Wolfram’s Mathematica 8 is the world’s leading application for computations. The program can handle everything from the most complex algorithms to programming and development as well as interactive presentations. Mathematica is the chosen program among most computation-intensive industries such as engineering, biotechnology, statistics and finance.
For non-professional users, there are at least two reasons to try Mathematica: It is fun and it just became much easier to use. In fact, Wolfram describes the most basic version of the program as being ideal for “hobbyists and enthusiasts.”
When opening Mathematica 8, users are presented with the welcome screen, which allows them to create new notebooks or other projects. This screen also provides three options that are especially useful to new users. The Learning Center on Wolfram’s website contains a variety of resources to learn the program, such as videos, articles, books and professional training.
The Demonstrations Project section of Wolfram’s website contains a wealth of downloadable Mathematica files of others’ work. Users can browse by topics such as mathematics, business & social systems, kids & fun and physical sciences. Users can also try files before downloading them using Wolfram’s CDF Player, which allows the file to be used directly on the website. All files are available for download by selecting Download Source Code, and files can be opened in Mathematica.
The third option is Wolfram’s Documentation Center (search completed documentation), which resides within the program rather than on the website. This section breaks down most of the functions supported by Mathematica and helps users try them out. For instance, to find out a company’s price-earnings ratio, go to Computable Data and then Financial & Economic Data to see that the ratio is part of the Financial Data function.
Mathematica 8 offers a variety of ways to learn the program, whether you prefer to watch videos, read or even get hands-on experience. However, it will still take quite some time to get comfortable with the basics. For instance, to compute 2 + 2, the user must enter the equation and then press Shift and Enter to compute the result. Although not too complicated, it differs from the more intuitive Enter by itself and often leaves users wondering why the program does not work.
Wolfram’s Mathematica 8 has a new feature called Free-Form Input, which allows users to type what they want and have Mathematica figure out the math—much like searching on Google. Although this feature is not perfect yet, it is still quite remarkable. To use Free-Form Input, enter an equal sign followed by text. If you enlarge the figure here, you will notice two orange equal signs on the left, which illustrate the feature. The first entry, U.S. Unemployment Rate, produces the correct output in percentage form, whereas the second entry, U.S. Second Quarter GDP, produces the correct output in terms of dollars instead of a percentage. Often, it will take a few tries with minor tweaks before the program will display the information as desired.
Wolfram Mathematica 8 is an in-depth program that everyone should at least try, despite its impracticality for most individuals. Anyone can try Mathematica 8 for free with Wolfram’s 30-day trial. The trial is completely free and does not require a credit card. Wolfram also offers a variety of purchasing options.
System Requirements: Windows, Mac, Linux, Intel Pentium III 650 MHz processor or equivalent, 512 MB RAM required (1 GB or more recommended) and Internet Access
Size: 4 GB
Price: $149–$6,995; 30-day free trial