By Mike Hubbartt, © Copyright 2010, All Rights Reserved.

Wolfram Research (http://www.wolfram.com/mathematica)

Hardware Requirements:

  • CPU:
    • Intel Pentium III 650MHz or faster for Windows/Linux
    • Intel CPU for Macs
  • Hard drive space – 4 GB
  • Memory – 512 MB (1 GB recommended)
  • Internet access

Operating Systems:

  • Windows – 7/Vista/XP/HPC Server 2008/Server 2008/Server 2003
  • Mac OS X – 10.5 and 10.6 with Intel CPU
  • Linux – Ubuntu 7-10/Red Hat Enterprise 4/CentOS 5/Debian 5/openSUSE 11

Price:

  • Standard New License $2495/GBP 2035/EURO 3185 (download or shipped media)
  • Standard Upgrade (need your serial number for pricing information) *
  • Academic New License $1095 (download or shipped media)
  • Academic Upgrade (need your serial number for pricing information) *
  • Student Regular New License $139.95 (download or shipped media)
  • Student Annual $69.95 (download only)
  • Student Semester $44.95/starting at GBP 20/EURO 29 (download only)
  • Student Upgrade (need your serial number for pricing information) *
  • Home/Hobbyist New License $295.95/GBP 195/EURO 295 (download only)
  • Home/Hobbyist Upgrade $99 (available as of 01/02/2011)

Network licenses offer discounts and special pricing is available for use in education, government, and non-profit organizations.

* Upgrade pricing varies depending on version owned.

Introduction to an on-going review

Wolfram released version 8 of Mathematica on November 15, 2010, and it is similar to the version 6 update where there are many enhancements and improvements over the previous version. This review will be ongoing – I will revise and add to it as I become more familiar with the product and so I encourage readers to periodically check back to see updates to the material.

BREAKING NEWS (4-27-2011)

Wolfram released an update to Mathematica 8, version 8.0.1 is now available. Click here to see our post on the new version of Mathematica.

BREAKING NEWS (3-8-2011)

I was informed by Wolfram’s PR firm on 12/01/2010 that the Player plug-in for interaction with Wolfram Demonstrations will not be available before January, 2011, and the plug-in would support the latest versions of all major browsers on Mac/Windows, including Firefox, Safari, Chrome, and Opera on both platforms, and IE for Windows. Under Macintosh, the plug-in requires that you run the installer in the disk image–i.e., copying Mathematica.app is insufficient to set it up.

As of today (3/8/2011) Mathematica Player and Player Pro have been replaced by the CDF (Computable Document Format) Player, which is available for download from Wolfram. The Mac OS X version includes plug-ins for Safari, Firefox, Chrome, and Opera. The Windows 7/Vista/XP version supports the same browsers as the Mac OS X version, but includes support for IE. The Linux version currently is a desktop application – browser plug-ins are currently under development.

Click here if you want to test whether you already have the CDF Player installed.

Mathematica users that want to publish MM6 and 7 Notebooks for Player can still do so, using Wolfram’s online service.

RELEASE DATES FOR FOREIGN LANGUAGE VERSIONS OF MATHEMATICA 8 (Updated 3/30/2011): Per Wolfram’s PR, Mathematica 8 Japanese Edition was available on 1/20/2011, and Mathematica 8 Chinese Edition was available 3/23/2011. Mathematica 8 Spanish Language Kit will be available in early 2011 (Unlike fully localized editions, this plug-in kit localizes the interface (menu, palettes, error messages) but not the documentation)-still no release date as of 1/20/2011.

Getting Started

I downloaded the 1 GB file from Wolfram and installed it on my 2.26 GHz dual core Macbook laptop, where it took up nearly 2.9GB for the installation.

Tip! If you have an older version of Mathematica already installed, rename the executable by appending the version to the file name, so that older version is not overwritten during installation of version 8. NOTE: Wolfram’s PR firm confirmed this was intentional in an email to me I received on 12/1/2010.

