Finally, the Web Does Math
October 30, 2000–Nearly two hundred leading mathematicians, scientists, and web technology experts converged on Champaign, Illinois, recently for the first “MathML and Math on the Web” conference, hosted by Wolfram Research, Inc.
MathML is the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C)-endorsed standard for representing mathematical notation on the web, and Wolfram Research has been instrumental in its development. It was a proposal from Wolfram Research to the W3C that first began the MathML initiative, and representatives from Wolfram Research have played a central role in the design of the markup language itself. Many of the key concepts used in MathML are based on concepts originally developed in Mathematica, Wolfram Research’s well-known flagship product, which fully supports MathML.
MathML is an XML application that fills the need for an efficient means of presenting mathematical or technical expressions on the web. Previously, such expressions had to be “frozen” in an image format such as a GIF–a static and cumbersome method–and inserted into an HTML document. The MathML standard makes math on the web a living, easily adaptable, and reusable entity, and it is now seen as being integral to the creation of new e-business and online educational opportunities.
In the conference’s opening video address, Tim Berners-Lee, creator of the World Wide Web and director of its guiding consortium, congratulated the MathML working group for its perseverance in the effort to establish an XML standard for math and encouraged conference attendees to take advantage of the opportunity presented by the conference to discuss new ways of using and implementing XML technologies. Although the MathML standard is already a tremendous step forward for mathematicians and scientists, Berners-Lee predicts it will have a widespread effect throughout the web-user community, helping more people to get into math, use existing math, and create new ways of doing math.
Many conference participants represented organizations that either have already begun to implement and support MathML in their web services or were anxious to learn new ways of doing so. Key issues discussed included the history and foundations of mathematical notation, interoperability of new and existing technologies, and solutions for bringing legacy documents to the new MathML-enabled web.
IBM, a conference cosponsor, chose this event to announce the release of techexplorer 3.0, a web browser plug-in for Netscape Navigator and Internet Explorer for rendering MathML. A technology exchange between IBM and Wolfram Research also provides techexplorer users a unique level of interoperability with Mathematica, uniting web-based typesetting and technical computation. Several other major browser developers, such as Microsoft, Netscape, and the W3C, also presented conference talks and product demonstrations that showed their commitment to supporting MathML.
According to Patrick Ion, co-chair of the MathML working group, MathML 2.0, the revised MathML standard, is due out early next year. Given the wealth of ideas circulated at the conference, new implementations of it will not be too far behind. More information about the MathML conference, including presentation abstracts and an update on the availability of conference proceedings, is at http://www.mathmlconference.org.