Mathematica Broadens Appeal

By Peter Coffee  |  Posted 2002-08-19 Print this article Print

New capabilities, cross-platform consistency excel, but tool kit has long learning curve.

Its been said that anyone who doesnt already know about Mathematica may safely ignore news about its updates, since "nearly anyone whod have a use for it would have heard of it" (in the words of MacAddict reviewer Ian Sammis). Theres a grain of truth in that comment, but still we beg to differ. This springs 4.2 update of Wolf- ram Research Inc.s marquee product will appeal to a much broader audience than the researchers and the rocket-scientist types who have long been the companys core market.

Mathematica 4.2 augments extensive mathematical, symbolic processing and graphical facilities with increased convenience in XML-based data exchange with other enterprise systems. It offers assistance to operations staff with improved optimization tools and can take its results directly to an audience with expanded technical publishing and slide-show capabilities.

Available on Windows, Mac OS (including OS X) and Linux (PC and PPC) at a single-seat price of $1,880, Mathematica is a leading example of supercomputer power for single-user systems. Notably rivaled by Waterloo Maple Inc.s Maple 8 (also released in the spring) and by The MathWorks Inc.s Matlab 6.1 (released last month), Mathematica is the only one supporting the Macintosh at all with a current version and the only one shipping for Mac OS X—no small advantage in the academic and graphical communities that still have important Macintosh contingents.

We found the Mac OS X implementation consistent with the Windows version, and the combination of processor-intensive workload and cross-platform availability makes Mathematica (like Adobe Systems Inc.s Photoshop) useful ammunition in the ever-popular sport of processor wars. After adjusting for clock-speed differences, we found the same operations running 10 to 30 percent more quickly (on a per-cycle basis) on a G4-equipped Titanium PowerBook than on a Pentium III-equipped Windows 2000 laptop.

The Mathematica environment provides an interactive calculator of essentially unlimited precision, with an enormous vocabulary of specialized functions. An interactive session is transcribed in a "notebook" document, arranged in a series of cells or hierarchical groups of cells that can be used to organize and selectively display the progress of a calculation or to package and present the results of a larger study in a platform-neutral format.

Peter Coffee is Director of Platform Research at, where he serves as a liaison with the developer community to define the opportunity and clarify developers' technical requirements on the company's evolving Apex Platform. Peter previously spent 18 years with eWEEK (formerly PC Week), the national news magazine of enterprise technology practice, where he reviewed software development tools and methods and wrote regular columns on emerging technologies and professional community issues.Before he began writing full-time in 1989, Peter spent eleven years in technical and management positions at Exxon and The Aerospace Corporation, including management of the latter company's first desktop computing planning team and applied research in applications of artificial intelligence techniques. He holds an engineering degree from MIT and an MBA from Pepperdine University, he has held teaching appointments in computer science, business analytics and information systems management at Pepperdine, UCLA, and Chapman College.

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