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Re: My experiences with MathML -- notes from a non-professional.

From: Robert Miner <RobertM@dessci.com>
Date: Mon, 9 Dec 2002 10:20:47 -0600
Message-Id: <200212091620.KAA28372@wisdom.geomtech.com>
To: pksky@finestplanet.com
CC: www-math@w3.org, www-math@w3.org


Dear Paul,

Thanks for your detailed and interesting report.  You touch on many
subjects, and I expect others will want to comment too, so I'll just
make a few observations.

Starting from the end, you write:

> Again, I am certain that there is an easy pedagogical approach to
> creating MathML documents that is as transparent as the simplest
> "Hello World!" HTML document.  Anyone can program HTML and,
> eventually, anyone will be able to program the same simple HTML
> documents in XML too.  Where does MathML fit into that simple
> potential and why hasn't it been filled already?

The basic problem with math, as I used to tell my students, is that it
is hard.  That is as true for publishing math as it is thinking about
math.  This is relevant because as a result a) math editing and
display software is difficult and expensive to develop, and b) there
aren't so many organizations and individuals willing to pay for it.  

So it has been a long, hard struggle to get decent display of MathML
into browsers, which has happened only recently.  And until that had
happened, it was not really possible to develop editing tools.  Now
that web browsers can display MathML, I predict you won't have long to
wait until there will be MathML equation editors available for
Dreamweaver, XML Spy and similar tools.

Following on in a similar vein, you lamented:

> It is the gravest disappointment to me that the technology
> established by the World Wide Web Consortium for doing precisely
> this has failed me in my goals.

I think it is unfair to blame the World Wide Web Consortium, since it
is one of very, very few organizations that has been willing to spend
resources on supporting mathematics on the web.  Your complaint is
really with the individual members organizations that are only now
beginning to provide the kind of mainstream tools people in your
situation need to put math on the web.  

But even there, I would argue that it isn't a matter of not
wanting/trying to provide these tools, but rather of limited
resources.  It took a group of volunteers nearly 3 years to build
MathML support into Mozilla.  It took Design Science about 2 years and
hundreds of thousands of dollars to build MathPlayer.  If there were
any expectation of making millions from math, Microsoft or AOL/Time
Warner would have done it in a few months years ago.  As it is, the
remarkable thing is that there is math support in major browsers at
all, and it isn't surprising it has taken a long time.

However, these apologies don't help you with your immediate problem.
On that score I have a couple of suggestions.

1) Since you have a copy of MathType already, I wanted to point out
   that from the Preferences | Translators menu, you can set the cut
   and paste format to MathML.  This would allow you to cut and paste
   equations from MathType into either XMLSpy or Visual Studio.NET.  

   If you include the MathType data in the MathML (on of the options
   in the Translators dialog) you could also cut and paste equation
   back from your document into MathType. 

   Obviously this isn't as convenient as the kind of integration you
   get between Word and MathType, but it works okay.

2) Since you looked a bit at TeX, another option you might consider is
   using the WebEQ Publisher.  With the Publisher, you edit your HTML
   normally, using Dreamweaver for example.  When you want to put in
   an equation, you just put the TeX code right in the text.  In other
   words, you might write let $f(x) = \frac{g(x)}{x^2-2}$.

   Once you have finished, then you run the Publisher with this
   document as a source file.  It produces another (X)HTML page as
   output where the TeX has been converted to MathML, and depending on
   the options you set, the right header declarations have been made
   to publish the document with the XSL Math stylesheet, or
   MathPlayer, etc.

   This isn't a WYSIWYG solution, of course, but it does let you use
   whatever (X)HTML authoring tool you wish, and it is a pretty simple
   way of preparing documents with MathML.

Finally, you commented that you were hampered by the lack of a schema
for MathML in your efforts to code MathML by hand.  On that score
there is good news.  The Math Working Group just finished preparing a
draft of a schema for MathML.  It should go online within a day or
two.  If there is some hold up, I'll arrange to send you a private
copy.

--Robert

------------------------------------------------------------------
Dr. Robert Miner                                RobertM@dessci.com
MathML 2.0 Specification Co-editor                    651-223-2883
Design Science, Inc.   "How Science Communicates"   www.dessci.com
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Received on Monday, 9 December 2002 11:21:36 GMT

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