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Re: [Axiom-developer] Re: AMS Notices: Open Source Mathematical Software

From: M. Edward (Ed) Borasky
Subject: Re: [Axiom-developer] Re: AMS Notices: Open Source Mathematical Software
Date: Sun, 18 Nov 2007 17:15:49 -0800
User-agent: Thunderbird (X11/20071031)

William Stein wrote:
On Nov 18, 2007 12:59 PM,  <address@hidden> wrote:
Sixth, computational mathematics, which currently rests on closed
source commercial efforts, will eventually suffer from a massive
"black hole" once the current software dies. Suppose Wolfram Research
and Maplesoft go out of business. That might seem unlikely but there
are very few companies that last more than 50 years. Since software is
now considered an asset it cannot be simply given away. (Even if the
software was opened-sourced it is poorly documented according to
people who know the source).  We could have the situation like
Macsyma, where the company folded and the source code is never
released. Is this what the NSF sees as the correct long term basis for
a fundamental science like computational mathematics?

I think you're right to be worried about exactly these things.    Some people
in my research area (number theory / arithmetic geometry) are
worried about this right now in the context of Magma, whose longterm future is
hazy at present.   There are actually many examples like this already, e.g.,
Mupad doesn't seem to be doing so well commercially, and maybe
researchers who have written a lot of mupad code aren't so happy about this...
Another one ... Texas Instruments has discontinued Derive. They do have some kind of replacement, but their marketing seems to be only to the SAT-prep and educational institution arena, not professional working mathematicians. They're actually very close to refusing to sell a one-off to someone. I can't say I disagree with their approach -- after all, they have stockholders -- but I think there is a real risk to all of the closed-source math software.

Then again, the open-source alternatives are certainly "good enough" for what I need to do, and the handwriting is on the wall for some closed source packages. About all it takes for an open-source package to be competitive these days is a "native" (non-Cygwin) Windows port. But I don't do the high-end PhD research, either.

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