W3C home > Mailing lists > Public > www-math@w3.org > February 2013

Re: Help get math turned back on in Chrome

From: Dave Barton <dbarton@mathscribe.com>
Date: Thu, 7 Feb 2013 13:57:31 -0800
To: www-math@w3.org
Message-Id: <4F43AF47-C166-4807-B2E2-D6DB84D56B47@mathscribe.com>
On Wed, Feb 6, 2013 at 3:11 PM, Carl Malartre <malartre@scolab.com> wrote:
Please be respectful of the Chrome folks. What's the proof that they are dishonest and not caring?

Development is hard and manpower is finite and they have to select what they support. They want a good product and I think they have the right and authority to say "the code is not yet production ready".

They said "We hope to turn it on in some future release.". You don't believe them?

On Feb 7, 2013, at 6:14 AM, Daniel Marques wrote:
> It is clear that users and the industry in general need MathML in the browser. Letís be supportive with the chromium team and if they say that it will be available in a future release, well, just say that we believe them.
> In the meanwhile we should help in improving the MathML implementation in Chrome and do all possible to convince them that it is worth to put it back as soon as possible.

This is a very important discussion, possibly critical to MathML. I really think we should hash this out here so everyone understands what's at stake.

I worked as a volunteer for a year with the webkit (Chrome) developers, especially the ones at Google. They are not stupid or evil; some I consider good friends. However, Google is very powerful, and frankly a bit insular at times.

The historic problem with MathML, as Ian Hickson (chief HTML5 editor) and others have pointed out, is the chicken-and-the-egg problem: people don't use it in web pages because it doesn't have good browser support, so browser vendors don't bother supporting it because it's not in a lot of web pages. Refining that, if Chrome waits for Internet Explorer, and Internet Explorer waits for Chrome, then neither will get it. In this state, it's hard for web page authors to rely on MathML support. To help break this logjam is the reason I volunteered.

Google has lots of Chrome developers working on features for web designers and graphic artists. They, and the rest of the webkit companies, don't have even a fraction of a person assigned to MathML. While Google may hope to turn MathML back on in the future, at this time they are not working to make that happen.

One reason for hope is digital textbooks (e-pub). These will soon need a good MathML implementation. My understanding is that the reference implementation for e-pub uses Chrome and a javascript library (MathJax). Such a library can emulate MathML, but for may reasons (speed, integration with CSS and javascript and localization/SVG/etc.) it's much better to implement MathML natively in the browser, and just use the javascript library to work around limitations. For this reason, should e-pub work shift from using Chrome/webkit to using Firefox?

Look, I'm not making this suggestion as some kind of a threat. It's an honest question, and there are experts on this list that can answer it much better than I. (I might also mention that there are experts on this list, including developers of other MathML implementations, that would freely provide advice or in some cases even code to webkit/Chrome.) The truth is that none of the webkit/Chrome developers really has any knowledge or interest in MathML, so frankly they just see it as putting a burden on the whole project. But the MathML code is small, currently about 2,000 lines not counting copyright notices, and a fraction of a developer could easily maintain and slowly improve it.

This is the w3c mathml mailing list. I think it is appropriate that we discuss here what it means for MathML if Chrome does not support it, and frankly what that means for Chrome. We need to pick a way forward, and when we achieve clarity I suggest we all go back to Neil's e-mail at <http://lists.w3.org/Archives/Public/www-math/2013Feb/0005.html>, link to it, and publicize it. In the next few years, literally hundreds of millions of students, scientists and engineers will want to view mathematics natively in web browsers. But if lots of people don't star the chromium issue as Neil suggests, Google will conclude from the lack of MathML in web pages that it really isn't a priority after all, and there simply will be no resources put on it.

Hope this helps, Dave B.
Received on Thursday, 7 February 2013 21:58:01 UTC

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