX Live on Windows came up. With MiKTeX 2.8 released and TeX Live 2009 due out any day, I thought I’d make a few comments.

First, both systems are very capable, so there is not really a “wrong” decision. However, when installing you do have to pick one. In the past, MiKTeX was the best choice for Windows by a distance, but recent work on TeX Live has altered this. So I’d say there are some factors to balance against each other.

  • If you work on Windows and on Unix, then TeX Live is the system to favour. It preforms essentially in the same way across platforms, whereas you’ll get some minor differences if you use MiKTeX on Windows and TeX Live on Unix.
  • If you want to only install what you use, go for MiKTeX. TeX Live doesn’t have anything to match the auto-installation system in MiKTeX.
  • On the other hand, if your happiest installing everything in one go, go for TeX Live. It does this by default, and includes any new packages when you do an update. For MiKTeX, a full installation is something you have to do deliberately.

As you’ll see, there is not much in it! I’m mainly using TeX Live, but still have MiKTeX around as well.

9 thoughts on “Windows TeX Users: MiKTeX or TeX Live

  1. Although TeX Live doesn’t provide package auto-installation, it has package dependency resolution, so that dependent packages are installed all in one go. One can also install selected ‘chunks’ of the distribution as collections and schemes.

    There is also a DVI viewer in TeX Live — dviout — so fans of this legacy format are not left out in the cold.

    But the really big deal for this year in both, TeX Live and MiKTeX, is standardization on the TeXworks editor. This aspect is of major importance IMO.

    Another factor worth mentioning is that TeX Live ships with Perl interpreter, so no additional installation is necessary to make use of multitude of Perl programs shipped with various packages and new ones are constantly developed.

    Ah, and let’s not forget that there is LuaTeX in TeX Live already since last year, while it is still missing from MiKTeX.

    Finally, something that should appeal to geeks, a lot of the infrastructure and tools are written in scripting languages (Perl and to a lesser extent Lua), which makes the whole system much more accessible to people who like to experiment.

  2. Hello Tomek,

    The thing with MiKTeX’s auto-install is that I can just start TeXing a file, and I won’t keep having to stop and install packages I don’t have. This is especially handy if you install as Administrator and use as a normal user.

    My mistake on the DVI situation: corrected. On TeXworks, I’m looking here at differences: both systems include TeXworks, so it’s not directly relevant to the discussion.

    I thought about mentioning LuaTeX, but at present the one in TeX Live is no good for ConTeXt Mark IV: you still need the minimals. So I’d think most people interested in LuaTeX will need to additonal work with either system.

    My post is mainly about people wanting to use (La)TeX: that was the context I was asked about at work. So the underlying architecture of the installation system is not really relevant. As long as it works, I’m not fussed how it’s done.


  3. I don’t really like the auto installation feature, because the processing is hidden for the user. If the package is large (say minitoc) then it takes a long time to install, but the user it not told anything about how far the installation is (last seen in 2.7, great if this have been improved). At least the MiKTeX package manager show how far it is.

    Another great thing about TL is that it provides xindy for all platforms, AFAIK it is not included in MikTeX. Great for sorting indexes in non-English languages.

  4. As I think I’ve made clear, the auto-installation idea might be considered a good thing or a bad one. It very much depends on how you work. I’d agree that some progress indication would be nice. (minitoc is a rather special case, I’d say, due to the well-known size of its documentation.)

    I’d missed the xindy issue: I’ve never used it myself. However, a quick check through my installation reveals that you are correct: no xindy in MiKTeX.

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