TeX on Windows: MiKTeX or TeX Live

Around two years ago, I wrote a short post comparing MiKTeX and TeX Live for Windows-based TeX users. Looking at my log files, this topic is perhaps the most common search term that brings people here. As such, I think it’s time to revisit the question and bring what I said before up to date.

On Windows, there are two actively-developed TeX systems with similar coverage: MiKTeX and TeX Live. Before I look at the comparison, a reminder that they are not the only choices. W32TeX is popular in the far east, and as well as being a TeX system in its own right is the source of the Windows binaries for TeX Live. There are also the commercial BaKoMa and VTeX systems (although whether anyone can get hold of the supplier of the latter is another question). However, for most users it comes down to a choice between the ‘big two’.

The good news is that there is a lot of similarity between the two systems, so for most users both systems are equally usable. However, there are differences and depending on what you need these might be important.

  • The standard settings install everything for TeX Live, but only a minimal set of packages for MiKTeX. MiKTeX will then install extra packages ‘on the fly’, while TeX Live does not (there is a package to do that in TeX Live, but it’s aimed at Linux). Install-on-the-fly is useful if space is limited, but is more problematic on server set ups. So this is very much a feature who’s usefulness depends on your circumstances. Of course, there is nothing to stop you using MiKTeX and installing everything.
  • The xindy program is only available in TeX Live. For those of you not familiar with it, xindy is an index-processor, and is much more capable of dealing with multi-lingual situations than MakeIndex. If you need xindy, TeX Live really is the way to go.
  • MiKTeX is very much a Windows tool set, while TeX Live comes from a Unix background. This shows up from time to time in the way TeX Live is administered, and the fact that the TeX Live GUI is written based on Perl rather than as a ‘native’ Windows application.
  • As TeX Live is the basis of MacTeX, and is the TeX system for Unix, if you work cross-platform and want an identical system on all of your machines, then TeX Live is the way to go.

11 thoughts on “TeX on Windows: MiKTeX or TeX Live

  1. One additionally point to consider when installing on the fly is how reliable is your internet connection? Most people these days seem to assume you always have one, but I lived up north for a summer in a house with 9 other people, and for good chucks of the day I would regularly lose connection every 5-10 min due to a combination of a lousy ADSL connection and too many people with badly set up torrent clients.
    Then I spent a year in a house with a router that didn’t agree with my laptop, thus internet would die unpredictably, and my housemates wouldn’t let me screw with it, since it worked for them.
    Even on campus, there are a lot of dead spots around, due to old buildings. The chemistry lounge I spent most of my time in was one of them until last year.

    In short: If you have any questions about your ability to get a package when you need one, TeXLive might be the way to go. On the other hand, if you only write TeX when in a nice, connected place, take your pick.

  2. As I said, on-the-fly installation is something a Marmite option (you either love it or hate it). You can happily install ‘everything’ with MiKTeX as well as with TeX Live: I’ve always installed ‘everything’ with both TeX Live and MiKTeX.

  3. I also do not like the on-the-fly feature. Also because there is no indication of how far is has come with the installation. Is it still easy to make a full MikTeX installation? The last time I tried, I still ended up with an installation without memoir or mathtools.

    I usually tend to tell users to install TL, because then we all have the same base tools, no matter if one is using Linux, Mac or Windows.

    I also like the TL texdoc a lot better because of the aliasing work the team has done, i.e. texdoc memoir gives me the memoir manual. The last time I checked, on MT you need to know the name of the memoir manual on disk.

    Another thing to remember: MT packages are updated approx once a week (?), whereas the TL ones are updated daily (plus about a day to migrate to the mirrors). So if the is a catastrophic update (say the l3* packages ;-), then it can be quite a mess on MT if some updates makes it into an MT update and others do not.

    On the other hand, MT are a bit more relaxed as to what can be distributed. TL is very hardline.

  4. One key difference I noticed immediately is the lack of a YAP in TeX Live 2011. I was used to editing in emacs, and just being able to type C-c C-F to compile, and C-c C-v to preview. That works wonderfully with MiKTeX, and not at all with TeX Live 2011.

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