[whatwg] Mathematics on HTML5
Henri Sivonen
hsivonen at iki.fi
Wed Jun 7 15:06:49 PDT 2006
On Jun 7, 2006, at 20:54, Ian Hickson wrote:
> On Wed, 7 Jun 2006, Mihai Sucan wrote:
>>
>> Yes, it's true authors don't generally jump on whatever comes new
>> (that's the reason MathML is not as widely used as LaTeX).
>
> I would say MathML is not widely used because MathML doesn't work
> in HTML,
> personally.
I think it is an economic problem rather than a technical problem.
It follows that I don't think the slow adoption is *necessarily*
evidence of technical flaws.
The part of population that is interested in mathematical typesetting
is very small in proportion to the population as a whole. As I
understood it at the time, that's why Netscape wasn't interested in
devoting developer time to MathML. I don't know how decision making
works at different browser companies, but I would hazard a guess that
from the point of view of Opera, Apple and Microsoft, the business
case for MathML is rather lousy compared to e.g. SVG, which is known
to have spec problems as well, which conflicts with CSS and which
also doesn't work in text/html.
So far the track record with math typesetting software suggests that
the people who most want it and need it are at the math and physics
departments at universities and from time to time some of those
people actually implement the required software as Free Software but
it takes years. In those cases, there is no business model of making
money off the software itself. Rather, the people are not motivated
by money and cover their opportunity cost to a sufficient degree by
getting paid monthly by a university (or perhaps occasionally by
public sector grants). However, the problem with this model is that
it is still a big deal to get a university actually pay the salary if
the hours go to writing software (as opposed to math or physics
research), because a Free Software math typesetter is kind of like a
public good. It would make sense for all the math and physics
departments in the world to pool money to fund full-time teams
working on MathML software, but from the point of view of any single
university, there's a strong incentive to try to be the free rider
and hope the others get the job done.
XSLT in IE and Firefox was enough to make Apple and Opera follow,
even though it could be legitimately argued, that transformations
from proprietary markup to HTML should happen at server side. Opera,
Firefox and Safari doing SVG is enough to get Chris Wilson on the
record saying that SVG is becoming a part of the "interoperable core"
of Web standards. Apparently MathML in Gecko alone is not enough to
push the others to consider it a part of the "interoperable core".
Hmm. Freaky economic problems are nowadays solved with Google money. :-P
> If we made MathML work in HTML, possibly with rules that make
> the syntax easier (by implying tags as I suggested earlier)
The implied stuff seems scary. I was hoping for no more tag inference
beyond HTML 4 legacy.
FWIW, I completely agree with James Graham that automatic conversion
from LaTeX is *the* top-of-the-list requirement for any kind of Web
math. (It follows that it is futile to insist on semantics that you
can't pull out of LaTeX as it is normally authored.) I gather that
TeX4ht is the state of the art here. That already puts MathML ahead
of anything else that WHAT WG could come up with. Running code rules.
(Forget latex2html.)
If the WHAT WG really intends to address math, I think it would make
sense to start by interviewing Roger Sidje, Jacques Distler, Eitan M.
Gurari and Robert Miner to find out what they think are the problems
that need to be solved (if any).
--
Henri Sivonen
hsivonen at iki.fi
http://hsivonen.iki.fi/
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