## Reader Opinion: MathML's Viability## Sunday May 23rd, 1999Reader MPT has submitted to us an article in response to some statements about Mozilla and MathML made in a previous forum. Click Full Article below to continue.
Very Well Written! I think the Lynx arguments were the most swaying though. DMathML/DMML ... Just think, you could get the computer to figure out the equation on the fly. Very good! MathML should be relatively easy to impliment anyway, there is no reason not to do it. This article got me thinking, how about a new version of Lynx that uses Gecko? That would be slick. Um...I was under the impression that the poster to who this article is a reply to was speaking sarcastically when he made his comment about MathML. I thought he was saying that the attitudes he was against were the same kinds that would fight MathML because we can already do it with LaTeX and gifs. Am I way off base, or is this article? Joshua, you are correct.... The original posting was referring to CITEC's argument that XSL should be killed because DOM/XML/CSS can do everything. The point of the posting was that all old technology is only succeeded by vastly superior technologies because of the difficulties of implementation. MathML and XSL are both examples of things that are needed because they vastly simplify the process by which their respective purposes are met. However, XSL can wait for a standard. MathML is good now. That being said, I liked the article nonetheless. Much good information. I agree with this article, but I would point out that, in general, there's no good reason why a Java applet would get its parameters via HTTP download of a parameter document. There are much simpler ways to do that. Joshua, FrodoB: you're right -- I've only just realized that JSDT was being sarcastic in describing MathML as a bad idea! Oh dear ... Since I disagreed with the rest of his post, I naturally assumed he was being serious. :-) Gregory: I'm not saying that a math applet would `get its parameters via HTTP download of a parameter document'. I'm not sure what you're referring to here. If you're talking about my reference to an extra HTTP request, that's because the math would be stored in a separate file from the HTML (I don't think you could pass it as a <param>, because it would contain XML tags). If, on the other hand, you're talking about the applet getting environment variables (font, window size etc), I was suggesting that they would have to be passed from the browser to the applet using a standard format (XML or RDF). -- mpt Another point: MathML, from what I hear, has tight integration into Mathematica 4, and I am sure the other computer algebra packages will follow suit. Image if Eric's Treasure Trove http://www.astro.virginia.edu/~eww6n/math/math.html were in MathML. For the combinatoric function mentioned in MPT's article, I could go there, look for "Choose", realize that I want a "Binomial Function," and then paste the equation right into Mathematica. Or imagine if the LANL preprint archive used MathML instead of TeX. If I noticed an error in someone's paper I could drop the section into Mathematica, use it to isolate or verify the problem, and email the author with a solution. If the author used Mozilla as a mail reader she would see the equations in the text of the email. For a scientist or mathematician this is a huge win. flip Ok, quick question(s) First off, I'm not quite sure what MathML is, except to presume it's some language for describing how mathematical formulas are displayed. If that's correct, isn't this kind of a niche thing? That is, I've got no problem with adding it, but how many special-interest formats do we want bloating up the browser? I mean, it would also be cool to add a musical-note renderer too for people who download guitar tabs off the web, or a scalable map viewer for mapblast.com users, etc... (just to pull some examples out of my ass)... I never use math formulas on the web, so I guess I'm just wondering, why support this natively and not other plug-ins/applets? NABster Nieve (Naïve?) Anonymous Bastard: What is MathML? MathML is an XML application for showing mathematical expressions. See http://www.w3.org/Math/ . Is it a niche thing? Well, sort of, but it's much less of a niche thing than guitar tabs, music scores, knitting patterns, chess games, or whatever. Compared to those applications, MathML would be used much more often. Why support it natively in Mozilla? Well, that's a question with an interesting answer. Most other XML applications could be rendered, I think, by translating them into a mixture of HTML, CSS, DOM, SVG (Scalable Vector Graphics), and perhaps VRML. All you'd need would be some sort of filter which would translate the XML to these other formats, and pass this to the layout engine. MathML, however, is a different kettle of fish. It involves difficult stuff like: finding obscure mathematical symbols in your font directory somewhere; stretching parts of characters in one direction (like a { brace, where you don't want it getting all fat just because you're stretching it vertically); arranging table-like structures (for matrices) in-line with the rest of the text (unlike HTML tables); and so on. MathML is also unlike many other XML objects, in that it should be able to split itself up to wrap from one line to the next, along with the HTML text. Compare this with your typical plug-in/applet, which just gets given a fixed-size rectangle by the browser. This makes MathML unique (I think), in that it requires complex presentation (which normally a plug-in would do), but it expects to be wrappable and selectable like other text. Hence the built-in support. Those are the honorable reasons. The dishonorable reason is that implementing MathML will be a good torture-test of how good Mozilla's XML abilities are, without bloating the code too much. -- mpt I'd agree with most the article... I was just thinking that there will be so much useful stuff in Mozilla - will it be possible to expose facilities to the OS under Linux / Windows ? Tight integration here is one of Microsoft's better ideas. Imagine providing generic usable objects under Linux without MS code bloat. A well written article expounding on the need for mathemetics support on the web. MathML would be more useful than many people think. The ability to type set formulas in a readable fashion is crucial to almost any science publication. Correct support would also allow the development of truly interactive learning mechanisms over the web for all the hard sciences. This type of "distributed learning" is a real point of focus for many major academic institutions and could provide valuable access to educational material for people in far flung places. Was there any question of the