January 19, 2000–Science magazine recently included a review of Mathematica 4 in the December 17, 1999, issue. Reviewer John Wass began by saying, “It is hard to imagine a scientific software tool that is equally useful to a math professor, a cardiologist, a protein chemist, a population biologist, a civil engineer, an architect, and an atmospheric scientist. Mathematica is just such a program….With a powerful programming language and a dizzying array of functions, the program can be adapted to perform diverse calculations for almost any scientific need.” However, Wass does not limit Mathematica‘s appeal to the professional spectrum, calling it “an excellent teaching tool…helping the student to more easily comprehend complex analytic manipulations.”
In the title, Wass graces Mathematica with the moniker “A Mathematical Swiss Army Knife” and goes on to prove his point through his presentation of a brief history of the software and a thorough examination of the enhancements new in Mathematica 4. Of chief interest are the “improved import-export capabilities, spell checking in the notebook interface,” and “significant increases in computing speed.” Wass states that “not only is Version 4 faster, it requires less memory” than previous versions to carry out the same calculations.
With an extensive cataloguing of Mathematica‘s features, the article emphasizes the utility of the software. Wass notes how Mathematica‘s platform-independent notebook document format “can easily be shared with coworkers.” The ease of importing and exporting data and graphics from a wide variety of formats lets users easily integrate Mathematica with other tools they may be using, while the ability to export to HTML/MathML with a single command is an “invaluable” feature for web users. Other attractive features include “publication-quality typeset mathematics” for presentations and technical reports as well as “beautiful graphic images…from simple two-dimensional lines to the most intricate, colored, complex surfaces.”
In closing, Wass mentions the growing support available to Mathematica users as adding to the program’s attractiveness and usability. Amongst other things, he cites the program’s extensive documentation and help menus, the foreign language editions, the “user-friendly web site” with online FAQs and the latest news, and the “excellent technical service staff” and technical support telephone line. Wass also notes the available third-party training and credits the periodic Worldwide Mathematica and Developer Conferences with extending enthusiasm for the product.
Science online subscribers may read the full text of the review at http://www.sciencemag.org.