Re: A Modest Proposal

Joe English (
Tue, 31 Jan 1995 22:58:33 +0100


> It seems to me that TeX is the standard for representing mathematics in
> a machine independant format. [...]
> To not use TeX's methods for describing the presentation
> of mathematics really needs to be explained.

The only thing that can properly render TeX notation
is TeX itself.

But, TeX still outputs pages, and DVI browsers are
still electronic page-flippers. The ability to show
equations inside native Web/HTML browsers is desired.

TeX is too big and complex to easily integrate into
existing browsers. Even DVI previewers are far more difficult to
configure and install than most browsers. (This situation is changing,
but not very quickly. The big problem is fonts.)

TeX (and DVI) aren't being ruled out as file formats:
people can and do put .dvi files on the Web, and there
are even HyperDVI browsers that enable hypertext links
to be embedded. These are appropriate for many
"heavyweight" mathematical documents. The cost of
this power and quality is complexity, though, and HTML 3
sacrifices quality for simplicity. (Simplicity of implementation
that is; HTML math will probably be no easier to *type* than
TeX math, and will definitely be harder for complex formulae;
but it will get the job done for simpler stuff.)

> I am not suggesting that
> there are no compromises to be made in getting the information on the
> screen, but to implement yet another standard to describe mathematical
> notation really should be questioned, especially since the problem has
> been solved so completely already.

It would be possible to use TeX *notation* for
math in HTML, but you'd end up with browsers that parse
something which looks-almost-like-but-isn't-really
TeX unless you put TeX itself in the browser.
(With the SHORTREF maps, HTML 3 math looks-sort-of-like-
but-really-isn't TeX, but it doesn't claim to *be* TeX.)

--Joe English