The initial version 8 screen is shown here:

The Welcome screen is new – better organized than earlier versions.

First, the new browser plug-in

One of the first things I wanted to check was the new browser plug in which comes with the software. Be aware that the new Mathematica 8 Player was not available when this product shipped in mid-November, so people strictly using the player will need to wait to test this added functionality.

This was seen while using a Safari plug in – Mathematica launched Safari even though I already had Firefox running. I now have the list of browsers that will have this plug in (see Very Important Notes below). I suspect user demand will drive the plug in release for other browsers.

IMPORTANT ADDITIONAL BROWSER PLUG-IN INFORMATION (12-02-2010)

Busy day yesterday, but I received more information from Wolfram’s PR about the browser plug-in that I want to share with you. Per the PR contact:

“The browser supports notebook content in two modes.  The first mode is a full-screen mode, which you can easily see right now by going to any web page which hosts a notebook file.  For example, go to demonstrations.wolfram.com and, for any demonstration, click “Download Live Version.”  This will work for any notebook linked on any website (so long as the web server isn’t configured to override the MIME type, at least).

The second mode is an embedded mode.  For example, you could embed a Mathematica Manipulate output in a regular web page.  Right now, we only have one public example of that, which is shown as part of the installation here:

http://www.wolfram.com/mathematica/plugin/success.html

I tested the first mode this morning by going to Wolfram’s Demonstration Project page and went to the Physical Sciences/Earth Sciences/ Meteorology page and checked out the Sea Level demonstration (contributed by Herbert W. Franke):

I selected DOWNLOAD LIVE VERSION and saw this in my browser as the plug-in loaded:

The first time I used the plug-in in Firefox (ver 3.6.12) I had to reload the page to see and use the demonstration. The demo was accessible within my web browser and I could manipulate the controls just like working within Mathematica.

Next (because I’m currently working on a Genetic Programming project) I checked out the Order of Operations Tree demonstration (contributed by Sarah Lichtblau) and was able to change the formulas to use for the tree:

Finally I went to the Physical Sciences/Astronomy page and selected the Bump Map of Mars (contributed by Yu-Sung Chang) and selected DOWNLOAD LIVE VERSION and was able to manipulate the controls from the browser:

I rotated the planet and saw Olympus Mons (as well as the three smaller shield volcanoes that make up the Tharsis Montes region below it). Nice detail in the demonstration – not as much detail as I’d prefer, but still usable to show geological features of the red planet.

NOTE: Two times when I tried to open demonstrations (including Bump Map on Mars) they did not display properly: there was a gray box in place of the demonstration. Both times I reloaded the browser page and it fixed the issue each time. I am using Firefox 3.6.12 on a Mac running OS X 10.6.5 and did not test on another browser or operating system, so I informed Wolfram’s support about the issue – they were unable to reproduce the problem.

Moving on beyond the browser plug-in

Time to get back to our review of new Mathematica features. I started the software and did a spot check to verify previous functionality. I periodically use Mathematica to gather astronomical data and so I tested the AstronomicalData function. I produced a table with the 8 planets names and images:

This function provides extrasolar system data as well as planetary information and is my favorite function from version 7 – still works fine. The version 8 documentation says that this function was improved in this release – an email from Wolfram’s PR firm explained that this function was only enhanced in the ability to access data from Wolfram|Alpha.

OK,  lets take a look at the new features in Mathematica 8.

New Features

1. Free-form linguistic input/Integration with Wolfram|Alpha

Free-form linguistic input is a fancy way of saying that you enter content using plain English and still get results. Nice. When I saw this feature during the demo for this release, I understood the rationale. Wolfram is helping new users start using their software before they need to learn all of the aspects of the software’s programming syntax.

I opened a new notebook and entered “= radius neptune/earth” to test this functionality – I just wanted a comparison of the size of Neptune versus Earth. The results I saw are below:

I like this, because it provides both the solution to the query plus the equivalent Mathematica syntax. This test also demonstrates the Integration with Wolfram|Alpha functionality as it retrieved the data from Alpha.

