(Excerpt from "The MathML Handbook" by Pavi Sandhu)

Most technical documents displayed on the Web currently are produced using one of two methods. The first method is to use a word-processing application like Microsoft Word for the text and to insert equations using the built-in Equation Editor, or its professional version, MathType. The Word document can then be converted into HTML using Word's Sava As HTML feature, which converts all the equations into images. Users who have MathType, the professional version of Equation Editor, also have the option of using its MathPage feature to do the HTML conversion. This gives better results than Word's built-in HTML conversion, especially in the matter of integrating equations with the surrounding text. Alternatively, the Word document can be converted to PDF using Adobe Acrobat Distiller.

The second method, which is popular in the mathematical research community, is to use a TeX-based macro package such as LaTeX to author documents, freely mixing text and equations as desired. TeX offers a high degree of control over the final output and allows authors to produce publication-quality typesetting of mathematics. The finished document can then be converted to HTML using programs like LaTeX2HTML or TeX4ht, which convert all equations into images. Alternatively, you can use the pdftex utility to convert TeX documents into PDF files.

However, as discussed under Other methods of displaying mathematics on the web, both images and PDF files have severe limitations for representing equations. These include poor image quality for viewing and printing, longer download time, lack of integration with the surrounding text, and inability to reuse the equations in another context. MathML was, of course, specially designed to overcome all these limitations. Now that all the major browsers support MathML display, the use of MathML to replace traditional methods of displaying mathematics on the Web is bound to increase.

Since MathML is highly verbose, it is tedious and error-prone to author by hand, and the task of authoring MathML is best handled by software. With the growth of interest in MathML in the last few years, several authoring applications have begun to support MathML as an output format. Typically, these applications provide an equation editor-type interface for authoring mathematical notation. The resulting formula can then be converted into MathML using a translation mechanism, usually implemented through a menu command.

This chapter reviews the main features of some of the leading applications available for authoring MathML. These applications are of two main types:

  • Dedicated equation editors, such as MathType or WebEQ, that focus on authoring formulas and are intended to be used in combination with another word-processing program.
  • Full-featured authoring applications that can be used for creating complete documents, such as Mathematica, Publicon, or Scientific Word.

Of course, a significant number of technical documents are authored by TeX and LaTeX users, who are accustomed to writing mathematical notation by hand in a plain text document. Such authors may prefer to retain a TeX-based system for authoring and then use a conversion program to produce a document for display on the Web. For a discussion of the various tools and methods available for translating TeX/LaTeX documents to XHTML+MathML, see Converting between TEX and MathML.


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Copyright © CHARLES RIVER MEDIA, INC., Massachusetts (USA) 2003
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