validity of including MathML in Mozilla? I thought it was more a case of when(now) and how(I'm working on it... ;) Mathematics is the language of Engineers, scientists and mathematicians. Without decent maths support we just can't use the web effectively for work purposes...which seems a little stange given that it was invented for particle physics research. Besides its really a case of the cobblers children...we have spent so long building neat solutions for grandma and junior that we've forgotten the needs of the very people who make the internet (and society IMHO) work... If you're still interested then come along to netscape.public.mozilla.mathml and lend a hand!! ... And, to think of the new "smileys" people could create... ;) Smiley? A bit hard: <mrow><mfrac><mo>)</mo><mo>)</mo></mfrac><mo>-</mo><mo minsize="2">)</mo></mrow> Smiley? A bit hard: <mrow><mfrac><mo>)</mo><mo>)</mo></mfrac><mo>-</mo><mo minsize="2">)</mo></mrow> Y'all need to look at the spec for MathML. You will NEVER be able to write any MathML by hand, since it is so complex and drawn out. I write all my HTML by hand, and would want to do the same for any other browser language. Go to http://www.w3.org/TR/PR-math/chapter1.html to see who wrote the spec, mostly companies From that page, it says "As a consequence, MathML is not primarily intended for direct use by authors. While MathML is human-readable, in all but the simplest cases it is too verbose and error-prone for hand generation. Instead, it is anticipated that authors will use equation editors, conversion programs, and other specialized software tools to generate MathML. Alternatively, some renderers may convert other kinds of input directly included in Web pages into MathML on the fly, in response to a cut-and-paste operation, for example." To me this makes no sense: Why make a spec so cryptic and precise when it needs to be used with HTML, a very unprecise language in terms of output? I DON'T want to have to go to a seperate program just to make an equation when I am writing a web page. For this reason, I doubt I will use it. I just send my advisor Postscript output from LaTeX, which works well. "Why make a spec so cryptic and precise" Because pure-science/pure-math geeks are even more anal and exclusinary than computer Geeks. And besides, the very nature of what they are displaying is extremely cryptic and precise as well. I don't think that all those "Notepad-Comanders" out there will be rushing out to include quantum theories on their home-pages anyways (well, maybe the Trekkie ones...) Hmmm I can't get my mind around the fact that some people DON'T want MathML in Gecko.... ....proving yet again what a narrow-minded little bugger I am. But aside from that, think of what this will do for education, as Adam FitzGerald mentioned. I myself, when out looking for info on, for example, fractal algorithms[1] am constantly annoyed by the fact that there is no such thing as MathML. Trust me, (c^3)/(x^7) = ([3[(x-z)/(y-z)]]/2.4)^5, to quote a mythical equation, would look a whole lot better in MathML. -=Yusuf=-, crying out for an alternative to .GIFs! [1] <emote> waits for the pitchfork-wielding crowd screaming "GET THE MATH GEEK!!" </emote> "Because pure-science/pure-math geeks are even more anal and exclusinary than computer Geeks." Actually, I am a "pure-science" physics geek myself. I deal with some ugly formulae. The output from my data analysis program is turned into an HTML page, with gif's generated on the fly; can't get much geekier than that. My whole point is that the fact that MathML is used with HTML is kind of weird, since HTML NEVER does what I want it to. Now if MathML let you format an entore DOCUMENT, that would be much better. "I don't think that all those "Notepad-Comanders" out there will be rushing out to include quantum theories on their home-pages anyways." Hey, I'm an Emacs-Commander, thank-you. No self-respecting science nerd will run Windows but Linux, will use vi or emacs, and write papers in LaTeX or TeX. All my graphs are generated in Gnuplot. I also deal with quantum theory of lattice vibrations in crystals (phonons), thank you! "Because pure-science/pure-math geeks are even more anal and exclusinary than computer Geeks." Actually, I am a "pure-science" physics geek myself. I deal with some ugly formulae. The output from my data analysis program is turned into an HTML page, with gif's generated on the fly; can't get much geekier than that. My whole point is that the fact that MathML is used with HTML is kind of weird, since HTML NEVER does what I want it to. Now if MathML let you format an entore DOCUMENT, that would be much better. "I don't think that all those "Notepad-Comanders" out there will be rushing out to include quantum theories on their home-pages anyways." Hey, I'm an Emacs-Commander, thank-you. No self-respecting science nerd will run Windows but Linux, will use vi or emacs, and write papers in LaTeX or TeX. All my graphs are generated in Gnuplot. I also deal with quantum theory of lattice vibrations in crystals (phonons), thank you! MathML is much awaited in the academic and scientific world because it will ease the frustration of millions of users who have been forced to cope with lots of math.gif (heavy, ugly, misaligned), java applets (slow, discourage re-visits), and other tricks (non portable). Moreover the support of MathML will open up the possibility of fully deploying other applications (e.g., flexible-delivery of lectures, distance learning, digital journals/libraries --save the environment). By getting rid of those math.gif and applets that crowd the internet and eat the bandwidth, *your* internet connection would perhaps be faster :-) There is a specific provision in the MathML effort in Mozilla http://www.mozilla.org/projects/mathml/ for alternative notations. By only considering the MathML spec in its internal working, the MathML engine in Mozilla will be as terse as one could get, with the displaying niceties that other MathML supporters have argued about. And through the transformation API, TeXies would be able to contribute a (separate) add-on to convert TeX/LaTeX in MathML on the fly. In other words, it would be possible to write a simple and readable $\Delta = \sqrt{b^2-4ac}$ directly in the HTML. The best of all worlds in the lizard. Isn't what we want? "The output from my data analysis program is turned into an HTML page, with gif's generated on the fly;" Wait a month after mozilla comes out, then find a data analysis program that generates MathML, guarantee it'll show up but fast! (if it doesn't already exist) And anyways, I thought you did HTML by hand? don't forget economists (lots of those in the business world) and others in the social sciences use mathematical equations too! |