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Re: [Axiom-developer] Ask Slashdot

From: C Y
Subject: Re: [Axiom-developer] Ask Slashdot
Date: Tue, 14 Dec 2004 09:33:15 -0800 (PST)

As someone who is on slashdot waaay to much...

a)  This question has been asked before (I wish I had been online for
this one) and the responses are usually similar.  
b)  Mathematica has a very high reputation and is seldom challenged for
two reasons - power and interface.  Most people will not push
Mathematica into regions where it has trouble, and the ability to do 2D
input in Mathematica is a big, big, big usability boost.  That alone
puts it forward in people's minds as a polished tool.

--- Eugene Surowitz <address@hidden> wrote:

> Actually the real problem here is the advertising leverage that query
> and the uncritical nature of the response give to Mathematica.
> How could such queries be spotted and more appropriate pointer
> responses to math sites be generated?

Best case, spot the article and be ready with some concrete examples
where Mathematica should work and doesn't. Realistically, make a
product that the casual user can't distinguish from Mathematica as far
as usability goes.  That's probably what it will take.
> >Wow, this is pretty funny and scary stuff! 

Heh - Slashdot in a nutshell.

> >Certainly a "hot topic" if the number of replies to the original 
> >article is any indication (> 250 replies in just 2 hours, is that
> >normal on slashdot?) 

Yep, quite normal.  Really "hot" stories can have over a thousand,
although 250 is pretty good for a specialized topic like math software.
 It helps that Mathematica and Maple are so expensive - open source
advocates always keep an eye out for good replacements to expensive
commercial tools.

> >It appears Maxima wins hands down, followed
> >closely by "why not pencil and paper?". I see Axiom mentioned
> >once with our current url
> >(thank you someone ...)

Maxima wins primarily because a) It's been in the "public eye" longer,
and b) it's fairly well integrated into the Windows and Linux operating
environments.  (Well, maybe that's stretching it on Windows, but it
does work pretty well.)  Also, I think there is a sense that Maxima is
more "practical, make the logical assumptions, get the calculation
done" while Axiom is "do it right, period."  Which is fine - there are
situations where you want both.  Maxima might even evolve a little
towards Axiom's style over time.  I think Axiom has the design moral
high ground, but Maxima is currently the program in the trenches.  I
guess I envision Maxima as starting on the road to being a better
Mathematica, and Axiom as being on the road to being something purer
than either, but a tad harder for mortals to get started on.

A 1.0 release will really boot Axiom into the "public eye", and will
get it a lot more eyeballs.  Plus, the presence of the Axiom book is a
big help.  Regardless, personally I'm still grooving out over having
TWO free, high quality CASs to use - talk about the end users being the

> >But personally I am inclined to leave this kind of query to the
> >nerds who still think "that there is nothing out there that even
> >comes close to Wolfram's excellent Mathematica". Obviously they
> >are really looking... <grin>

I agree, but they are right in two ways currently - as of yet no
TeXmacs or Emacs environment for any of the free CASs comes even close
to Mathematica's front end for smoothness and friendlyness.  I still
think that interface can be equaled or even exceeded, but to give
credit where it's due it won't be a simple task.

The second way Mathematica wins is third party extras.  The biggest one
I know of for Mathematica in academia is probably Feyncalc (I suspect
engineering has their own I don't know about.)  Feyncalc would, by
itself, keep whole physics departments on Mathematica.  By the same
token, that functionality in one or more free CASs might enable them to
switch.  Again, not trivial.  (I always wondered, though, if Axiom's
strong typing might ultimately lend itself to the kind of things
Feyncalc does...)

Of course, neither of those concerns will stop new, broke users from
seeking us out, but unfortunately there ARE still a few benefits to a
massive staff and development budget :-(.  We'll get 'em eventually
though.  :-)


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