The MathML Handbook

Sandhu, Pavi
Charles River Media 2003
ISBN 1-58450-249-5
Date finished: 2004-05-07

A survey of the MathML specification that's much easier to read than the W3C Recommendation, covering the 2.0 version of the specification. The heart of the book is three chapters, around 100 pages total, that explain the MathML presentation and content formats and how to mix them together. The second part of the book covers various applications that support MathML import and export; this material is much less interesting because for most of the applications, this amounts to saying 'Choose the File > Export > MathML' option in several variations. There's some discussion of using XSLT to manipulate documents and CSS to customize the display, but neither topic is covered in great depth. Some reference chapters fill out the rest of the book, but they don't look very easy to scan through due to the typography.

MathML has a set of presentation elements for displaying equations, and a set of content elements for encoding the actual meaning of a mathematical passage. The presentation language is already quite wordy, certainly bulkier than TeX, but the content elements win the prize for verbosity; the MathML version of lambda x: x*2 + y*2 + x*y is some 24 lines long! You can write HTML files manually, but not even the most stubborn purist will try to author MathML by hand.

Unfortunately support still seems rather scattered. Mozilla is probably the widest-deployed software that handles MathML, and it only supports the presentation markup; some features such as the <maction> element aren't supported, so it's not even truly complete presentation support. For non-Mozilla browsers there's a motley collection of plug-ins, all commercial, and writing mathematics for the web still seems difficult and with only a slight chance of cross-platform success.

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