Option(s) for Mathematical Notation on the Web

David Green


Many universities and colleges are embracing the world wide web as part of their teaching strategy. For scientists, mathematicians and engineers, there is a genuine need to use scientific notation as part of the way we communicate. To do so interactively on the web has been, at best inconvenient, and at worst almost impossible.

There are several ways to produce web compatible mathematics for static web pages. These include exporting from word processing packages and scientific typesetting programs the text as HTML which incorporates scientific formulae as a gif image. One can even digitise handwritten formulae. These approaches work well, but are only appropritate if you write the equations for the web once, load them onto a web server and then leave them alone.

A student or a teacher in a technical discipline who is trying to communicate via the web using newsgroups, chat rooms and the like has great difficulty with anything more complex than superscripts and subscripts and a few special symbols. The latter are supported in standard HTML sequences like ² for 2 and ° for °. Libraries of special symbols can be accessed but the flow of thought is severely disrupted by needing to gather special symbols from out on the internet. The MathML standard will improve this situation somewhat, by supporting math layup more naturally within the web document.

The package that we have developed makes creation of mathematical notation as simple as using a web browser. No special markup language is needed, and it handles matrices, sums, integrals, fractions and includes superscripts, subscripts, greek and a variety of special symbols. The package provides WYSIWYG (what you see, is what you get) HTML, and allows the user to have their equation as either, HTML, LaTeX source or as a rendered GIF image stored on a server for easy reference and later use. A new version which is MathML compliant is planned.

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