Re: support for 'macro' formatting languages

Subject: Re: support for 'macro' formatting languages
From: MARK.WROTH@xxxxxxxxxxx (Wroth, Mark)
Date: Tue, 21 Dec 1999 15:47:16 -0800
Rather than quote the extensive discussion on MathML versus TeX as a
language for mathematics, I'll just throw my own two cents worth in.

TeX was designed, in part, to handle mathematics by someone who spent a
great deal of time and effort trying to design algorithms which would
produce pleasing and correct mathematical displays.  But Knuth in essence
admitted defeat on the issue of breaking multi-line formulae, despite some
very heavy duty work on breaking lines and pages.  His comment 

	It's quite an art to decide how to break long displayed formulas
	into several lines; \TeX\ never attempts to break them, because no
set of
	rules is really adequate. The author of a mathematical manuscript is
	generally the best judge of what to do, since break positions depend
	subtle factors of mathematical exposition. For example, it is often
	desirable to emphasize some of the symmetry or other structure that
	underlies a formula, and such things require a solid understanding
	exactly what is going on in that formula. 

(in The TeXbook) points out that there are frequently issues related to the
underlying meaning of the formula which affect where it should be broken.
MathML has some potential for helping in this regard, but I suspect we're a
long way from being able to completely specify this one---and the idea of
including hints on how to break the formula, which is natural to TeX, seems
foreign to an SGML based system.

The second point is that TeX notation was designed with the typist in mind;
the typesetter does quite a bit of work based on minimal notation in the
input file.  As long as we're typing ASCII input files at more-or-less ASCII
terminals, I'll vote for TeX over MathML any day.  But this is not
necessarily the way the world is going.  When (if) there's a standard way to
"type" quasi-GUI material in the editor, I'll stop caring so much about how
the input file is structured.  MathML might offer such a potential, if it
truly catches on as a standard and there's enough demand for the ability to
do good mathematics in SGML/XML editors.  But I'm not hopeful; Microsoft's
Equation Editor seems about as far as we're likely to get, and we may be
lucky to get that.

TeX's status as a quasi-standard has, by the way, lead to something very
like what I've been describing, based on (La)TeX; TCI's Scientific Workplace
is a GUI front end to LaTeX, with Maple thrown in for good measure.  I've
found it to be very useful in this regard, although I've also been known to
start there and convert to "pure" LaTeX for continued editing. (No, I don't
work for, or get a commission from, TCI.  But their product seems relevant
to this discussion).

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