From: Walter T. Stephens <ceramist@worldnet.att.net>

Date: Tue, 18 Apr 2000 01:29:01 -0500

Message-ID: <004601bfa8ff$65359340$37994b0c@thecomputer>

To: <www-math@w3.org>

Cc: "Thomas Cool" <cool@dataweb.nl>, <timbl@w3.org>

Date: Tue, 18 Apr 2000 01:29:01 -0500

Message-ID: <004601bfa8ff$65359340$37994b0c@thecomputer>

To: <www-math@w3.org>

Cc: "Thomas Cool" <cool@dataweb.nl>, <timbl@w3.org>

While not trying to further the cloud the argument, I believe there are some missing features to this discussion that may lend some clarity. MathML and Mathematica (or Maple, MathCAD, REDUCE, etc., etc.) are not similar items that can be compared. The proper discussion on MathML should follow a similar argument from many years ago when the WWW first became popular with Mosaic. The basic discussion was to decide how a user would view a web page. The question was between using a text editing/rendering program, such as MSWord or WordPerfect, with their proprietary data format or to have a separate but new Web renderer, such as Mosaic, and the then new text format HTML. The conclusion was that using proprietary software and their data format would require all users to purchase and communicate with commercial level software that was not easily edited or rendered by other programs in the future. HTML defined a text based standard that all current and future text editors and renders could choose to support but would free all users from buying any additional software. The entire WWW population could view HTML web pages with simple free browsers, edit the page in simple ASCII text editor, and have support in all current and future software. This same issue has now risen with regards to MathML. In simple terms, MathML like HTML allows anyone to author and render mathematics on the web. However, there is nothing to say that Mathematica or other packages, free or commercial, are not needed. Computer algebra programs will become more useful when people can communicate their results, independent of the authoring environment, across the web. One can envision saving a Mathematica file or copying an equation into a MathML format and posting it onto a web page. Another user can then take that expression and insert it into a their desired working environment. Not everyone wants to purchase Mathematica (no offense to WRI) so using Mathematica is not a valid short term solution. This is similar to the argument of using MSWord files for web pages: it sounds good but not everyone wants to buy the commercial package just to read someone's report and there are other users who like their text editing software. As a short term solution, many people render mathematics as GIF or JPEG images on their web pages. While a practical short term solution, there are extended benefits to having access to the actual data in the mathematical expression such as content searching, data manipulation, language translation, and expression evaluation. Translators from TeX and other presentation based formats into HTML or DHTML greatly increase the degree data access. The advent of XML/XSL technology will complete the separation of the data format and the rendering environment in all future applications. People will develop new concepts for working with complex ideas and then use current rendering software to enable users to access these new concepts. As their new ideas gain importance or recognized use, developers will deliver better authoring environments suited to the underlying data format such as shown when the HTML authoring moved from a simple text editor to more visual WYSIWYG based programs. One can even go further back in computing history and discuss the development of the ASCII data set for text files. Different developers could have encoded text with a different character set for the 256 possible values. Instead a standard was developed to communicate simple text between programs resulting in a great many more free and commercial text applications that were delivered to all users. When a standard does not exist, the user can sometimes be held captive to single source providers that charge high fees in order to maintain access to their data each year. In both the short and long term, standards empower freedom and advancement of data access and content and create opportunities for economic competition between developers leading to a better product for the user. As for some concerns about the complexity of MathML syntax compared to Mathematica, the proper comparison is between MathML and the data structure of a Mathematica file. No one would want to type a Mathematica file by hand and such is the same for MathML. For any MathML authoring environment, I would believe that typing "(a+b)^2" from the keyboard will be clearly understood. The user does not necessarily need to understand or be aware of the data format since authoring and rendering environments will drive toward compliant user interfaces and away from cumbersome techniques as the user base increases. With regards to the verbosity of MathML and more generally XML/SGML, I would state that new advanced markup languages will be coming later with more features and enhanced data constructs. But let's just use XML/SGML for now since it's a good solution in the short run. Could MathML be better? Without a doubt but the math using community will have a good start with MathML. I enjoyed the initial web pages using basic HTML years ago knowing that the future would bring better and better features. I should not need to purchase an entire commercial package to enjoy and learn about new mathematical concepts and ideas. As the implementation of mathematics on the web advances, having a mathematics standard such as MathML will allow all users and developers to work, complete, and communicate in this exciting area. Walter T. Stephens, Ph.D. ceramist@worldnet.att.netReceived on Tuesday, 18 April 2000 02:29:40 UTC

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