The Web is great for sharing information with others. But unfortunately conceptors of those early WWW standards did not think about scientific documents in the first place. So people hacked around what they had (mainly HTML) and the result is, to my mind, quite clumsy.

Publishing documents does not only mean making them readable in browsers. In fact, people have many different goals that range from printing, creating slide show presentations to web browsing and I doubt there will ever be a single medium that does all that in a convenient way. Besides, portablilty can also be a major concern.

So here is a summary of various different methods that can be used to publish scientific documents.

ASCII text diagrams

You write your mathematical formulae with a mono-spaced font, such as Courier. An adaptation of this method to HTML is to write them in <PRE> tags. MuPad is a math software that exports in this format. Here is a small example :

  \       n*(n+1)
  /_ k = ---------
 k=1         2
Pros : It is probably the most portable solution. With <PRE> tags and HTML you can even benefit from typesetting.

Cons : Formulae are very hard to write and tend to be huge (on screen as well as in script size)

Microsoft Word Equation Editor (Math Type)

The equation editor included in Microsoft Word is a lite version of Design Science's Math Type. It functions as an OLE server and objects can be included in many applications (Lotus WordPro, Microsoft Word, Microsoft Power Point etc.)

Pros : It is very easy to use because it is WYSIWYG oriented. It gives very good displaying AND printing results.

Cons : It makes documents really heavy (reasonable size but long to open). If you have many equations to write, you'd probably prefer a script based format. The tool is not free, and the complete version is not cheap at all.

Raw HTML / Rich Text

Rich Text is styled text, *like* RTF Because Rich Text (and HTML) support variable fonts, font sizes, colours, subscripts, superscripts etc. it is possible to embed rather simple equations. Here is an example :

Σn=1 n-2 = π2/6
Pros : The result is not too bad and it is a rather portable solution. Besides equations are easy to modify afterwards and both raw script and WYSIWYG edition is possible.

Cons : Scripts are heavy to write. It doesn't support hroizontal fraction bars, square roots etc. and has poor support for math symbols.

HTML + Images

This is probably the most used scheme. Text is written in HTML and formulae are embedded as images (GIF, JPEG, PNG...). Many software support this format : Word, Maple, Namo Web Editor, LaTeX2HTML...

Pros : It is portable and generally has good results on display.

Cons : Pages that contain many equations are very very long to load, even from disk. Images can't be modified afterwards. Forget about printing your documents.


The W3C recently developed a standard called the Mathematical Markup Language. It has a node on its own. This is the recommended way to include equations in HTML pages.

Pros : The results are good for printing AND displaying. WYSIWYG software is available and the script mode is very easy to understand. Pages that use this are light and load time is rather short.

Cons : It is not really widespread. Mozilla supports it but requires additional fonts. Internet Explorer needs a plug-in. But this is very likely to change in a near future.

TeX / LaTeX

Developed by some gurus, this is a reference solution for scientific publication.

Pros : The script mode is rather simple. Almost everything is possible, from equations, tables, trees, Feynmann diagrams etc. Display and Printing are superb. If you wish to write a book, even if it is not math related I really urge you to chose the LaTeX format. Professor Pi reported that to his experience publishers were less keen on accepting TeX documents nowadays.

Cons : Raw TeX files must be converted to another format for viewing or printing (DVI, PS, PDF see below). This is where problems start because this compilation step is non trivial for newcomers.

Acrobat PDF

Acrobat PDF is not a tool to write math, but a file format used to store text. Acrobat Writer installs as a 'pseudo printer' that generates the PDF files. A tool called PDFTeX can convert TeX files to PDFs. PDFs are publishing formats.

Pros : Printing and displaying are superb. The files are quite small. Page layout is fixed so it will always give the exact same result on every machine.

Cons : The free Acrobat Reader viewer is required. Browsing PDF documents isn't as convenient as browsing HTML. Text is often stored as drawing primitives so later modification and cut&paste are hard to perform.

DVI, PS and other file formats

Those file formats work like PDFs, they are mainly aimed towards printing. You cannot directly write them. DVIs and PSs can be obtained as an output of the LaTeX suite.

Pros : Printing those is nice. The layout is fixed.

Cons : Additionnal software is needed to manipulate the file. Those formats are less known. They are not adapted to on-screen viewing.

By the time you'd might be thinking : "What about E2 ?" Today only HTML tags are supported, but it is likely that MathML extensions will be included in nodes and perhaps a superdoc that does TeX to MathML translations will be developed. I've contacted N-Wing about that because it would be really cool, feel free to visit E2 does MathML

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