Wolfram’s decision to add the ability to retrieve data from Wolfram|Alpha right into notebooks is appreciated. For some excellent examples of notebooks from Wolfram, check out this link.

A Quick Overview of Wolfram|Alpha

My previous post shows the integration of Mathematica with Wolfram|Alpha, Wolfram’s computational knowledge engine. Since I never reviewed that new service I want to mention it now. I went to their website and did a few searches. I first search was requesting data on extra solar planets this is what I saw:

It took a lot of scrolling to go down through the list of data returned by this search, and I saved the data as a PDF for future reference. I believe this was always available since Wolfram|Alpha was made available, but this was the first time I used it and I like what I see.

My next search was to see if real data agrees with the pseudo-experts that deny global warming and this was the result:

After looking at the graph, even thought I’m no expert I’d have to say it appears that the temperature on our planet is increasing after all.

I like having internet access to scientific and technical data without needing to be concerned about the validity of that data. I would reference Wolfram|Alpha if citing from it, but I would never use data from Wikipedia in a paper. On back to the review of new features in the software.

2. New algorithms for real time image capturing

During the demo, Jon showed how easy he could configure Mathematica to act like a security system by enabling his web cam and utilizing the ability of Mathematica to only send updated images when he moved. This is important for people doing image analysis for security identification systems as well as pattern recognition.

For one test I used the built-in camera of my Macbook (although you can specify a different camera for input) to capture a picture of my alma mater t-shirt using ImageCapture to produced a picture in the notebook. This was the Mathematica screen:

I could save the image in my notebook to a free-standing file in a number of different formats including JPEG, JPEG2000, GIF, etc. Not a major feature but still useful.

Mathematica can capture a single image or record a series of images. Consider how companies could take advantage of this feature. A company using 12 web cams to cover their warehouses need to handle the constant bandwidth of 12 signals, which also requires one or more people to stare at the screens looking for movement, If the only time a camera sends a signal is when something moves, no signals are transmitted so no transmission bandwidth is needed and this changes a dedicated task to a side job for an employee. This is my favorite enhancement so far during my evaluation of this software.

3. New Import and Export Formats

The 26 new import/export formats are:

There are a lot of new import/export formats to test, so I’ll test the C and ICS import/export functionality to save time for assessing other improvements. Why? I already expressed an interest in exporting C, and I have my old Palm Pilot LifeDrive with years of data that I want to move to a more modern (and supported) hardware platform.

4. Automatically convert Mathematica programs into C code

I like writing C and now Wolfram lets you take a Mathematica program and directly convert it into C code for free-standing or integrated use. Nice. No, very nice! During the demonstration I asked about converting programs into object-oriented code (C++/C#/Java) and was told that decision was market-based. Wolfram does sell a C++ solution called MathCode C++ which is compatible with Mathematica 7, but not (as of 1/20/2011) listed as compatible with version 8. If enough users request it then it could happen in a future release. Wolfram didn’t promise this would happen, but they do listen to customer suggestions so let them know if you too would like to see support for object-oriented code generation.

Important Note (3/7/2011)

I spoke with Wolfram’s PR dept on 1/20/2011 and they said that the MathCode C++ is on the list for updating to Mathematica version 8 compatibility, but they do not have a date when we can expect that update. They did say they don’t have any known issues with MathCode C++ and Mathematica version 8. If anyone reads this post and has seen problems with this combination, please let us (and Wolfram) know.

I also requested a list of add-ons being updated for version 8 – the coordinator said all add-ons are being tested for compatibility with Mathematica 8, but there is no date when that testing will be finished.

MathCode C++ is still listed as Mathematica 7 Compatible as of 3/7/2011.

