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Re: preliminary response to Hammond



Dear Ron (and everyone else).

I would like to respond more forcefully to Bill Hammond.  I read your
preliminary response, and it looks like a well thought out response.
It seems like a good thing upon which to base a committee response.

However, I am planning to respond him myself in the EMJ journal,
independently from the committee.  Here is a draft of my letter.  If
someone violently objects, write to me and I will change it.

------------------------------------------------------------------

Dear Dr. Hammond,

I have read your recent postings concerning HTML math with interest,
since I am one of the people involved (I am working on proof of
concept software for the forthcoming HTML Math proposal).  I agree
with many of your points, and I am certainly glad to see someone
expressing vigorous interest in HTML math.  

I am not writing in any official capacity for the committee.  This is
just my opinion, so you can take it with a grain of salt, if you wish.
However, I want to write because I am actually quite enthusiastic
about the progress on the HTML math proposal and software, and I hope
I can at least partially pursuade you as well.

Here are some of the reasons behind my enthusiasm:

1.  I generally agree with you about the importance of a lowest common
denominator way of putting math on the web.  After all, I wrote WebEQ
to support the expired HTML math draft.  Your point about the project
getting derailed by adding to much complicated functionality is well
taken.  

2.  The old HTML Math draft died for a couple of important reasons.
First, there was no commercial backing for it -- no major commercial
browser maker or software house implemented it.  And second, the
scientific community didn't push it enough to over come that.

3.  In order to accomplish point 1 it is necessary to address point 2.
The new proposal is based on devising a system in *layers* which
allow us to serve each of these different groups.

a.  The top layer provides simple, easy-to-enter math notation.  A
    good parser allows people to write traditional style notation,
    ignoring  semantic information, and still get decent
    rendering.

b.  The middle layer allows sophisticated users to add more semantic 
    information.  Ordinary people would never even have to know you have
    to insert an "invisible times" between xy for it to mean x*y.  It 
    is important to note, that by providing support for this, HTML
    Math now has *commercial support* from major scientific CAS software 
    companies.

c.  The bottom layer allows sophisticated users to alter default
    rendering attributes.  Using a rich set of attributes in a Cascading
    Style Sheet way, one obtains the machinery to do near TeX quality
    rendering.  This is important in pursuading the *scientific community*
    that it is worth supporting.

4. The end of the project is in sight.  I can practically guarantee a
reasonably good implementation of the bottom rendering layer by the
end of October.  The quality is capped by current technology; the
browser makers need to give us API and font support, but the machinery
will be in place.  It is likely we will have a prototype of the whole
system done by mid fall.  By next spring, I could imagine it being
reasonably integrated into some browsers.

On a more depressing note, a big part of the reason I am enthusiastic
about the prospects of HTML Math is that in my position of technical
researcher at the Geometry Center, I can devote full time to the
project.  As cross disciplinary research facility, the Geometry Center
exists to advance scientific infrastructure development work like
this, work that would go much more slowly in a commercially motivated
private sector.

Unfortunately, the National Science Foundation has announced its
intention to phase out funding for the Geometry Center.  If that
happens, I fear future undertakings like HTML Math will suffer
greatly.  More information can be found at:

http://www.geom.umn.edu/admin/shutdown


Robert Miner
Geometry Center Technical Staff