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Math on the Web: A Status Report
Focus: Authoring Tools
by Robert Miner and Paul Topping, Design Science, Inc.
The last six months have seen very significant developments in Math
on the Web. Effective, ubiquitous support for math notation in
mainstream web browsers is finally becoming a reality. This edition
of the Status Report is devoted to taking a closer look at the new
generation of Math on the Web technology. We begin by examining
recent breakthroughs in browser support, followed by a rundown of
notable news and events for the last six months. In the Focus
section, we conclude by looking at the status of authoring tools
for this technology.
Big Strides Toward Math in Browsers
By most accounts, the rise to prominence of the World Wide Web
started to take off in 1993. From the outset, critics were quick to
point out that the utility of the web for scientific communication was
severely limited by its lack of support for mathematical notation.
Already by 1994, work had begun at the
World Wide Web Consortium
(W3C) , the standards body for the web, to develop an effective
framework for Math on the Web. Since that time, work on Math on the Web has proceeded steadily in many quarters.
As veteran Math on the Web observers will tell you, however, the
major milestones of the last five years have all addressed different
facets of the problem. The frustrating result has been that the
individual pieces didn't fit together into a complete solution. As a
consequence, from the point of view of the average author, there has
been little tangible progress in support for math in mainstream
browsers. Starting with Internet Explorer 6 and the soon to be
released Mozilla 1.0/Netscape 6 browsers, this situation is changing. The 6.x browsers implement a number of new standards-based technologies.
Long in development, these new technologies make possible a quantum leap in math support.
The W3C has traditionally been a staunch supporter of math.
Although most W3C member organizations support the idea of developing standards
for scientific communication, most have little interest in actually implementing
math-specific features themselves.
As a consequence, the emphasis at W3C naturally turned
toward the development of general-purpose extension mechanisms that
could accommodate math rendering. While on the surface, native math
support in browsers might seem preferable, a case can be made that
the drive for general extension mechanisms actually serves the
scientific community better. For one thing, dealing with math
notation requires expert knowledge, and is better handled by companies
focusing on that niche. For another, it permits competition between
vendors of math renderers, which generally enhances quality.
The HTML Platform
The downside of using general extension mechanisms to handle math
is that those mechanisms needed to be exceptionally powerful. Math is
essentially a very complicated kind of text, and displaying text is
the most basic and fundamental thing a browser does. Thus, developing
mechanisms that could accommodate math has meant extending virtually
every aspect of a browser's core rendering functionality.
The job of extending a
web browser to handle math notation breaks
into two broad subtasks. First, there must be a way of encoding math
notation in the page. Second, there needs to be a way to teach the
browser to display it, which is mostly a matter of hooking up add-on
software of some sort. The first subtask is clearly something that
needs to be handled in a standard way, so that an author can create a
single document that works on all platforms. However, the second
subtask is inherently browser-specific.
The task of encoding math notation in a web page was already
largely solved in 1998 by the XML and MathML Recommendations, which
respectively specify a general syntax for web documents and a
specific vocabulary for describing math. Of course, the situation is
actually a little more complicated since web pages containing MathML must also
properly interact with standard ways of manipulating documents from
scripts to make them dynamic, style information encapsulated in stylesheets, and so on. Nonetheless, the main outlines of what we
might call the semantic extension mechanism have been worked out in a
series of W3C Recommendations over the intervening years and are now
In past editions of this Report, we have been calling the collection
of W3C Recommendations which spell out the extension architecture for
accommodating math in web pages "The HTML Platform". The main technologies are XML,
HTML, and MathML for encoding content, XSL and CSS for styling and
features in a page.
Exciting New Math Rendering Technologies
While MathML and the other constituent technologies of the HTML
platform were being developed at W3C, much effort has been devoted to
the second subtask, the software extension problem. A number of
vendors have developed math rendering components for specific browsers
and operating systems using Netscape Plug-ins, ActiveX controls, Java
applets, and so on. However, in previous generations of web software,
the integration between add-on software components and browsers has
left a great deal to be desired from the point of view of math
Older software extension mechanisms tacitly assumed that add-on
components would primarily be dealing with interactive content at the
paragraph level in a document. As a result, applets, plug-ins and
Active X controls don't work very well for rendering inline math
notation interspersed with text. There were serious problems with
alignment, sizing, and printing. Since the last Status Report in July
2001, there has been significant progress on improving the integration
of math and text rendering in three different environments.
