It's almost ironic that the web was invented at CERN (Geneva), one of the world's biggest physical research centers, but it never included any standard way of including mathematical formulas in the documents. Yes, there's MathXML, which appears to be supported by most browsers nowadays (out of the box or with some plug in), but it's far from successful, because what the scientific and mathematic community is used is LaTeX. MathXML isn't designed to work the same way people writes its formulas by hand, and LaTeX is.
LaTeX, for those that don't know, works pretty much like a C++ compiler: you write the source code for your document with lots of maths in it, you compile it with latex and you get a output file called DVI (device independent). That DVI file is then converted to a postcript or a PDF file for sharing, with a perfect formating and very nice formulas.
For a webpage with scientific content, with lots of maths, you can use LaTeX to compile the formulas and process the output to make tiny gif or png files, like this one:
. For static pages, you can do this at your own computer and then upload the image files, but that's not feasible if have some boards and want to let your users to include formulas in their posts. The only solution in that case is to have a PHP hook in your boards that calls LaTeX; the most famous is LaTeXrender (just google for it).
Now the problem with most hosts, specially if you want to use a shared plan, is that they won't have LaTeX installed. Some simply don't know what it is, and when you try to explain them they fear that it might be too CPU intensive; in fact, LaTeX was written in the 80ies, so it's very very light... Also the images are cached, so they every different formula is processed only once.
If your host doesn't have LaTeX installed, you're not completely lost: there's a cgi program called mimeTeX that understands most of the LaTeX language and can generate the images; the drawback is that the quality of the images is far from good.
A few weeks ago my contract with my previous hosting (which refused to install LaTeX) was about to run out, so I decided to migrate to another server where I could provide professional looking formulas to my visitors. I did intensive research, contacted 20+ companies. In WHT I could find only a thread about hostings with LaTeX; the user was recommended dreamhost, which has latex installed in all their servers. I wanted to extend the research to the non-overselling hosts. Most of the hosts refused to install latex, and some were unclear (some of them asked me to ask it in a ticket after signing-up, and then use the money back guarantee, something I found unacceptable due to the loss of time it'd be for me). I'm going to share the results of my research, with the hope that it might be helpful for someone that wishes to have a good locking mathematical site.
Note that this is not
a review of the following hosts, and I only have experience with one of them (the one I finally picked... I'll make a review of it some time in the future). I'm only sharing with you all what their answer to the question "Can I use LaTeX in your shared plans?" was. Any user willing to use my list to pick a hosting with latex will have to choose according to his/her other needs, reviews found, etc. Note also that this list is not complete, there are plenty of hosts I could not contact, and those that refuse might change mind without noticing me.
My list had 7 names (in no particular order):
- Vexxhost: The person that answered me did not know what LaTeX was, even he didn't know if it was a PHP extension or a separate program. But he stated that if it was a separate program, they'd be more than happy to install it for me.
- goUltimateHosting: The person that answered me (who I think was the same CEO of the company) wasn't very sure of what latex was, as well, but since I told in my original message that it was light, he agreed to install it. (Also I asked if I could use php 5, since they were only advertising php4, which has very poor OOP handling... He even took my petition as the moment to upgrade, and now I've seen in this site that they advertise "now offering php 4 & php 5" :p).
- Fused networks: David didn't foresee LaTeX being a problem. Since it was not standard, support and additional plug-ings might come slowly, and additional fonts might have a fee (although the standard LaTeX installation included with any linux distribution is more than enough for any real needs).
- iHubNet: The person that answered me had no idea of what LaTeX was, but cared enough to ask the techs. The techs were okay about installing LaTeX, but also showed some security concern because I also wanted ssh access. At first it seemed a bit paranoid, but I think it's fully understandable given the amount of fraud in hosting industry (thus, I did not take into account as a negative point their concerns).
- Downtown host: Jorge was positive about installing LaTeX in the server. Even, they had installed it for other customers in the past.
- WebHostingBuzz: Their Cheif Operations Officer told me that it was possible to have LaTeX in their shared servers.
- iWeb8: Actually I never contacted them, but they did answer my petition for a quote, which was quite taxative about the need of LaTeX, so I do assume they allow it.
I hope that this list can be handy for someone in the future. To those hosts that agreed to install LaTeX for me, lots of thank you for taking into account the special needs of the scientific community; I can say that I was very very sorry to discard some of those hosts, but of course I could only choose one. And to the hosts that refused, I'd ask them to reconsider it; being a mathematical friendly host is easy, it won't really affect the others accounts in the server (for medium sites... for large ones, with a lot of new posts it might... like everything else!), and it can give you some more scientific clients