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Re: Completing suggestion on the MathML issue

From: Tim Berners-Lee <timbl@w3.org>
Date: Mon, 1 May 2000 13:54:38 -0400
Message-ID: <00bf01bfb396$51e63190$84001d12@politburo.w3.org>
To: "Thomas Cool" <cool@dataweb.nl>
Cc: <www-math@w3.org>

You criticize the W3C and propose  "that scientists co-operate into solving
this confusion, and that they establish a clear standard for the use of
mathematics on the
computer and the internet."

That is exactly what has happened.  I did not design MathML. The W3C staff
provided a place where those who felt as you did could meet and make the
W3C *is* a consortium of industry and other interested parties, not a
company and in fact not even a legal entity.   The MathML standard was
designed by the scientists and companies involved, including WRI. When these
people, whom you suggest should produce the standard, do produce a standard,
then the way to make your comments felt would ideally to have joined them
earlier on.  (maybe you did make this comment earlier and I am unware of

It seems that a large part of your frustration is with the XML syntax. That
is quite understandable.  Whilst it might seem Byzantine to you, when
compared with a more natural math-sepecific language, you should realize
that to a piece of software, such as a mainstream browser, which already has
an XML parser, the XML syntax vanishes as MathML is directly converted into
an data tree.  Whilst I was not involved in the group myself, I can see that
to expect wide deployment of Mathematics based on XML is much more practical
than to ask every browser to adopt a parser for a completely new syntax,
involving a lot of language-specific grammar.

So if you are used to Mathematica, XML may look like a mess. If one is used
to XML, Mathematica may look like too much extra trouble.  Life, and
standards processes in particular, are full of the confluence of different
ways of doing things, and the associated cultural shock.  The only way to
all work together is for each to understand where the other person is coming
from.  The MathML working group started with a sound understanding of many
formats including Mathematica. Perhaps you could look at MathML in terms of
the output parse tree rather than its syntax, and see whether your criticism
still holds. You might like to separate your criticsm of the XML syntax from
the criticsm of the MathML structure. You could also look at the definition
of conversions between Mathmatica and MathML and see whether there is a
mapping which you are happy with.

I find many of your other comments rather vague ("reinventing the wheel,
making it square, and put the horse behind the cart") and charged with
emotional invective ("horror", "The Byzantine Moguls of MathML"....) which
make it difficult for me to asses where there is a clear technical argument
and where there is not.

Tim Berners-Lee

-----Original Message-----
From: Thomas Cool <cool@dataweb.nl>
To: timbl@w3.org <timbl@w3.org>
Cc: www-math@w3.org <www-math@w3.org>
Date: Monday, May 01, 2000 4:10 AM
Subject: Completing suggestion on the MathML issue

>Dear Tim Berners-Lee,
>Earlier I have sent you my comments on MathML (with a copy to the working
>group). My apologies if you feel burdened by these emails. But I cannot
>escape the impression that this matter is something for your desk, since
>the group is too pre-occupied with its apparent success.
>Taking stock: My suggestion is that you help that something like the
>statement is included in the MathML 2.0 document, summary and press
>"MathML 2.0 is not to be seen as a standard for the use of mathematics on
>the computer and internet but rather as a discussion paper in the context
>of the development of such a standard. Currently there are various systems
>for doing mathematics with the computer, and this creates quite some
>confusion. This confusion is increased by the issues of copyright and
>ownership of language since many such programs have a commercial basis. The
>advise should be that scientists co-operate into solving this confusion,
>and that they establish a clear standard for the use of mathematics on the
>computer and the internet. Also governments, educators and businesses would
>benefit from such a standard. Such a standard would be based on these
>principles: (1) that the language of mathematics cannot be copyright or
>owned, and (2) that there has been developing a practical and elegant
>standard in and by the way that people have been using mathematics over the
>centuries. In line with these principles, it must be understood that MathML
>2.0 differs from existing commercial formats only for the reason that it is
>more useful in the short run to avoid the risk of litigation and hold-up.
>This decision in no way implies acceptance of existing commercial claims
>about copyright or ownership in the realm of the language of mathematics
>and its representation on the computer and the internet."
>This is the most important suggestion that I can do. My paper
>'disappointment and embarrassment' contains more suggestions in detail, but
>this requires the attention of a more interested reader.
>Sincerely yours,
>Thomas Cool
>also available at
Received on Monday, 1 May 2000 13:54:53 UTC

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