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Newbie Write & Edit (Latex)


In the context of the recent post of
DTP vs Word processors, I have often wondered
about Latex. I recall some ole Unix Guy 
telling me that Latex was the thing.

He was talking about writing and formatting 
White Papers as in an academic environment.
I have read stuff off of the Web that references
being written or published with Latex...

Is Latex still used to some extent? 
Was Latex a tool, a part of a typical Unix installation?
Is it available via wide distribution today ???
I am looking for practical advice, because I will
now google for the keyword Latex ...

thanks for any insight.


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