Mathematica 5.1s Web Services Add Up

Mathematica 5.1 delivers improvements over Version 5.0 that are vastly out of proportion for a .1 upgrade.

Its ironic that Mathematica 5.1, an intensely mathematical software workbench, delivers improvements over Version 5.0 that are vastly out of proportion for a .1 upgrade.

The Mathematica 5.1 environment released last month allows users to incorporate Web services functions into calculations, as well as to work with previously unsupported mainstream data types in a way that earns this versions nickname of "the data functions release."

With a simple InstallService function that takes the URL of a WSDL file as its argument, Mathematica adds the Web services functions defined at that location to its already-enormous vocabulary of built-in commands. With a one-line time-lapsed loop, for example, I could easily monitor the real-time exchange rate between two countries currencies.

I could just as readily have chosen to develop an arbitrarily complex program to detect foreign-exchange arbitrage opportunities. I could even have built a custom currency-trading dashboard with Wolframs now-included GUIKit graphical interface builder, introduced this summer as a free download add-on for Version 5.0.

Although its site-licensed at many research and academic institutions, Wolfram Researchs flagship product has never been priced for the casual user: Prices begin at $1,880 on Windows, Mac OS and Linux, with versions for higher-priced Unix platforms priced at $3,135. Mathematica probably wont be on every desktop in most companies. Its all the more useful, then, that Version 5.1 adds XLS (Microsofts Excel spreadsheet) format to its list of supported data types for import/export operations.

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