# Re: Help get math turned back on in Chrome

From: Frédéric WANG <fred.wang@free.fr>
Date: Fri, 08 Feb 2013 09:00:18 +0100
Message-ID: <5114B092.7040108@free.fr>

Hi all,

It seems that we all agree about the importance of MathML for education
and science on the Web in the future. It's good to recall here that the
Web was invented at the CERN in order to share scientific documentation
and that the openness & exchange principles inherited from research was
the key of its success. Certainly, Google engineers have strong
mathematical background and, as Dave said, that's incredible they don't
dedicate much effort to MathML. I doubt that voting for the bug will
make them change their mind, but that won't make the situation worse,
anyway. People mentioned two projects I've been involved (MathJax and
Mozilla) so I think that could be useful if I add my point of view on this.

First, I think it is very bad to see MathJax as just a javascript
rendering engine for MathML or even a rendering engine + a TeX parser.
Certainly, that's currently the main features that make people use it
but that's not all. Otherwise, the rendering engine is essentially
already done and many people on this list have alternative projects to
write or render MathML. So that would actually counterproductive if the
goal was just to write yet another project to replace these alternatives
and to convince users and browser vendors that MathML is not needed,
since MathJax can be used as rendering engine. Fortunately, that's not
the case and the goal of the MathJax team is much more ambitious.
MathJax has features to let the user easily configure the Website and in
particular to load only components that fit his need (AsciiMath, TeX,
MathML input ; NativeMML, SVG, HTML-CSS output, menu, zoom etc), it
allows to attach style to formulas via the classical CSS, has a
Javascript API to let developers write advanced Web applications, it
workarounds browser bugs (even those for the native MathML), has a CDN
service so that any user can easily install it, provides Web fonts and
so forth We have many other plans like implementing graphics packages,
adding more input modes, improving localization & accessibility,
integration in Wikipedia etc So from this point of view, I see MathJax
has a way to really solve the chicken-and-the-egg by building a
community that starts to really use the Web (in contrast to the
Of course, I don't say MathJax is perfect and actually I think MathJax
default output could progressively switch to native MathML when it is
better implemented and that would solve many of the shortcomings that
Dave mentioned, while still continuing to provide a convenient
environment for Web authors and app developers.

Next, someone mentions Peter's idea that we are just at the beginning.
We can compare the situation as the one of HTML in browsers. At the
beginning, people could only create static pages with a rudimentary
design. We had to rely on HTML tables and other hacks to do the layout
while browser vendors started to invent CSS & Javascript features. Then
CMS, wiki syntax etc begin to appear so that people do not need to care
about the fact that "HTML+CSS is too verbose to be written by humans".
It took time to finally standardize all the Web features we use
but there is at least a set of common features that can be used safely
across all the Web browsers, without having to say that "this site is
optimized for ... with a screen resolution of ...". With MathML we have
at least a standard for writing mathematical formulas, we have many
tools to easily write MathML (e.g. from LaTeX) and to integrate it in
your Web site (e.g. MathJax) without having to "optimized" it for a
given user platform. Isn't it time for browser vendors to enter the game
and invest a little money to obtain a decent MathML support? Or should
we continue to "layout our pages with HTML tables", that is to ask
people to install plugins or fonts, to rely on the MathJax output in
ebook & Website or to use other images and other hacks that have been
invented to workaround the lack of MathML support?

Finally, Dave mentioned the role that Mozilla could play to encourage
competitions (cf the parallel with HTML+CSS above and remember the
Microsoft monopole not so long ago). I can't speak for Mozilla
Corporation, but the impression I have is that MathML is not the
priority for them, as they have a much better support than any other
rendering engines and they prefer to focus on other areas where the
competition seems more important (mobile, speed, new Web features etc).
I don't think the managers ever realize that they could take advantage
of MathML and just consider the MathML volunteers as any other small
groups in the Mozilla community. Technically, Google's main contribution
to browsers and mobile devices was to demonstrate that the rendering
engine (especially Javascript) could be very fast
and users are now familiar with this speed. So if in the short term,
MathJax is enabled in Wikipedia & other popular Web sites and if
Firefox's native MathML is enabled by default in MathJax, that could
definitely be a real difference for the users when the page takes less
than one second to display in Firefox and several seconds or even
minutes in Chrome or Webkit-based mobile devices. Moreover, Mozilla's
bet is that building an environment for mobile devices based on Web
openness and technologies will attract app developers and users that are
tired of iOS & Android proprietary APIs. As I said, one of MathJax's
goal is to provide such a Web-based framework to let authors write math
applications. Again, that would be a real benefits for these authors if
they use the MathJax framework + Gecko native MathML rather than trying
to slim down MathJax or workaround security restrictions as this is
unfortunately currently the case for Webkit-based mobile devices...

--
Frédéric Wang
maths-informatique-jeux.com/blog/frederic

Received on Friday, 8 February 2013 07:59:20 GMT

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