I was looking around the World Wide Web Consortium’s web site looking for some tech docs on CSS and I stumbled across something that I had no idea existed – a mathematics markup language for the web, called MathML.
MathML is based on XML and it handles both presentation and interpretation of mathematical notation. Simply put, it uses standard, well-formed, XML-style tags for a wide variety of mathematical functions.
It is also possible to embed MathML markup into an XHTML document. However, MathML support in browsers is rather hit-or-miss. The latest versions of Gecko-based browsers, like Firefox and Camino support it. Internet Explorer can be expanded to support it. Strangely, WebKit-based browsers, like Safari and Chrome, do not support it.
MathML has great potential and it is a shame that it has not been better supported since it first came on the scene in 1998. Imagine if students were taught MathML in addition to XHTML. In conjunction with GUI-based MathML editors, it would allow math and science teachers and publishers create resources, texts, and assignments. If students picked it up, they could also collaborate more effectively on math assignments online.
MathML is not limited to the web. Numerous desktop-based programs support reading and editing MathML. Microsoft Office 2007, OpenOffice, and Mathematica are among them and are readily available. However, it is unclear how much users who may benefit from this feature actually are aware of it and how to use it.
MathML is a very impressive technology and I would love to see it implemented more widely. Properly implemented, supported, and publicized, it has the potential to improve the way math and science students and teachers learn and interact.
Update: MathML is now turned on by default in WebKit. You can get it in the current nightly builds of WebKit.