The XML Leader

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

The XML Leader

Both Mathematica and Maple acknowledge the growing importance of XML as a framework for data exchange, with Mathematica currently looking to us like the leader in providing built-in functions for more than simple data import and export. For example, Mathematica includes facilities for exchanging its structured notebook documents, or generically formatted mathematical expressions, with other XML producers and consumers.

By contrast, even the Matlab Web site describes The MathWorks product as providing only "limited" XML support at this time, with only simple parsing and Java Document Object Model manipulations. We should note, though, that all three of these products benefit from large libraries of user-written contributed code, and prospective users should consider such resources when making their decision.

In manufacturing, retail and other operations-intensive domains, Mathematica 4.2 can make its users look good with its more robust abilities to find true optimal solutions without getting trapped in what turns out to be only a local optimum. Fitting a nonlinear function to a set of data points, Mathematica 4.2 was able to optimize the elements of a function to find a much better description of the behavior than was possible with earlier versions. That doesnt always provide a foundation for a more accurate forecast of future behavior, since the better fit may only be describing a particular episode of transient or random effects, but at least it offers the hope of identifying cyclical or trend components that were previously unrecognized.

When Mathematica gets better, as we have said when examining earlier versions, the worlds work gets easier. For example, Version 4.2s improved performance in factoring large integers could make it easier to break some previously robust encryption algorithms. Perhaps thats not an example that makes anyone want to cheer, but it illustrates the increasingly strategic role of advanced mathematical tools and techniques in industry and commerce as well as in the "black" worlds of defense and counterintelligence. Enterprise users who are familiar only with spreadsheets or with traditional statistical packages would do well to consider products such as Mathematica, Maple and Matlab as potential additions to their tool kits.

Technology Editor Peter Coffee can be reached at

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.

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