On 21 October 2010 the W3C made an announcement about an “*important standard for making mathematics on the Web more accessible and international, especially for early mathematics education*“. The press release described how “*MathML 3 is the third version of a standard supported in a wide variety of applications including Web pages, e-books, equation editors, publishing systems, screen readers (that read aloud the information on a page) and braille displays, ink input devices, e-learning and computational software*.”

But what about support from browser vendors? The press release went on to describe how “*MathML 3 is part of W3C’s Open Web Platform, which includes HTML5, CSS, and SVG. Browser vendors will add MathML 3 support as they expand their support for HTML5. Firefox and Camino already support MathML 2 natively, and Safari/WebKit nightly builds continue to improve. Opera supports the MathML for CSS profile of MathML 3. Internet Explorer users can install a freely-available MathPlayer plug-in. In addition, JavaScript software such as MathJax enables MathML display in most browsers without native support.*”

Does it work? In order to investigate I installed the Firemath extension for FireFox and the MathPlayer plugin for Internet Explorer. I then viewed the MathML Browser Test (Presentation Markup) page using FireFox (v 4.0), Chrome, Internet Explorer (v 8) and Opera (v 10.61). The results shown using Internet Explorer version 8 are shown below, with the first and second columns containing an image of how the markup has been rendered in TeXShop and FireFox with STIK Beta Fonts and the third column showing how the markup is rendered in the browser the user is using.

A quick glance at the display on all four browsers shows that the support seems pretty good [**Note following a commented I received I have noticed that the page isn’t rendered in Chrome) – added 2 November 2010**]. However it would take a mathematician to ensure that the renderings of mathematical formula are acceptable.

It should also be noted that MathML 3 is part of HTML5. This means that embedding maths in Web documents should become easier, with direct import from HTML to mathematics software and vice versa.

In order to encourage takeup the W3C Math home page provides links to “A Gentle Introduction to MathML” and “MathML: Presenting and Capturing Mathematics for the Web” tutorials with “The MathML Handbook” available for purchase.

The W3C have provided a “MathML software list” together with a “MathML 3 Implementation Testing Results Summary” – which, it should be noted, has not not been updated since July 2010.

I think this announcement is of interest in the context of institutional planning for migration of document formats to richer and more open environments provided by HTML5 and associated standards such as MathML, CSS 3. etc.

Will we start to see documents containing MathML markup being uploaded to institutional repositories, I wonder? And should this format be preferred to PDFs for scientific papers containing mathematical markup?

You can see that in the “your browser” column there are the following problems: the square root sign, the integral sign and the vector sign. If I were a mathematician, I would not want to read this stuff! Until MathML can beat (or at least equal) the visual rendering of TeX, I don’t think it’s going to get much traction from the maths and science communities. Until enough browsers support it well enough, it’s not going to get any support from anyone else either. Perhaps a Flash or Canvas solution?

I think SVG has got a lot going for it. In some ways it’s like PDF but for web pages. And Google’s svgweb ‘JavaScript shim’ can translate SVG into Flash on the fly. They say that SVG plus svgweb gives 95% coverage.

This is the same problem which affects many industries. Web browsers on nowhere near enough capable to handle the information which we need to provide one another with. Indeed, they seem to be back in the dark ages when compared to the rest of the technology which we have in our homes and offices. Let’s just hope that there will be a leap forward in browser technology very soon.

All the best, John

the image shows in fact that (on the examples shown) firefox rendering is pretty comparable to TeX’s. Of course using scalable fonts makes them appear far better than a bitmap image even if that image is TeX generated. Accessibility such as audio and braille support id also vastly easier from mathml than from embedded images in a web page. So html+MathML is almost always going to look better (in a browser that supports it) than html+images. The other viable alternative is pdf where of course you gain most from Tex typesetting (The pdf version of the MathML spec is set with LaTeX)

> which, it should be noted, has not not been updated since July 2010

yes sorry we’ve been a bit preoccupied getting the spec out, there are several updates planned for the website.

Of course for printed medium TeX still beats printing from a browser easily.

As for no one using it, we’ll see but NIST’s DLMF (http://dlmf.nist.gov/)

and mathscinet (aka online math reviews) are two big users (mathscinet uses tex markup converted on the fly to mathml via mathjax) http://www.ams.org/mathscinet/help/about.html

You said that you looked at the MathML test page in Google Chrome. When I looked at it in Chrome (XP, Chrome 7.0.517.41) I found that the MathML was not being rendered.

Oops, you seem to be right – the MathML isn’t being rendered in Chrome. Strange, I thought I tested it. Sorry for the confusion. I’ll update the post.