W3C home > Mailing lists > Public > www-math@w3.org > April 2006

Re: Technical reasons for some options taken on design of MathML

From: White Lynx <whitelynx@operamail.com>
Date: Wed, 12 Apr 2006 15:55:25 +0400
To: www-math@w3.org
Message-Id: <20060412115525.5191843AA1@ws5-1.us4.outblaze.com>

David Carlisle wrote:
> As  for  popular,  it's  clear  that  MathML  has  been  vastly  more  popular  than  
> any  previous  SGML  or  XML  markup  for  mathematics.   

I am 100% sure that if Math WG would do nothing at all and HTML WG would just add couple of lines
<!ENTITY % Misc.class "| dformgrp | dformula | formula">
<!ENTITY % math PUBLIC "ISO 12083:1998//DTD Math//EN" "iso-12083-math.dtd">%math; 
to XHTML DTD we would have much better web today. For me it is cristally clear that
math community would quickly embrace ISO 12083 approach. Consider for instance:
This is paragraph that contains famous formula
E = mc<sup>2</sup>
It fits much better in the general scope of HTML document then
This is paragraph that contains famous formula
<math mode="display" xmlns="http://www.w3.org/1998/Math/MathML">
Judge yourself, which one would have larger user community? 
Simple, easy to learn and easy to use ISO stanadard or bloated, contraversial W3C recommendation.

> and  other
>  SGML  DTD  for  mathematics  (eg  Elsevier's)  were  pretty  much  only  used  by
>  large  publishing  houses.  

1. SGML itself was not widely used (unlike XML).
2. Web delivery of SGML documents was a problem (browsers did not support it, and ability to display mathematics in browsers is a key motivation for switching to XML) 
3. Lack of Unicode support in SGML tools made it less attractive

> many  of  them  are  switching  or  thinking  of
> switching  to  MathML  and  MathML  is  used  in  so  many  more  contexts.

The more people are switching to MathML the more important internal problems of MathML become. 
Unfortunately W3C does not want to recongize and address these problems and such an attitude undermines development of scientific web.

> If  it's  so  clear  that  ISO  12083  is  superior,  why  was  it  not  picked  up  to
> be  used  in  Computer  algebra  systems  
> (mathematica  and  maple  both  support  mathml) 

ISO 12083 is Electronic Manuscript Standard, as name suggests it is oriented on electronic publishing.

> or  word  processors  (Word+MathPlayer,   OpenOffice,  AbiWord  and  
> SciWriter  for  example  all  support  MathML)  

Authoring tool makers constitute the only part of MathML community 
that could be happy with artificially bloated syntax. Markup that being unreadable and 
unprocessable by humans, forces people to buy WYSIWYG toys, is perfect solution
for commercial software makers, who if I am not mistaken played crusial role in making
"political decision" that resulted current MathML syntax.

> Plus  of  course  support  in  web  browsers.
The reason why ISO 12083 is not good candidate for being supported by browsers
is technical. ISO 12083 was designed before the current web standards. It could be 
used with ISO other standards (SGML and DSSSL), but once one replaces ISO SGML+DSSSL with W3C 
XML+CSS which is completely different framework, one immidiately realizes that ISO 12083 
has to be changed in order to work consistently with the rest of web standards (including
CSS and DOM). Resolving this problem is one of things that Math WG could do, 
but instead MathML inherited all incompatibility problems of ISO 12083 and added even more 
headache to browser developers. I wonder why? In the same time I think that browser
vendors should be involved in WG somehow, otherwise you tend to write things that
by design are not suitable for implementing in CSS rendering engine which is
core of any modern browser. As a result MathML is implemented "on the top"
without decent integration with the rest of engine, this is what we see in MathML enabled 
Gecko, in MSIE with MathPlayer, in Opera with UserJS (appropriate UserJS is avilable for recent builds of Opera 9)
and Prince Formatter (work on MathML in Prince is still in progress). 
In these implementations MathML is modified internally to make it suitable for formatting in CSS rendering engine
and needless to say such a modification affect CSS and DOM that are either partly disabled or no longer work as
they are supposed to. 

> We  are  currently  looking  for  requirements  for  improvements  to  MathML  for
> a  possible  MathML3,  but  clearly  MathML  is  not  going  to  make  a  backward
> incompatible  change  to  its  script  markup.

