Thursday, March 14, 2013


About a decade ago, I began putting my notes on my homepage for the reasons cloud computing proponents love to spout (though I did it without uttering any buzzwords).

But I hit a snag. How do I put equations on the web? Among the many awful workarounds, I picked the one which I thought was noblest: MathML. My pages would be static content; operable without JavaScript. Text is far slimmer than images, and are far more agreeable to things like searching. As for PDF? Over my dead <body> element!

I was optimistic back then. Mozilla supported MathML provided you also downloaded a font or two, and despite the crushing dominance of Internet Explorer, I felt that righteous Free Software would ultimately triumph. One day, I hoped, a typical browser would render my site perfectly, out of the box.

Turns out my predictions were half right. The web broke free of Internet Explorer’s chokehold. Now, more often than not, we use open source browsers. And one of them, Firefox, supports MathML out of the box.

However, my mathematics notes still render incorrectly on most browsers. Popular search engines appear to shun them, possibly because I zealously followed the arcane XHTML 1.1 plus MathML guidelines. And everything supports JavaScript.

Maybe they’re all going to support real soon, but ten years is too long for me. I switched to MathJax, a clever JavaScript library that figures out what your system can do, then renders the equations using an appropriate technique. It just works.

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