Choosing a display method

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

We have examined a variety of browsers and add-on applications that can be used for viewing MathML. In this section, we briefly compare the various rendering options available and evaluate their relative strengths and limitations.

The most important consideration in choosing a display method is the nature of your target audience and the browsers or add-on software they will be using. As far as browsers with native support for MathML are concerned, Mozilla 1.0 and Netscape 7.0 are better choices than Amaya, since they are more mature, fully developed browsers with a more complete set of features. Moreover, Amaya does not support XSLT transformations and therefore cannot be used to render content markup, even with the Universal MathML stylesheet. The two nice features of Amaya are its Structure view, which is useful for viewing the tree structure of a MathML expression, and its support for authoring basic presentation MathML.

Since a very large majority of users have access to IE, it is clearly important to support display of MathML on this browser. This can be done using either MathPlayer or IBM techexplorer as an add-on. Both provide a good-quality rendering of content and presentation markup and come with their own fonts for mathematical symbols.

MathPlayer has some advantages over techexplorer since it is under active development and is slightly easier to download and install. It is compact, fast, and efficient and provides a high-quality rendering. MathPlayer also provides a pop-up menu for copying the MathML source for any equation. This is a useful feature for pasting MathML into other applications. Finally, MathPlayer is distributed free of charge, so it is easily accessible to a large audience.

The only downside of MathPlayer is that it works only on Windows and only with IE 5.5 or later. IBM techexplorer, in contrast, supports display of MathML on Windows, Macintosh, and Linux and works on newer and older versions of both IE and Netscape. Hence, if you want your content to be viewable on a wider variety of platforms and on older browsers, then techexplorer is a better option. The downside of techexplorer is that only the Introductory version is free, and this version lacks some basic features, including the ability to print equations.

Of course, these two options are not mutually exclusive. As explained under The Universal MathML stylesheet, if your target audience has access to newer browsers (IE 5.0 or later or Netscape 6.1 or later), then the best option by far is to author documents using the Universal MathML stylesheet. This allows MathML content to be viewed on a variety of platforms and a variety of browsers using either MathPlayer or techexplorer or the native rendering abilities of the browser itself.

The third add-on mentioned in this chapter, WebEQ, is less useful than either MathPlayer or techexplorer as far as displaying static equations. This is because WebEQ displays MathML equations as Java applets, which are relatively slow to download and run. Hence, a page that contains a large number of equations can take a long time to load. You can significantly reduce the time taken for displaying WebEQ applets by installing the required Java class files on the local machine. However, this requires an extra configuration step on the user's side, which is an obstacle to large-scale use.

The strength of WebEQ lies in the fact that it is well suited for displaying interactive mathematical content. Using WebEQ applets is therefore a good choice if you want to create a large Web site that makes extensive use of interactive mathematical content. This is because the other tools in the WebEQ suite provide powerful support for authoring such sites. These features include automatic batch processing of Web documents, support for authoring mathematical notation in a Web page for sending input to the server, and integration with JavaScript and Java for creating scriptable content. Hence, WebEQ applets are a useful display method in an integrated Web site developed and maintained using the other tools in the WebEQ suite.


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