Not Just Pretty

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

Not Just Pretty

Beyond its vast number-crunching powers, Mathematica offers symbolic calculation facilities (for problems such as "Solve x^2—3x + 2 = 0 for all possible values of x") and sophisticated visualization tools. Mathematicas graphics become more than decorative when the problem is one of visualizing—for example, the fit and motion of a complex mechanism (see screen).

Its remarkably simple to use Mathematica to generate a series of graphics representing successive snapshots of a changing situation, to collapse those into a single notebook cell and to show the result as an animated view with convenient on-screen controls.

We have to give at least a respectful nod to Maple 8, with its substantial redesign of its own user interface—especially its new interactive plot builder, which many will prefer to Mathematicas interface of command-line plus point-and-click palettes.

In enterprise applications, however, Mathematicas approach lends itself at least as well to documenting and reproducing previous analyses, and anyone evaluating this type of product should think about long-range ease of use as well as immediate ease of learning and experimentation. Mathematicas notebook interface takes some learning before it becomes second nature, but its top-to-bottom consistency and its interaction with programmable output facilities offer a return on that invested effort.

Peter Coffee is Director of Platform Research at, where he serves as a liaison with the developer community to define the opportunity and clarify developersÔÇÖ technical requirements on the companyÔÇÖs 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 companyÔÇÖs 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.

Submit a Comment

Loading Comments...
Manage your Newsletters: Login   Register My Newsletters

Rocket Fuel