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Re: [Axiom-developer] A student comment

From: Bill Page
Subject: Re: [Axiom-developer] A student comment
Date: Sat, 1 Sep 2007 23:14:46 -0400

On 9/1/07, Alasdair McAndrew wrote:
> As some of you may know, this semester I am using Axiom in a
> cryptography subject.  I have asked my students to comment briefly
> on what they like/dislike about it.  Some like it, and find it "intuitive",
> while others dislike it.

As a "first impression" I think this feedback is quite valuable. I
wonder how these same students will feel at the end of a semester of
using Axiom. Do you plan to ask them again? I would also like to know
exactly what aspects of Axiom some students found "intuitive".

> One comment in particular was:
> "The lack of Windows like interface make this package look and feel
>  second rate. The need to use )command is annoying in that the
>  command line is already parsed to handle the maths, the lack of
> command parsing shows a lack of interest in an interface."

Actually I agree with that sentiment. I think the decision to
distinguish commands by this peculiar syntactic convention was
probably already "out of fashion" even at the time Axiom was
originally implemented. Plus this makes it difficult to extend the
user interface in a natural manner simply by writing new library code.
Certainly there are some reasonable alternatives that would be more
nature and extensible.

It seems quite fair to claim that during most of Axiom's "nine lives"
user interface was given lower priority than the implementation of
mathematical algorithms. (The work that NAG did on the Techexplorer
interface for Windows was an exception, unfortunately that was lost
when the commercial version died.) Even the output of the Spad library
compiler demonstrates this apparent "lack of interest" in user
interface. As a research platform I suppose this made a certain kind
of sense but for the use you are trying to make of Axiom, I think it
could be a problem.

> This student also complained about the lack of a native Mac version.

For a better user interface experience I would recommend using Axiom
within Sage. Sage provides a browser-based notebook interface that
should be familiar to most students these days. And for cryptography I
think Sage's common interface to other packages like singular and gap
might also be of interest. It is very easy to install the Axiom
package for Sage on both Linux and Mac, though Windows is a more
difficult problem - usually solved by running Linux in a virtual
machine under Windows.

> Just thought you'd like to know.

Thanks. I would like to know more. But apparently some people here
really do not care to know. :-( The suggestion to turn these comments
back on the student surely can not be of much use since it seems
rather unlikely to me that cryptography students will be motivated to
solve these sort problems with the Axiom user interface when there are
so many other alternatives available.

Bill Page.

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