capsule review

Mathematica CalcCenter 3

At a Glance
  • Wolfram Research Mathematica CalcCenter 3

Calculation Center was Wolfram Research’s first attempt to make Mathematica, its flagship math calculation program, friendlier to mere non-programming mortals, such as students and beginners. Its menus give you a choice of templates called Instant Calculators and it provides examples as starting points. These are helpful and in contrast to Mathematica’s rather austere starting point, which is a blank page of a Mathematica.nb-format notebook.

There have been hundreds of upgrades to Mathematica since Calculation Center was introduced four years ago, and the renamed, remodeled CalcCenter 3 brings Wolfram’s self-described “lite” version of Mathematica up to date. It’s remarkably fast, and a bargain too.

Inside the math engine

Mathematica uses a collection of thousands of algorithms to solve problems, and it works continually on upgrading its algorithm base to improve speed and to better handle special cases. The upshot for CalcCenter 3 is that it now feels considerably snappier—Wolfram claims a speed increase of a factor of 70 in some cases, but you’ll notice an order-of-magnitude faster performance with day-to-day use as well.

The program’s Solvers for both ordinary and partial differential equations are now amazingly effective in both numeric and symbolic modes. CalcCenter now supports single-variable names for vectors and arrays in equations, and also supports huge vectors and arrays, so you can manipulate thousands of terms in simple one-line equations.

CalcCenter 3 lets you access most of Mathematica through templates (like the one pictured here) instead of asking you to generate lines of code (for example, Plot3D[Sin[x y], {x, 0, 4}, {y, 1, 5}]).
(Click image to open full screenshot)

Convenient for reports

CalcCenter 3 imports every important math file format from Windows and Unix, and exports results to the Web in proper Cascading Style Sheet XHTML. When equations are copied from CalcCenter 3 to another Mac app, such as Microsoft Word, they appear in proper typeset format, making it quite convenient to produce professional reports.

What’s missing

There is a big difference between CalcCenter 3 and Mathematica—you can program Mathematica to access data on Web sites automatically, for example, as well as dozens of other high-powered capabilities that aren’t ever going to be part of CalcCenter.

In addition, it would make sense for Wolfram to expand CalcCenter’s statistical functionality (especially in light of Excel’s well-documented numerical errors on several statistics tests). This product includes a good assortment of distributions, but for a student universe of business majors, stats functions like t-tests and ANOVA show up more often in coursework than the Weibull distribution now included in the program.

Macworld’s Buying Advice

CalcCenter 3 for students and novices costs less than a typical math textbook, but it actually does all the problems for you. You can’t beat that. Even old-time Mathematica users will find it convenient for quick work on smaller problems.

[ Charles Seiter, Ph.D., a long-time math/science software reviewer, has been covering Wolfram products since the first beta of Mathematica appeared in the early 1980s. ]

EDITOR’S NOTE: 7/28/05 - Because of typographical errors, the price should be listed as $595 rather than $695 and ANVOVA should be spelled ANOVA. CalcCenter was introduced in 2001, not eight years ago.

At a Glance
  • Pros

    • New core technology greatly improves speed and computation range


    • Statistics don’t have enough functions
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