Microsoft recently introduced a new
, which allows low-level integration
between an add-on component and Internet
Explorer 6 on Windows. With Behaviors, it is
possible to write add-on browser components that eliminate the earlier
problems with alignment, sizing and printing. Using the new Behavior
technology, Design Science has developed a new MathML rendering
component called MathPlayer. For IE users on Windows, MathPlayer
promises much faster and more seamless MathML rendering than anything
available until now. Since over 80% of the world browser usage is currently Internet
Explorer on Windows, MathPlayer is a key ingredient in the browser
math pie. MathPlayer is free in exchange for your email address. You
can get it at http://www.dessci.com.
Better HTML Layout
If MathPlayer represents a new standard of performance for MathML
rendering in browsers, the second major advance in rendering is at the
CSS control over HTML layout in the 6.x browsers, it has become much
more feasible to produce legible, if somewhat crude, renderings of
MathML expressions using only standard techniques of HTML layout and
do math layout as well, the implementations of these technologies
differed widely in browsers. In the new generation of software, the
underlying standards have matured, and the implementation of the
standards are more uniform and complete. Because the math rendering
is being done with standard HTML techniques, it doesn't suffer from
any of the integration problems that add-on component-based rendering
does. It just isn't very fast or pretty. However, its existence as
an acceptable fallback in standard browsers makes the benefits of
MathML accessible to a much larger group of users.
MathML Support in Mozilla
The third significant development in the math rendering area is the
announcement that MathML is now scheduled for inclusion in the 1.0
release of the Mozilla browser, currently slated for April 2002. The Mozilla approach to solving the add-on rendering component
integration problem has been to build MathML support directly in the
browser. The Mozilla announcement is significant because the commercial
Netscape 6.x browser releases are closely based on the open source
Mozilla code, and official inclusion of MathML in Mozilla increases
likelihood of math support in Netscape proper. The
developments with Mozilla are also significant because they
potentially have a major impact on Macintosh users. Microsoft's
Behavior technology is not available in Internet Explorer for the Mac.
As a consequence, MathML support in Netscape is probably the most
likely avenue for high-quality, high-performance math support in a Mac
The Universal Math Stylesheet
Given the advances in rendering software and coding standards,
only one obstacle to ubiquitous and effective math support remains:
different rendering technologies require bits of "glue code" to signal
the browser how to handle the MathML equations it might encounter in a
document. In some cases, this extra code takes the form of special
declarations in the document header. In others, special wrapper code
is required around each equation. In still other cases, a little code
is required in both places. On the surface, this would seem to make
it impossible for an author to publish a single document that
simultaneously works in all rendering environments.
The solution envisioned in the HTML Platform is a standardized
way of transforming parts of a document on the fly according to rules
in a stylesheet. This powerful new stylesheet language is called
Extensible Stylesheet Language (XSL), which became a W3C Recommendation in
October. XSL rules can take into account what browser is being used
to view the page, and what add-on rendering components are installed.
This enables authors to ignore the "glue code" that used to be
necessary to fire up a specific rendering component to handle math
notation. Instead, authors generate documents which are strictly
standards-compliant, and at run time, the stylesheet running in the
reader's browser adds whatever glue code is necessary to render MathML
based on what is installed on the reader's system.
Internet Explorer 6 and
Netscape 6 are the first browsers to fully implement XSL, the last major piece of
the HTML Platform. To capitalize on the new technology, the W3C Math Working
Group has recently released a "Universal Math" XSL stylesheet, developed by
David Carlisle of LaTeX fame and an editor of the MathML 2.0 Specification. The
stylesheet currently works with IE6 and Netscape 6.2, and
produces legible renderings of strictly standards-compliant web documents on a
wide variety of platforms.
The Universal Math Stylesheet searches through a list of possible
rendering configurations and uses the first one that matches the
reader's system. Authors can customize the order of the search,
to specify a preferred rendering configuration on systems
that have more than one available. In general, the stylesheet
attempts to use native implementations and add-on renderers first. If
approximate traditional math layout in 6.x browsers.
The math rendered by the stylesheet ranges from crude but
legible to very high quality depending on the combination of browser,
operating system and add-on software. But for the first time,
with the Universal Math stylesheet an author can be relatively certain
that most of his or her readers will actually be able to see MathML
equations in a web page.
Better Image-based Math support for Older Browsers
While superior solutions for Math on the Web are coalescing around
the new 6.x browser technology, it is a fact that the vast installed base of 4.x browsers will continue to be a major force for several years. For this reason, images are still the
best choice for reaching the largest audience. As is frequently the
case in the history of technology, the mature and optimized solutions
from the preceding generation of technology remain superior in
practical application for quite some time as the bugs are worked out
of new, immature technologies.
