Manufacturer: Wolfram Research
Price: $1,495.00 US
Platform: Caldera OpenLinux 1.2, i486/100, kernel 2.0.33, ATI Mach32 video
Reviewer: Patrick Galbraith
About three years ago, I was taking various math courses—different levels of calculus and differential equations. I actually enjoyed both, finding them a constant challenge to master. At that time, I was also working on mastering another exciting puzzle—Linux. Back then, there weren't a lot of commercial applications or even books on Linux. I had just spent a whole night downloading and copying to floppies, and migrated from Sunsite to ordering the InfoMagic set and printing out all the FAQs and HOWTOs I possibly could. I also had to maintain a MS Windows/DOS partition to run my math software, which was then Maple V. I wasn't happy to have to reboot to use the software, but when projects requiring Maple were due, I had to do it.
Today, many commercial products are available for Linux. One of them is Mathematica, a full-featured, powerful, math lover's paradise. I would have loved to have had it three years ago.
Recently, I had the privilege of reviewing this product and will look at as many features as possible in such a brief forum.
Wolfram states, “Mathematica is the world's only fully integrated environment for technical computing.” Instead of having various packages or tools for a variety of mathematical functions, Wolfram has integrated them all into one package. For this review, I tested the mathematical capabilities and ease of use of this integrated package, using the many math examples given in the huge book by Stephen Wolfram that is included with the package.
There is no limit to the things one can do with Mathematica; each would take an entire book in itself to review. I will stick to simple uses here, and keep the beginner in mind.
Mathematica comes in a big box that includes the following:
The Mathematica Book by Stephen Wolfram, which is 1403 pages of excellent examples, applications and colorful illustrations of Mathematica in action.
Getting Started Guide
Standard Add-On Packages Book
Mathematica System Administrators Guide
Installation media on CD
The installation of Mathematica was quite smooth. The installer is a simple shell script that asks various questions, such as directory and program password. The password can be obtained at Wolfram's web site upon product registration and is required in order to have a fully functioning program. Other options for registering are via fax or mail. The registration links the copy of Mathematica to the host name on which you are installing. Once the installation is performed and the password obtained and included in the installation step that asks for it, you can begin using Mathematica. It is possible to install the password at a later time, but you will be able to run in MathReader Mode only.
There are two ways to run Mathematica: via X, using the notebook and palette window (see Figure 1) or via the command line. The benefits of using the notebook and palette are the point-and-click interaction and the ability to save each session as a worksheet.
The benefit of the command line is quick computations. Note that graphics are a separate process. If you are running from the command line in an xterm, any graphics you generate will go to Mathematica's graphics output window. If you are running from a virtual terminal, the graphics will be plain ASCII.
The language to interact with Mathematica is quite simple and intuitive and also well-documented. If you have any rudimentary programming experience, it will be even easier to use. When using the worksheet window, it checks syntax and gives a system bell if you use the wrong type of bracket.
The first two examples of this are plotting (sin 1/x2)(e-x) (Figure 2) and power series (Figure 3):
I was running the equations in Figures 2 and 3 on a 486/100, and all of the computations ran quite fast.
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