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Interactive Mathematics on the Web: LiveMath - Authoring Issues

Carl Spitznagel

Because LiveMath’s "click-and-drag" user interface may at first seem foreign to users of other computer algebra systems, there is an obvious need for documentation. Rather than providing a printed manual, the company maintains an on-line documentation system which, unfortunately, can be frustratingly slow, especially for those whose web access is via dial-up modem. The LiveMath site also provides some tutorial movies and animations to show the user how to get started with the software’s interface.Nonetheless, I have found myself frequently wishing for an updated printed manual. When LiveMath’s predecessor, MathView, was owned by Maple, there was a printed manual that was relatively complete. Since that time, LiveMath has undergone a number of changes, but the printed documentation has not been updated. (You can still download the original MathView manual in pdf format from the LiveMath site -- or, if you want individual chapters, go to the Ask Sally help page and scroll down to near the bottom of the page. A lot of this manual is still relevant.)

The default LiveMath startup screen includes an enormous, intimidating palette of no fewer than 84 icon-labeled buttons, a number of which cause still more choices to pop up. Fortunately, from my point of view, the keyboard and menus can be used to drive LiveMath, and the palette can be ignored or even closed. In future releases of LiveMath, I would like to see the palette reduced to a more manageable size.

LiveMath includes a number of "starter notebooks" that demonstrate some of the software’s potential. Although these notebooks do a great job of showcasing LiveMath’s capabilities, they unfortunately come without instructions for recreating them. And because LiveMath is menu/palette-driven rather than command-driven, it is often difficult to figure out what menu or palette clicks were used to create the notebooks.

In order to function on the web, a LiveMath notebook is embedded in a web page. Although the web page itself can, of course, be written to the author’s specifications, the author has only modest control over the appearance of the embedded LiveMath notebook. In particular, the LiveMath plug-in always causes a small ad banner to be displayed at the top of the notebook, which you have probably noticed if you have looked at any of the examples listed above. While I understand the company’s desire to draw attention to their product, I have frequently wished that I could make the advertising disappear. Also, while font faces, sizes, and colors can be controlled in a notebook, there are a number of other formatting aspects that cannot.

Carl Spitznagel, "Interactive Mathematics on the Web: LiveMath - Authoring Issues," Convergence (November 2004)