Once the main design principles remain the same, I see simply no space for any progress.

> I  suspect  that  what  you  want  to  do  is  design  your  own
> XML  DTD  and  then  have  stylesheets  that  translate  this  to  MathML  for
> public  use.

Do you mean that MathML is more suitable for public use then anything else?
Let us consider simple example. With custom DTD I can type my articles in plain text editor
like EmEditor ar Textpad without using WYSIWYG tools (WYSIWYG is good solution for teenage girls who like to weave dreams thinking 
that what they see is what they get, but is less attractive for scientist who wants to encode formulae accurately),
I can put them on web like this: http://geocities.com/chavchan/xml10/
And I can view them in almost any browser including Opera, Safari, Mozilla and MSIE (argument is valid
for simple articles, too complex formulae would require better CSS support in Mozilla, Safari and MSIE, unfortunately 
the day when we'll get interoperable CSS2.1 support in all major browsers is still several years away, but progress is clear).

Now why should I translate them in MathML and how exactly it would improve user experience?
>From the first glance it looks like I have to pay more for bandwidth (MathML markup is several times heavier),
site visitors can drink some coffee while page is loading (here are examples http://hermes.aei.mpg.de/ , can any browser render MathML incrementally?
In XML+CSS approach at least two browsers Opera and MSIE render page incrementally), 
I will add "Please download MathPlayer plugin" message for MSIE users, ask Safari users to download another browser specially for viewing my site, 
ask Opera users to get another UserJS patch and Mozilla users to download extra fonts. 
What a great browsing experince! And this is only one part of the artificially created problem known as MathML.
So why should one translate something to MathML?

Robert  Miner wrote:
> For  a  credible,  responsible  standards  organization  such  as  W3C,  that
> imposes  strenuous  backwards  compatibility  constraints.
XLink, MathML and XSL FO recomendations left me no chances to consider W3C as credible and responsible organization. 

> W3C  cannot  and  should
> not  favor  the  interests  of  one  particular  interest  group  over  others.
Then why it favours interest of authoring tools makers and ignors the rest of interested parties including
but by no means limited to authors that need reasonable, human processable markup, browser developers that need markup compatible 
with the rest of standards issued by the same organization (W3C), users that would be happier with less bloated solution and
database administarators that compress even latex files to save space? 

> This  is  particularly  true,  as  I  explained  in  an  earlier  message,  since
> W3C  is  directly  accountable  to  it  dues-paying  member  organizations,  and
> only  indirectly  accountable  to  individuals  with  no  official  standing,
> such  as  yourself.
Are not browser vendors dues-paying organizations? 

> But  I  encourage  you  take  the  trouble  to
> understand  the  interests  of  the  stakeholders  in  the  discussion,  and  the
> constraint  that  apply  when  considering  changes  to  MathML.

Personally I understand interests of stackholdes but don't plan to respect any "interests" that 
clearly undermine development of scientific web, reverse evolution of mathematical markup
 and may bring irreparable damage to scientific community. If number of MathML content on web
will grow significantly it will be impossible to make drastical changes in MathML and thus
all current problems of this markup language will stay with us forever in the form of heavy 
legacy that restricts scientific web from rushing ahead. When standards become much worse then they 
were ten and even twenty years ago it is time to ring the bells.

> Below  I  claim  there  are
> millions  of  documents  that  use  MathML.   I  should  have  said  millions  of
> pages.   
Some time ago I was searching for scientific articles with MathML formulae to test
UserJS implementation of MathML in Opera and failed to find anything but http://hermes.aei.mpg.de/
If someone could tell me where these millions of pages using MathML reside, it would simplify testing process a lot.

Bruce Miller wrote:
> However,  I  think  that  your  comments  would  be  more
>  productive  
> ---  assuming  you're  actually
> trying  to  have  a  constructive  discussion
Productive in what sense? It clear that W3C will not change basic design principles of MathML
no matter how constructive, consistent and relevant our comments are. W3C left no space for productivity
and we are forced to seek for niches either in current web stanadrds (XML/CSS/ECMAScript/DOM)
or take more radical approach and create something completely new like Juan wan't to do.
Inspite the fact that Math WG is unlikely to change anything I reserve right to express my concerns regarding design of MathML.

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Received on Wednesday, 12 April 2006 11:55:59 UTC

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