Handling Math on the Web via images is a good
case in point. Web technology for images is highly advanced at this point, and
Design Science MathType 5 is the last word in using images for Math on the Web.
MathType 5 includes new MathPage technology which is a sophisticated Save As Web Page feature,
that can produce either HTML + MathML or HTML + GIF documents from a Word
produce web pages with high-quality equation graphics. At the expense
of being able to change the text size, equations are aligned and sized to
match the surrounding text. Images are generated at several
resolutions to match different display settings as well as printer
resolution. Equations print at 300 dpi, or standard laser
quality, which eliminates a long-standing weakness of using images for
rendering produced by the Universal Math stylesheet, which also seeks
to use only native browser capabilities in an attempt to reach a broad
audience. However, by using high-quality graphics and studiously
avoiding new features only found in 6.x browsers, MathPage technology is able to
simultaneously produce much higher-quality rendering while reaching the
vastly larger audience using 4.x or later browsers.
While the progress toward ubiquitous, effective MathML support in
browsers over the last six months has been enormous, it is still the
province of early adopters, who enjoy
installing the latest versions of
software packages and don't mind troubleshooting the occasional
glitch. By contrast, MathType's new MathPage technology offers a very easy and high-quality
alternative for everyone else while the new technology matures.
This section spotlights important developments that have been announced since
the last edition of the Status Report was published in July 2001. The list may
not be complete, and the authors apologize in advance for any omissions.
- MathPlayer 1.0 beta released.
Design Science announced 
the release of MathPlayer, a MathML rendering behavior for Internet Explorer
for Windows. MathPlayer offers significantly better performance and browser
integration than previously available.
- Universal Math Stylesheet released. The
W3C Math Working Group  made
available an XSL stylesheet which attempts to determine the optimal way of
displaying a document containing MathML given the browser and available add-on
software on a reader's system.
- MathType 5 released.
Design Science announced 
the release of MathType 5, the professional version of the Equation Editor in
Microsoft Office in October. The new release includes sophisticated new
features for saving Word documents containing equations as web pages.
- MathML to SVG prototype converter announced.
SchemaSoft made available  prototype software to convert MathML 2.0 to Scalable
Vector Graphics 1.0 using XSLT 1.1, packaged as a Java executable. The
intention is to facilitate "publication of MathML by conversion to a widely
accessible vector graphics format" according to Dr. Philip Mansfield,
president of SchemaSoft and member of the W3C SVG working group.
- MathML slated for inclusion in Mozilla 1.0. The recently published
Manifesto  makes MathML one of the default configuration features, and
estimates a release date within six months. The current version of Mozilla is
- WebEQ 3 released.
Design Science announced  the release of version 3.0 of the WebEQ
Developers Suite in December. This is the company's first major upgrade of
WebEQ since acquiring the product and its development staff in June 2000.
- LiveMath version 3.5 beta.
Theorist Interactive announced  version 3.5 beta of the LiveMath Plug-in, LiveMath
Maker, and MathEQ Typesetter in September. The new version includes a Solaris
version of LiveMath Maker. Work is in progress on a new version of the
LiveMath Plug-in that will run in Internet Explorer 6 on Windows.
- ActiveMath project announced.
ActiveMath , announced in
November by DFKI , the German Research Center
for Artificial Intelligence, has as its goal the development of "a web-based
interactive learning system (for mathematics) that uses instruction as well as
constructivist elements". The project provides an architecture, basic knowledge
representations, and techniques for new-generation online interactive
mathematics documents (textbooks, courses, tutorials) and e-learning. ActiveMath uses the OMDoc format, an extension to
OpenMath  standard for semantic encoding
- jDVI released.
jDVI  is a new
viewer for TeX DVI output. It can run either as an application or as a Java
applet for displaying DVI files on the web. It supports most standard DVI
viewer features as well as the ability to make hyperlinks, use color, and
embed other applets within a document.
- Questionmark releases Perception 3.
announced  the release of version 3 of its online testing and assessment
software in November, which includes MathML support among its new features.
- WebCT licenses WebEQ. E-learning solution provider
WebCT  concluded
arrangements to use Design Science WebEQ technology to add math support to its
- Math Forum moves to Drexel.
