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Re: The disappointment and embarrasment of MathML (fwd)

To: wwwmath@w3.org

Subject: Re: The disappointment and embarrasment of MathML (fwd)

From: Luis Alvarez <ma6la@bath.ac.uk>

Date: Fri, 14 Apr 2000 15:01:16 +0100 (BST)

From wwwmathrequest@tux.w3.org Fri Apr 14 10: 01:20 2000
Dear Thomas Cool,
"You are probably under the impression that MathML is a good idea."
MathML is an attempt to standardize mathematics in a medium where protocols and
standards are fundamental in order to join the millions of machines and users around
the world. The Internet is a connection between so many different computers and
systems that if we want two random machines to communicate we need a common
interface.
MathML is a good idea because it proposes a solution taylored specifically for the
web. It was inspired by OpenMath's ability to allow communication between computer
algebra systems, and adds a presentation component which is aesthetically pleasant to
the user. Especially on the Internet where good presentation goes hand in hand with
success.
"It is Byzantinely complex, unintuitive, unesthetic, highly undocumented,
it requires complex software support, etcetera."
As was mentioned before, the verbosity of MathML might seem at first decouraging for
any user. But MathML was not designed to be handwritten directly by a human. This is
why there has been a boom in different MathML compliant applications which intend to
edit and produce MathML, readin MathML, display and render MathML. All of this
without the user needing to directly deal with the verbosity of the MathML notation.
However Mathematics are complex and do not lend themselves easily to representation.
Developing a representation which englobes semantic meaning in a way computers can
understand is as Pankaj Kamthan states a non trivial task.
Furthermore the boom of MathML compliant applications is just the proof of the
communities' approval of the MathML idea. I have been involved in the development of
MathML applications for REDUCE, and believe that MathML has helped push down many
barriers. Mainly it has enabled communication between different systems, just as
other standards have done in the past for other purposes (ie TCP/IP). It has imposed
a common representation between so many applications. REDUCE, just as other computer
algebra systems, can now benefit of the sharing of mathematics, and thanks to the
applications, it imposes no heavy burden on the user.
Finally your proposed <mathematics use="..."> ... </mathematics> tag is a curious
idea but for it to work, it would need a browser or a computer algebra package to
have interfaces with all the different computer languages. This would be problematic
when new computer algebra packages would appear or when existing ones would modify
their languages as they evolve in time. Not all browsers and computer algebra systems
would be able to posses the large amount of interfaces and finally only the most used
languages would succeed, leading perhaps to the adoption of a few as standards.
Simply a long path to where we are now.
I believe a few of your comments do have a constructive value, but many others need
revising and a better understanding of the history of mathematics publishing on the
web, OpenMath and MathML.
Luis Alvarez
____________________________________________________
Final Year Student in Computer Software Technology.
Bath University.
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