Anyone who has used Mathematica 3.0 may find it hard to believe, but Wolfram Research actually found a few important improvements to make in version 4.0. With its beefed-up numeric operations and print and Web output, Mathematica 4.0 reaches far beyond its roots as a symbolic-computation program; it’s now an all-purpose tool kit for any task relating to processing and communicating technical information.
Mathematica’s number-crunching abilitiesparticularly with respect to large arrays of numbershave improved steadily over the years, but in version 4.0, they’re downright revolutionized. A standard Power Mac G3 running the new version outperforms older SGI RISC workstations when processing huge data arrays and when running signal-processing applications. Specifically, the rewritten matrix operations store large and sparse arrays more efficiently, the code for the Fourier-transform routines has been optimized, and the program now reads HDF files at impressive speeds.
One reason this performance is crucial in science and engineering environments is that the previous leader in array processing, The MathWorks’ MATLAB, is no longer being developed for the Mac. In tests using a ten-item matrix-math test suite, Mathematica 4.0 on a 266MHz Power Mac G3 beat MATLAB 5.2 on a 300MHz Pentium II system by an average factor of 4.3. And because Mathematica’s automatic translators can convert MATLAB M-files to Mathematica notebooks, developers of custom matrix-processing applications should be able to make the switch without too much inconvenience.
In the realm of advanced development aids, Wolfram has further refined Mathematica’s rules for simplifying symbolic expressions and has added to the special-function list some math functions that previously defied useful computer definition. For science and math development, Mathematica no longer has any direct competitors on the Macor, for that matter, on PCs and Unix systems.
Appearance Is Everything
Mathematica 3.0 greatly simplified the task of producing journal-quality printed output, introducing features for using standard textbook-style notation rather than the computer-code output style used by most other math programs (including earlier versions of Mathematica). In version 4.0, the word-processing features are solid enough that you could easily make Mathematica your primary technical word processor. Not only are its editing features and style sheets more useful for technical work than those in Microsoft Word but printing as TeX and the newer LaTeX 2e files is also faultless.
Equally impressive is Mathematica 4.0’s adaptation to the world beyond print. Notebooks saved as HTML generate files of HTML source code and folders of GIFs for artwork; notebooks can also contain hyperlinks to other notebooks or to URLs. The program displays any kind of math notation beautifully on the Web, and the new version can work with Web sound files as well as graphics.
Macworld’s Buying Advice
Besides being faster and more compact than its predecessors, Mathematica 4.0 offers an amazing range of truly useful new features. And for students, the price is right: with an iMac and the $79 Student Edition, you have the finest environment for technical computing and publication ever developed. It’s simply the most impressive program I’ve seen in ten years of reviewing technical software.