Forum , the venerable math resource site whose Ask Dr. Math program
pioneered math help for students on the internet, moved to Drexel University
While effective, ubiquitous support for math rendering in browsers
is a necessary prerequisite for Math on the Web to achieve its full
potential, it is not by itself sufficient. Documents must be created
and published, and that means widely available, easy-to-use authoring
tools are also required in order for Math on the Web to be useful for
Work on authoring tools has proceeded in parallel with work on
browser support over the last several years. In fact, since math
authoring tools are largely the work of individuals or organizations
focused on math, rather than general web technology, progress on
MathML support in authoring tools has generally out-paced progress on
browser support. Nonetheless, without browser support, authoring
tools have been effectively hamstrung, since there simply was no way
to write out math expressions that were guaranteed to connect with a
general web audience, other than images. Now that the situation
regarding browser support for math is changing, mainstream authoring tool vendors
are beginning to adapt their products
accordingly. We expect to see major improvements in the authoring
situation for Math on the Web over the coming year.
Varieties of Math on the Web
Math on the Web is a broad label, and a brief survey of the ways
people are actually using Math on the Web suggests several natural
Static Math vs. Dynamic Math
The obvious distinction is that between static and dynamic
math. Static math documents are those in which equations appear as
part of the text, and do not change in response to interaction with
the reader. Web versions of print documents all fall into this
category. Dynamic math, by contrast, refers to any kind of
interactive exposition involving math notation. Whereas static math
is ideally fairly uniform from document to document, following
traditional typesetting practices that have evolved over centuries,
dynamic math is a new medium, and there are almost as many approaches
to dynamic exposition as there are authors.
Static math represents the vast majority of Math on the Web when
measured by volume. It stands to reason that simple and effective
ways of authoring static math are key to the long-term success of the
web for scientific communication. However, at the same time, it is
clear that at least among certain audiences, part of the appeal of
the web is the ability to do dynamic math. While publishing a
web version of a print document (static math) adds convenience and
accessibility, adding dynamic math to a document gives it impact.
Especially in the area of education, it is the ability of an
exposition to engage a student which makes it successful. As any
professor who has sat through a long semester of lonely office hours
knows, convenience and accessibility are not enough!
Articles, Assignments and Expositions
In addition to the static vs. dynamic dichotomy, which classifies
documents according to media type, it is also useful to categorize
documents by content. Most documents on the web containing math fall
into one of three categories: research articles, assignments and other
classroom documents, or instructional expositions of a topic. Generally speaking,
documents within each category share an emphasis on
one of the three
major axes along which putting Math on the Web adds value --
accessibility, convenience, and impact.
For researchers, increased accessibility of Math on the Web is
probably the dominant added value. Staying current and being able to
find related work in a field are the critical needs of researchers.
Increasingly, peer-reviewed journals are turning to the web to provide
value-added features that increase accessibility -- searching and
indexing, maintaining errata, forward and backward reference tracking.
Consequently, from the authoring point of view, researchers need tools
that efficiently publish web versions of print documents in ways that
maximize the ease with which other researchers can find them.
Furthermore, research articles are fundamentally print documents
(static math), regardless of whether or
not they are distributed electronically, since readers
nearly universally prefer a print document when intense study and
concentration is required. Therefore, authoring tools for research on
the web must make the production of very high-quality hard copy
The largest category by far of Math on the Web documents are those
related to day-to-day course work, such as assignments, quizzes,
practice tests, syllabi, etc. Like research articles, these documents
must typically be prepared simultaneously in print and web form, since
hard copies are typically handed out in class. However, unlike
research articles, now the web version of the document exists
primarily for convenience rather than accessibility; an instructor
doesn't care much about reaching students in other classes, but does
want an easy way to get the assignment to the student who missed class
last Thursday. The implication for authoring tools is that producing
a web version should take very little additional thought or time above
and beyond what would be necessary to create the paper version. Also,
since students are rarely willing or able to maintain a
state-of-the-art Math on the Web rendering environment, authoring
tools must generate web documents that don't require any special
browser configuration, setup, or fat bandwidth.
Expository Math on the Web documents are much harder to quantify
than research articles and course work. Compared to the other two
categories, there are fewer examples, and the range of approaches is
extremely varied. Nonetheless, a couple of clear authoring patterns are
emerging. One is what might be called the "mathlet" --
usually an applet devoted to interactively demonstrating a single
concept, supported by several pages of static math exposition, often
with heavy use of graphics. Another common pattern is the
computer algebra notebook paradigm, where a piece of expository text
has certain "live" equations within it that can be manipulated in
various ways by the reader to gain a fuller understanding of the
topic. Both these patterns rely
heavily on dynamic math.
