Math in Office 2010

Imagine typing alt+= in PowerPoint, OneNote, Excel, and, of course, Word and Outlook to enter a math zone and then type a^2+b^2=c^2<space> to see the Pythagorean theorem beautifully typeset on your screen! Or some way more complicated equation, equally beautifully typeset. You don’t have to wait much longer as the people getting the Office 2010 Technical Preview this week can attest.

We’ve added the math editing and display of Word 2007 and Outlook 2007 to PowerPoint 2010, Excel 2010, and OneNote 2010 and improved the model a bit. For example, now the tooltips for the symbol and operator galleries display what you can type to enter these characters from the keyboard. It’s going to be so much fun to demo Office math using PowerPoint live! A slide deck generated with PowerPoint 2010 displays well with earlier versions of PowerPoint. You just can’t edit the slides with the earlier versions since those versions don’t understand math zones. In addition, Office 2010 running on Windows 7 has a very powerful new input method: recognition of hand written equations. This works with all math-enabled applications, but it is streamlined with OneNote 2010, as you might guess. If you’re taking lecture notes in a math, science, or engineering course, enjoy! Also install the math graphing-calculator add-on, which already works with Word 2007.

Adding math support to PowerPoint, OneNote and Excel text boxes hasn’t been easy. Word 2007’s math facility is a tour de force, from both display and user-interface points of view. Achieving the same display in the other applications was facilitated by using RichEdit and Page/Table/Line Services for math display and that was already working in Office 2007 (except for RichEdit 6.0’s lack of math-paragraph support). But the math user interface, which I’ve documented in a series of posts to this blog, is far from trivial. The devil is in the details and Word 2007 does an amazing job. Now all the applications behave similarly in math zones. Another area that required lots of effort is handling the various file formats and cut/copy/paste.

Our approach for Office 2010 hasn’t been to improve on what Word 2007 does, aside from a couple of small exceptions. Bringing the other apps into parity with Word 2007 was about all that one could hope for, given the relatively short development cycle, unforeseen documentation demands, the new web application support, backward compatibility, and the ODF file format support we added to both Office 2010 and 2007. Also we didn’t want to extend OMML or MathML to handle new features. There are a few improvements, such as, OneNote 2010 supports automatic arguments, and all apps except Word and Outlook support the invisible times as an equation line break as well as automatic build up of extended math autocorrect strings. For example, if you type \binomial<space> into a PowerPoint math zone, you immediately see the built-up (“Professional”) binomial-theorem equation, whereas in Word/Outlook you still need to choose the Professional option to build up the linear-format version of that equation. Conversely some Word/Outlook features haven’t been implemented in the other applications, such as custom matrix column spacings and alignments. These features might be helpful, notably for uses of matrices outside mathematics.

There’s nice MathML import/export support, which is documented here (I’ll do a separate post about that documentation). In particular, when the ODF file formats are used in Office 2010 applications, the math content is represented using MathML 2.0. And you can copy MathML to/from math engines such as Mathematica and Maple.

The bottom line is that if you need math editing and display, whether as a student or as a professional, Office 2010 on Windows 7 is a very compelling combination. If you have problems or suggestions, please feel free to post a comment on this blog or email me.