Mathematica Broadens Appeal

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.