With expository Math on the Web documents, the most important thing
is that they be engaging. In some cases, such as certain distance
learning contexts, online exposition is forced to stand in for live
instruction. In other cases, these documents have been created to
supplement traditional classroom instruction in attempt to connect
with students who, for whatever reason, just didn't get it during class. In
either case, the intent is to have an impact on
the reader above and beyond what is possible with text.
Looking at the dynamic math sites online today, it is clear that
authors of these kinds of documents tend to be more
technologically sophisticated, and willing to devote more time and effort to the
authoring process to achieve a desired effect. Similarly, within
limits, readers of dynamic math materials are probably more willing to
put greater effort into browser configuration and endure longer
download times. Consequently, at this early stage in the development
of dynamic math, the main pressure on authoring tools is for added
functionality. As this usage category matures, one can expect to see
this emphasis shift toward ease of use, as more people become
interested in taking advantage of the potential of dynamic math.
Authoring Tools for Research
The huge majority of scientific research documents are authored in
one of two ways: as Microsoft Word documents containing Equation
Editor or MathType equations, or as some flavor of TeX, with
LaTeX being the most common. (Hereafter we will use the term TeX
generically to refer to all flavors unless a specific distinction
needs to be made.) Within the mathematics and physics communities,
TeX is the dominant format, while Word is more prevalent in most other
As of today, the majority of research articles are published to the
web as PDF files, prepared using
looking down the road, the HTML + MathML format probably offers more opportunity
for value-added accessibility services, and therefore, that format is our emphasis here.
Regardless of the ultimate output format, the overwhelming majority
of TeX authoring takes place in a text editing environment of some
kind. There are a number of TeX-specific editing products, such as
WinTeX 2000 ,
WinEdt , etc, as well as TeX support in general-purpose
text editors such as
Emacs  and
BBEdit . These products typically add
features like syntax coloring for TeX commands, help with making
braces match up, easy ways to run TeX and preview the results, etc.
In all cases, however, the end result of the editing process is a
TeX file, which is compiled into a DVI file for printing.
Two exceptions to this rule that deserve special mention are
Scientific Word  and
Textures . Scientific Word provides a WYSIWYG TeX
authoring environment wedded to a computer algebra kernel. Version
4.0 already provides a "Save As HTML" feature that generates images
for equations. MathML support is planned for future versions.
Textures provides an interactive, integrated TeX editing environment as
well. As of version 2.1, however, the only support for exporting
documents to the web was the ability to save a typeset page as a JPEG
image. Consequently from the point of view of authoring for the web,
Textures is not very different from other text-based editors.
Given a TeX
document, there are two basic strategies for converting it to HTML + MathML. The first analyzes the original
TeX source file to create an HTML + MathML document. The second
strategy involves converting the DVI output into HTML + MathML. The
advantage of converting the original source is that in general it
contains much more information about document and equation structure.
A DVI file is more like a long list of characters and the sizes and
positions at which to render them; thus, it is very difficult to
recover structure from the DVI output. However, the appeal of
converting a DVI file is it avoids all the issues surrounding different flavors of TeX and will work with even the most
non-standard user defined macro packages.
The earliest and perhaps most well-known TeX-to-HTML converter is
 package. It employs the first strategy of
converting TeX source to HTML. While some experimental versions of latex2html now generate HTML + MathML, output from latex2html is primarily oriented toward HTML + images. A
more recent source-level converter that does generate HTML + MathML is
TtM . TtM is a modified version of TtH which converts TeX to pure HTML, using a combination
of fonts, tables, CSS to do math layout for equations. TtM uses its own parser
to process TeX input and directly generate HTML + MathML. Omega,
a modified and extended version of the TeX engine itself, can also generate
MathML. Its approach also focuses at the source level.
 is probably the most powerful and sophisticated converter
currently available. It uses a kind of hybrid approach, first
performing analysis at the TeX source level which it uses to insert
hints into the DVI file using special commands. It then processes
the DVI output to generate the final document. TeX4ht is highly configurable
and can be used to generate output in a wide variety of XML dialects in addition
to HTML. The advantage is superior output, but the disadvantage is a fairly
steep learning curve.