5. Dynamic Library Loading

Incorporate external C and C++ libraries, which is nice for developers integrating Mathematica with other lab systems. Mathematica can share data with external libraries using LibraryLink functions to pass integers, reals, arrays, strings, Mathematica expressions, as well as pass messages.  Sweet.

6. Enhanced 2D and 3D Graphics and Drawing Tools

The primary area where Mathematica 7 stood out over version 6 was the enhanced graphics capabilities. Version 8 has enhanced scaling and surface texture mapping for 2D and 3D images. In truth, a picture is worth a thousand words and improving the way Mathematica represents data is much needed. I don’t know for sure, but I’d guess this enhancement was based on user feedback, so it does pay to speak up.

Version 8 also has enhanced illustration and drawing tools, which may not beat Photoshop or Illustrator, but they do enhance the quality of work that can be done within Mathematica so this enhancement is a time saver. I do wonder why it took this long to add an easy way to align drawing elements, as that has been a part of most graphic packages for a long time. A new color picker is nice, although I am more inclined to use my browser plug-in or Photoshop for that functionality.

7. UI and Usability

The look-and-feel seems the same between versions 7 and 8, although text processing is improved in version 8. There is a new Custom Style dialog or you can select (and preview) a style using the Format/Style menu options. It is simple to use the supplied styles or create a new one. Something I didn’t see was a way to use external styles from other external word processing products like Word – couldn’t find a menu item or a place on the Classroom Assistant to import styles (but there is a menu option to import stylesheets). If the capability to import or use external styles doesn’t exist yet, it would be one of the enhancements I’d like to see in release 9.

Positives

  • Tons of new features and enhancements. I like how the free-form linguistic input will help newcomers learn the correct way to enter Mathematica syntax, and I like the integration with Wolfram|Alpha. I should add that internet access is a necessity if you want access to Wolfram’s dynamic data.
  • Modest hardware requirements – very little needed in the way of processor, system memory, and disk storage space.
  • I love the new Home license, introduced in version 7. One of my previous complaints was the price of this software precluded many home users from buying and using it. The college I attended for undergrad courses did provide current students with a free 1 year licenses for Mathematica and that did influence my decision to go there. I was pleased to learn the school I’m attended for graduate classes also offers a free 1 year license to current students, but eventually I will no longer be attending classes and appreciate being able to afford to buy this useful product when I complete my degree.
  • Improved image capturing and analysis. Capture a single image or a sequence, where sequences can consist of an image that changes over time. The version 7 release was heavily oriented towards working with graphics and I’m pleased to see they continue to improve that aspect of the program.
  • C code generation from Mathematica programs. (Note: I will test this and post my findings during this review-the fact that Wolfram provides this functionality means a lot to me).
  • Integration with external libraries is huge for multiple system environments. A big plus in my eyes.
  • Technical support response is excellent. I contacted them 3 times during my review and they were prompt in responding and helpful.

Negatives

  • No longer support for OS X running on PPC Macs. This bothers me considering the modest hardware requirements for this upgrade. The problem for most Mac users is that Macs continue to run well even when they are replaced by newer and more powerful computers. I understand other vendors like Adobe made this same business decision, but my 20″ G5 PPC Mac works fine even though it lacks an Intel CPU and now I have to restrict it to version 7 of this software.
  • I also saw that Solaris is no longer in the list of supported operating systems and that is a shame. I didn’t install Mathematica 7 on my Sun workstation but feel others in academia use Suns as well as Linux and would like to see it continue to receive support. I also believe that the Mathematica Player was not supported for Solaris, so perhaps Wolfram felt they did not hear enough from Solaris users when release 7 was released to be a valid reason to drop support for version 8 of Mathematica on Solaris.
  • While it supports creating new styles for text processing, it does not appear to support importing or integrating with external styles. I hope I’m wrong – let me know if I missed that and I’ll correct this review.

Conclusion

Very, very positive so far, and strongly recommended as a new or upgrade purchase. It will take awhile to cover all the improvements and additions in this version of the software, so my final conclusion when come when this review is finished.

