Original Poster

Various serious rendering problems with the equation editor

I'm reporting several different rendering issues with the equation editor.

First: Long equations disappear when I download a document as a PDF or .doc or when I publish it to the web. For example, contrast this screenshot of a document with this screenshot of the document when downloaded as a PDF. Note that the second equation has disappeared entirely. A little investigation led me closer to the source of the problem.

Second: In-line equations appear much different in Google Docs than they do in downloaded PDFs. For example, contrast the first equations in this screenshot and this screenshot. Note that the Google Docs version is pretty and readable, whereas the PDF version is confusing and difficult to read. In this particular example, it's only a small problem, but with more complicated equations, it can render a sentence completely impossible to read in the PDF version.

Third: Equations sometimes cause problems with the cursor in Google Docs. I'm not quite sure when this bug occurs or the details of how the cursor is messed up, but here is a screenshot in which some text appears to be selected, but other text is in fact selected, as evidenced by the editor claiming that the selected text is blue.

Fourth: There appears to be one rendering engine used when equations are first loaded and a second rendering engine used when one starts editing equations. The differences between these two rendering engines are severe. For example, consider this screenshot of a document that has just been loaded. Contrast it with this screenshot, taken after adding and removing a character from the first equation on the page. Note, for example, that the phi inexplicably changed from capital to lowercase. Finally, a screenshot of the document after adding+removing a character from each equation on the page.

Overall, the equation editor has lots of great features, but is so buggy that it is unusable. I will not be using Google Docs in the future for writing up mathematical documents, and I am sad about this. Please fix these problems and the other problems that I'm forgetting about, because believe me, there are more.
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All Replies (1)
Bas Braams
Bas Braams
I agree that the equation editor is unusable for scientific work. It would seem a modest wish that the 100-strong (guessing) GDocs team would incorporate into their product in 2012 equation facilities that aren't terribly inferior to what D. E. Knuth produced working alone 30 years ago without knowing that it could be done. Come to think of it, Knuth was interested in mathematics, but he incorporated full fledged text editing and page layout as well in his TeX and designed the computer fonts too.

If it is nevertheless immodest to ask for the above then maybe it is modest enough to ask that the GDocs documents editor would offer equation handling facilities that are good enough to produce a satisfactory preprint of an article in the physical or engineering sciences, using equations but not using particularly high-level mathematics. We ask for a preprint to indicate that we'll put up with lack of very precise formatting capability. But that can't be done either. A key issue is that one cannot download a GDocs document into any other format (for example RTF, ODT, DOC or HTML) and continue editing to polish a final product; the equations all get turned into some uneditable bitmap.

For Web-oriented work these days there is MathJax: www.mathjax.org. It has the backing of some big names, IEEE, AIP and AMS for starters, and it is getting to be incorporated into wiki services such as wikidot. If the GDocs team would want to do something decent with equations they probably should think hard about incorporating MathJax into the documents editor. It would not be entirely straightforward, because MathJax is built upon CSS and Javascript whereas the GDocs documents editor does not map directly to HTML. However, I suspect that a choice to base GDocs mathematics editing upon a MathJax-like front-end would have a good chance of success.

I include some references to somewhat related earlier discussions. The conversations [1] concern undocumented TeX/LaTeX commands in the GDocs editor (more than just the ones indicated in the headings). In [3] (from a year ago) I present my wishlist for editing scientific preprints. In the mean time I'm not using the GDocs editor for anything that involves mathematical or scientific notation beyond an occasional exponent or index.

[1] How can I make a dot over a single letter?

[2] Missing LaTeX symbols in equation editor

[3] Most urgent issues for scientific preprints in GDocs
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