In general, currently available TeX to HTML + MathML converters are
probably most accurately characterized as being in an experimental
state. However, now that there is progress on rendering, it is not
unreasonable to expect to see renewed interest in TeX conversion as
well. To facilitate this work, a subgroup of the W3C Math Working
Group chaired by Ivor Phillips of Boeing is developing a TeX
conversion test suite and working with vendors on improving their TeX
MS Word and MathType
A survey of technical publishers conducted by Design Science
indicated that 75% of STM documents published are
authored in Microsoft Word. For documents that require math notation,
the only real choices are to use the Equation Editor included with
Word or to upgrade to MathType, the professional version of Equation
Editor. For authors that only require occasional use of math notation
and are interested only in producing print documents, Equation Editor
is likely sufficient. However, for Word authors making heavy use of
mathematical notation or requiring web output, MathType is an almost essential tool.
Word provides a default "Save As
Web Page" function that can be used
after a fashion for documents created using Equation Editor. The
output is essentially HTML in which equations have been replaced by
images. However, the resulting output has a number of fairly severe
- The HTML itself is extremely hard to work with and contains a large
quantity of Microsoft-specific markup
- Equation images don't align properly with the surrounding text
- Equation numbering is lost
- Equations print at screen resolution
To address these problems, MathType 5 adds its own export-to-the-web
functionality. MathType adds a new button to the Word toolbar which brings up an
"Export to MathPage" dialog. From this panel, an author can configure a number
of export options. The most important export configuration option is the choice
between generating HTML + MathML or generating HTML + GIF images. We will discuss
HTML + GIF further in the
next section. Here we focus on HTML + MathML export.
MathType generates presentation MathML using a rule-driven
translator mechanism. The rule sets are ordinary text files that
sophisticated authors can customize to tweak the MathML being
generated. A small number of MathType constructions have no MathML
equivalents and cannot be translated. In these cases, the translator
mechanism warns the author and omits the problem construct.
In the currently shipping version of MathType 5, authors are
obliged to choose between nine MathML target platforms, each of which
generates the extra glue code or document declarations required by
specific add-on components, such as MathPlayer, WebEQ Viewer Control,
or Techexplorer, or the MathML-enabled browsers Mozilla and Amaya.
Regardless of the target platform, MathType translates its equations
into the same MathML expressions; the difference lies entirely with
the glue code needed up until now to have MathML render in a browser.
With the advent of the Universal Math Stylesheet described in the
first section of this report, Design Science is planning a maintenance release of MathType adding that as a target platform.
MathType's MathPage technology also processes the HTML
markup for the rest of the document generated by Word. MathPage
always removes most Microsoft-specific markup, but authors can choose
whether to allow some optimizations for Internet Explorer 5 and above.
Disabling the optimizations slightly degrades performance when viewed
with Internet Explorer, but generates better cross-platform results.
For some target platforms, this choice is disabled since, for example,
MathPlayer is only available for Internet Explorer under Windows, and
MathML support in Mozilla requires that the surrounding HTML conform to
stricter XML syntax rules, a format called XHTML. In these cases, the
MathPage exporter automatically cleans up the Word HTML as necessary.
Authoring Tools for Course Work
At the college level, most instructors are also engaged in
research. This puts strong pressure on instructors to use the same
authoring tool for course work that they use for
research articles, since the
initial investment required to learn to use two authoring tools is
prohibitive. As a general rule, therefore, one finds that TeX authors
use TeX for classroom documents, while Word authors use Word. As
noted above, for course work documents, maximizing convenience for
teachers and students is paramount. So, in this section, we briefly
revisit TeX and Word as authoring tools with that in mind.
TeX Tools for Course Work
Most experienced TeX authors have extensive libraries of template
documents that only require slight tweaking from semester to semester.
Once the initial investment has been made (something that happened
long ago for most TeX authors), the incremental effort required by the
author is minimal. So, convenience is not much of an issue for TeX
authors. To the student, however, convenience is defined in terms of
being able to readily view and print documents using lowest common denominator
computer equipment, which he or she frequently does not control. From
this point of view, TeX is not a particularly convenient format.
As a consequence, TeX authors generally must employ additional tools
to prepare course documents in more convenient formats. The main
- As noted above, straight HTML + GIF images is a
good format for
insuring the widest range of students can conveniently access a
document. The most well-known TeX converter producing HTML + GIF images
is LaTeX2HTML. However, there are many others as well.
- It is a simple matter for most authors to produce Adobe's PDF
format using pdfTeX. Since the acrobat reader is widely
available and comes pre-installed on the majority of new computers,
viewing and printing PDF output is generally not a problem for
 itself isn't, properly speaking, an authoring tool.