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Comments
  1. frans kt says:

    Hi,

    I’m interested to try Wolfram Player Pro.
    I’ve asked Wolfram whether they have trial version (download link) for Player Pro with no answers so far.
    Is there any way you could help me?

    • I emailed my contact at Wolfram this morning. I can’t promise how long it will take to get a response, but I will post it here as soon as I find out.

      - Mike

      • frans kt says:

        Hi Mike,

        Thanks a lot.
        I’m located in Jakarta, Indonesia, and very interested in either Mathematica 8 or Player Pro.
        I’m planning to embed either Mathematica/Player Pro on the software that my company is currently developing. We use the function to display and evaluate MathML.
        I’ve tried to develop communication with Wolfram, but sometimes it took a while to get the answers :).
        I even haven’t got any price/quotation on Mathematica 8 or Player Pro.
        I understand that they put the price on the website, but when I emailed Wolfram, they mentioned something like “the price will depends on my location”.
        My last contact is with Kim Schriefer Tyson.

        Any help you could provide is very much appreciated.

        thankss..
        Frans KT

  2. Frans KT:

    Hope I can help. I understand how hard it is to get support when you are located outside the country of any software vendor. Sometimes I get a quick response from Wolfram, and sometimes it takes awhile to get my questions answered because they need to look into the question/issue.

    Have you contacted Wolfram’s sales rep for Indonesia, or are you trying to work with one of their technical experts? I don’t know the rep you mentioned, but I will pass her name along to my contact to follow up on this for you.

    - Mike

  3. frans kt says:

    Hi Mike,

    Actually, I’ve asked several times about any Wolfram’s rep in Indonesia/Asia.
    With no answer so far, I assume they don’t have any :).
    I still curious about Player Pro. I’ve tried to find any trial version/download link with no luck so far.
    Anyway, thanks a lot for your respons so far.
    I appreciate that.

  4. Hi Frans KT:

    Hope I can help. I emailed them early this morning and will post as soon as they reply. Are you looking at Player Pro 7? I don’t know if Wolfram released a Player Pro for version 8 – I thought CDF Player replaced Player.

    Take care,
    Mike

  5. frans kt says:

    Hi Mike,
    Actually we’re quite comfort with Mathematica, but we’re looking for other alternative since we only use small features on Mathematica. We use the evaluate and display MathML features of Mathematica. That’s why we want to try Player Pro since it’s lot cheaper than Mathematica :). We’ve tried CDF, but it’s not complies with our requirements.
    Before Mathematica, we’ve tried WebEQ from Design Science, but unfortunately the product has discontinued, and replaced with MathFlow which does not contain the evaluate and display features. Tried to talk to them on purchasing WebEQ license, but got rejected :).
    That’s why, after some research, we found Mathematica.
    Actually, earlier we had contacted Wolfram to have some clarification about a statement on your website that says “As of today (3/8/2011) Mathematica Player and Player Pro have been replaced by the CDF (Computable Document Format) Player, which is available for download from Wolfram.”
    This is their respond:
    “Player Pro still exists though version 8 for Player Pro has yet to be
    released.”

    Cheers..
    Frans KT

  6. Frans KT:

    Understood.

    Regarding “Player Pro still exists though version 8 for Player Pro has yet to be released”, it was my understanding that Player and Player Pro for version 7 still exist, but Player will not be released for version 8 – CDF Player replaces it. Wolfram also did not tell me they intend to offer an update Player Pro to version 8 – they might if there were enough requests for it, but I haven’t heard more about it since CDF Player was released.

    Best,
    Mike

  7. frans kt says:

    Hi Mike,

    I’ve communicated again with Wolfram, and they recommend us to use the WebMathematica.
    I’ve tried to find any download link or price for the product with no result.
    I think it’s the same case as Player Pro, the download link only available after we purchase it.
    Anyway, our curiousity is about the price.
    Do you have any idea?

    Cheers..
    Frans KT

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