VISUALISATION / GRAPHICS
14 August 2007
Reviewed by Felix Grant
Design Science’s MathType has long been the de facto standard for graphical equation editors, its various incarnations having provided not only the free standing application, but also the basis for cut down and rebadged OLE modules in numerous other applications. It has always been possible to upgrade the bundled add-in supplied with products such as Microsoft Word or Corel WordPerfect, so that the full product loads in its place, although the arrival of Microsoft Office 2007 caused some problems. Version 6, released in late July 2007, cures those MS Office problems and brings a number of very welcome updated features as well.
First of all (though it may seem a strange starting point) there is a new set of tutorials accessed from the help menu. If you think you know everything that MathType can do, you may be right – but check anyway. I consider myself a reasonably expert long-term user, but picked up a couple of tips new to me.
Moving on to function, the main development for most users is in language entry of material into the editor. As an alternative to graphical assembly from the graphic palettes, equations can be typed or pasted in using an enhanced subset of TeX. I’m not sure that a full TeX entry facility would make much sense (most users, after all, turn to an editor like this as a way to avoid the stringencies of keyboard tokenisation), but for short, frequently used constructs it can be a valuable time saver – especially when in conjunction with a clipboard enhancer or key macro engine. More generally, and much more important, since export of the same subset has also been added to MathType’s range of outward translators it opens up a world of two-way, web-pooled equation data. Specific reference is made to the stock of mathematical material available in Wikipedia, the particular set used being that specified for the widely used MediaWiki application, but other LaTeX based resources work equally well – PlanetMath and Scholarpedia, for instance, both of which are also mentioned.
Other updates primarily relate to events over at Microsoft. Somewhere between late beta and market release of Word 2007 (which has seen a complete revision of native equation handling), the linkage to MathType was broken and required a workaround; MathType 6 solves this, and its tab is now to be found on Word’s ribbon. Those of us still using older installations of Office also gain a number of small but work-saving improvements – a new dedicated MathType tab appears on the menu bar in PowerPoint versions from 2000 onwards, for example – and everything seems Vista friendly without inconveniencing XP or Windows 2000. At the same time, nothing has been taken away from users of other software: if MathType 5 worked for you, so will 6 (and customised preferences made in 5 carry over, too).
This is the time of year when lecture notes and their accompanying presentations are pulled out and dusted off for a face lift, an ideal time for putting this sort of upgrade through its paces. I installed MathType 6 on a laptop but left version 5 on the corresponding desktop, and in the 10 days since have made heavy use of both across a wide range of software hosts. As I’ve move back and forth between the two machines, differences have increasingly made themselves felt: version 5 was excellent, but release 6 is even better. I get more done, in less time, with less investment of attention span, with no compatibility problems and no conscious awareness of learning curve; which sounds to me like a good definition of the ideal upgrade.