However, since it will display a raw TeX file, provided the author
sticks with standard TeX dialects, we include it here since it
facilitates the use of a plain text editor as an authoring tool. As a
consequence, the Techexplorer plug-in is a very convenient option for
the author since no additional processing is required once the TeX
source has been created. From the student perspective, however,
Techexplorer is not so convenient since it requires
installation, and in fact, it must be purchased to enable printing.
However, in some situations where a teacher can guarantee access and
installation to students, say via a computer lab, Techexplorer can be
at least a viable alternative in some cases.
MathType Revisited for Course Work
Whether authoring research articles or course documents, using Word
and MathType involves basically the same effort on the part of the
author. Since these tools are visual tools, designed specifically to
minimize the barriers to getting started with them, they require much
less of an initial investment than TeX on the part of the author to
learn how to use them. Consequently, in the world of course work
where convenience is paramount, Word + MathType offers a substantial
advantage to authors who don't already know TeX.
As far as creating convenient
electronic versions of documents for students is concerned, the "Export to MathPage"
technology in MathType 5 is again key. However, in this arena, it
is the new HTML + GIF format, and not MathML format, which leaps
to the fore. Generating these documents is superlatively easy for
authors, requiring nothing more than clicking a button. However, the
big win is from the student perspective. An HTML + GIF document displays
in an ordinary web browser on nearly
any platform just like any other web page, except that
it now contains great looking math that prints nicely.
achieves platform independence without sacrificing quality and
effectively addresses all of the issues listed above with Word's
default Save As Web Page output. Another important point to note is that
HTML + GIF eliminates the need for special fonts containing math symbols
to be installed on the reader's system, which remains a serious issue
with most MathML rendering software.
The key to the HTML + GIF format is the generation of images at
several resolutions. This enables documents to display
low-resolution images that match the screen resolution in a browser,
while using high-resolution 300 dpi images when printing to a laser
printer. The availability of different resolution images also enables
the "MathZoom" feature that magnifies an equation at a mouse click to reveal
fine detail that can often be difficult to make out at screen resolution.
Another useful feature of HTML + GIF is that the images have additional information embedded in them which
makes it possible to drag an equation from a web page into
MathType for editing.
Authoring Tools for Dynamic Math
For interactive exposition, there is a whole panoply of tools, each
generally aimed at a specific strategy. This area is still very new
and rapidly changing. In general, the existing tools are fairly
rudimentary. As a result, most dynamic math authoring that has taken
place to date has been a matter of hand coding. However, there are
three broad categories of tools that have some dynamic math
Computer Algebra System Notebooks
Mathematica , and
MathCad  all provide "Save As
HTML" functionality for their notebook documents. In the case of
Maple and Mathematica, interactivity is limited to the ability to cut
and paste MathML expressions from the HTML output back into a notebook
for evaluation or other symbolic manipulation. The MathCad output
documents use the Techexplorer plug-in to connect to a local copy of
MathCad on the reader's computer to do computations in place in the
With all of these products, more sophisticated online interactivity
capabilities and authoring tools are under development. Wolfram
Research has already released part of such a solution in the form of
webMathematica, a server version of the Mathematica computation
engine. webMathematica can also function as an enhanced web server,
interpreting special commands that authors can embed in an HTML page
which request that the output of computations be inserted in the page.
This is an example of a rapidly developing area of interest at the
World Wide Web Consortium called Web
Services, in which a
number of computer algebra vendors are active. However, with the
current generation of technology, authoring is still really in the
province of the technically adept programmer coding by hand.
WebEQ Developers Suite
From the point of view of the HTML Platform, the proper way of
doing interactivity not involving computation is to dynamically modify
the document by using script code embedded in the page, triggered by
the user clicking on buttons, entering text, etc. From the point of
view of MathML, which originally addressed the issue of interactivity
before the vision of the HTML Platform had really emerged, the way to
do interactivity is to use MathML actions,
which are encoded directly in the equation markup. There is already fairly extensive
support in browsers and add-on rendering software for both kinds of
interactivity, and much of
the dynamic math currently available on the web already makes use of
these capabilities. However, just as is the case with Web Services,
authoring dynamic math using these techniques requires skill with programming and a strong background in
development. The one exception to this is the recently released WebEQ 3
Developers Suite, which makes authoring at least some dynamic math
substantially easier that it has been until now.
The WebEQ Developers Suite is actually a collection of 5 tools:
The main audience for the Developers Suite is primarily web-savvy
developers who are used to hand-coding scripts to wire together
components. However, the Editor and the Publisher are both relatively
easy-to-use graphical tools that make at least basic dynamic math
authoring possible for authors who only have modest web skills.
