W3C updates MathML, makes math easy

The W3C has updated its MathML standard for rendering mathematical notation on Web pages to better portray basic math symbols, as well as render mathematic symbols in more languages.

The World Wide Consortium (W3C) is hoping that this new version of MathML will be rolled into the other group of standards being incorporated in browsers with the HTML5 Web page markup specification, such as CSS (Cascading Style Sheets) and SVG (Scalable Vector Graphics).

The new standard represents basic symbols such as for multiplication, long division, subtraction, and the carries and borrows addition symbols.

The new markup will allow educational Web page designers to add these symbols onto the pages instead of going through the cumbersome process of embedding small images of the symbols or formulas into the pages. The symbols will also help assistive technology such as screen readers interpret the mathematical material.

The new standard also expands the number of languages it can support. Notably, it can support Arabic texts and other languages that render sentences from the right side of the page to the left.

"We have been working for the past five years converting Arabic school books to electronic documents, but, we have always faced problems with mathematical books which rely on custom layout and fonts," said Adil Allawi, technical director of Arabic language publishing software vendor Diwan Software, in a statement. "The right-to-left features of MathML 3.0 ... makes it possible, for the first time, to build standards-based and truly interoperable electronic math books for students in the Arab countries."

Firefox currently supports MathML 2, though not MathML 3 as of yet. Opera supports the CSS profile of MathML3. Users of Internet Explorer can deploy the MathPlayer plug-in to render MathML markup correctly. Those without browser support can also use the JavaScript MathJax software to render the symbols. (For the really advanced formulas, MathJax also renders the LaTeX scientific documentation typesetting standard.)

Joab Jackson covers enterprise software and general technology breaking news for The IDG News Service. Follow Joab on Twitter at @Joab_Jackson. Joab's e-mail address is Joab_Jackson@idg.com

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