MathML vs LaTeX

So I was trying out some stuff in Sakai, pretending to write an assessment (quiz, to the uninitiated) with complicated equations. I ran into a few problems like you can’t do fractions, there is no square root symbol, no multiplication symbol, etc. Perhaps I will write a full review once I figure out if these limitations are real, or if I’m just missing something.

Anyway, I remember seeing complicated equations on Wikipedia, so I decided to investigate how they do it. It looks like the equations on there were generated by LaTeX, but they are just ugly png files with a lot of jaggies. I was thinking it would have been cool if they had used SVG. But, they had some info on possible future direction, which led me to the MathML entry, which is supposedly going to be implemented in next gen web browsers.

One of the more annoying aspects of what you can do with Sakai (and Microsoft’s Equation Editor I might add) is that you have to do tons of highlighting and clicking to format things. Like, if I want a chemical equation like HC2H3O2, it requires highlighting 3 things and clicking 3 buttons. That back and forth of the mouse gets quite frustrating. In LaTeX, things are much simpler. You would just write:


and you would be done. MathML, on the other hand, is a terribly verbose XML format (check out the quadratic equation example in the Wikipedia entry), so it’s not much better than the point and click method. I realize that LaTeX is a little intimidating to write by hand, and a program could easily generate either LaTeX or MathML, but I have yet to see a program that is as efficient at building equations as hand-coding LaTeX markup is. With that in mind, I think allowing a subset of LaTeX is probably the best way to allow people to enter equations. There is some interesting work out there, like this JavaScript library. It would be cool to see something like that integrated into one of Sakai’s rich text editors.

1 thought on “MathML vs LaTeX

  1. Giulia Forsythe

    This was the first hit I found when searching “MathML vs LaTeX” as I’m trying to create a quiz in Sakai using math symbols. I want to use LaTeX for the same reason you mention but I can’t get a handle on whether it’s accessible for screen readers. I realize you wrote this post 4 years ago but if you’re still working in Sakai I’d be interested in what you do now.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s