- WebEQ Editor for authoring presentation and content MathML
Publisher for processing HTML pages containing
- WebEQ Input Control which
functions as an easy-to-use graphical equation editor in a web page
- WebEQ Viewer Control that displays MathML
in any Java-capable browser
Equation Server which works behind the scenes to facilitate batch processing and
processing via scripts on a server
WebEQ Editor gives authors a graphical way to insert MathML actions
into equations. MathML actions trigger one of a handful of dynamic behaviors
when a reader moves the mouse over a part of an equation or clicks on
it. The available behaviors are changing the foreground or background
color of an expression, toggling between two expressions on a mouse click (such as question mark and an
answer,) linking from part of an
equation to another document, or displaying a message in the status line of the browser.
Several MathML renderers will display MathML actions; however, MathML
actions authored with WebEQ Editor are optimized for display with the
WebEQ Viewer Control. In particular, WebEQ Editor can automatically
generate the applet code necessary to instantiate the Viewer Control in
a web page.
WebEQ Publisher is essentially a converter program designed to scan
through an HTML source document looking for math markup which
it then processes and writes out into an output HTML
document. The Publisher recognizes two kinds of input markup: MathML
and WebTeX. WebTeX is similar to the math portion of LaTeX, with some
changes and extensions. In particular, WebTeX introduces new commands
\hilight for creating MathML actions. The
Publisher can be used to translate WebTeX into MathML and write out
the necessary wrapper code to display dynamic equations with the Viewer Control.
A number of companies have fielded self-contained proprietary approaches to
doing dynamic math. Three that are especially worth
mentioning are LiveMath, Mathwright
Poliplus EqnWriter . All
these products are similar in that they provide an authoring
environment and a browser plug-in or applet that displays their
proprietary formats. The plug-in portions of all of these products
basically function as mini computer algebra systems, and are primarily
designed to run in a large rectangular region of a browser Window.
The authoring portion of these programs creates something akin to a
computer algebra notebook, which a student then manipulates in the
While these proprietary approaches have some merit, they are mostly
of interest in situations where the author has a close relationship
with the reader, and has some control over the setup of the reader's
machine. The main advantage is that, because of the proprietary nature
of the format, the authoring environment and the plug-in work well
together. However, in the longer run, it is not clear whether these
proprietary approaches will survive as more mainstream authoring tools
begin to better serve the demand for dynamic math under the HTML
Many individuals and organizations have been working to establish a
ubiquitous, effective framework for Math on the Web for nearly a decade. While
progress has been steady, until recently, the successes along the way
haven't come together into a useable solution for mainstream authors and
readers. Over the last half of 2001, however, the pieces have finally
started to come together: full implementation of the HTML Platform in 6.x
browsers, new MathML rendering software, and the Universal Math Stylesheet to
mediate between the two. As this new generation of software begins to be
disseminated, the widespread use of MathML for scientific communication becomes
truly practical. In anticipation of a critical mass of users and readers,
advances in user-friendly authoring tools and interoperability between
math-aware applications are already beginning to make their way into the
marketplace. In future editions of this Status Report, we look forward to
reporting on the advancement of accessibility, convenience and impact in
scientific communication which MathML makes possible.
 World Wide Web Consortium, http://www.w3.org
 Microsoft Behaviors,
 Design Science MathPlayer,
 Universal Math Stylesheet,
 Design Science MathType,
 SchemaSoft, http://www.schemasoft.com/MathML/
 Mozilla 1.0 Manifesto,
 Design Science MathType,
 Theorist Interactive LiveMath,
 The ActiveMath Project,
 The German Research Center for Artificial Intelligence,
 The OpenMath Society, http://www.openmath.org/
 WebCT, http://www.webct.com/
 MathForum@Drexel, http://mathforum.org/
 WinTeX 2000, http://www.tex-tools.de/main.html
 WinEdit, http://www.winedit.com/
 Emacs, http://www.gnu.org/software/emacs/
 BBEdit, http://www.barebones.com/
 Scientific Word, http://licensing.mackichan.com/
 Textures, http://www.bluesky.com/
http://www.latex2html.org (originally at
 TtM, http://hutchinson.belmont.ma.us/tth/mml/
 Maple, http://www.maplesoft.com
 Mathematica, http://www.wolfram.com
 MathCad, http://www.mathsoft.com
 Mathwright, http://www.mathwright.com
 Poliplus Eqn Writer, http://www.poliplus.com