OT: Mathematica Home Edition

I could never justify paying for Mathematica. I have no professional requirement, and $1200.00+ for a hobbyist interest in math was just too much for me. All that has changed now.



I am curious how freely available math software like maxima, sagemath, etc. compared to Mathematica since I have never used it when I was in school.

No questions that Mathematica is a powerful math software that it is often being compared to.

Back then I was aware of Mathematica and how expensive it was for students like on budget. I kinda wanted but could never justify to own a copy, even if a student edition were available (which I can't recall). There were, I believe, other math software like Maple, Mathlab, but HP calculators were all I ever needed for the undergrad study. Any other software, if needed for the course, was usually provided or available to students at very low cost.

If my understanding is correct, the difference between the professional and home/student editions is mainly the license restrictions. No other differences in terms functionality.

Am I right?



That's right. There are restrictions on the license that say you can't even think about making money while using the home edition. I suspect listening to coins clinking while running the program might violate the license as written. :)

I first saw Mathematica back in 1988 when it was introduced. It was a flashy application then, and the physicists I worked for seemed to like it quite a lot. It was more interactive, powerful and nice looking than Maxsyma, which was the standard tool my customers had used up until then. I remember taking a tour of the program and being impressed with its capabilities, so much so that I've wanted a copy ever since.

Based on a day or so of use, my quick impression of Mathematica 7 is that the software differs from freely available alternatives in two respects. First, the program is a lot easier to use than Maxima et. al. It's not a given that free software should be inferior in this regard, but it seems to be so for this particular program. Second, and more important, Wolfram has an unbelievable support system behind Mathematica. It's not just the depth and breadth of the documentation, which is marvelous, it's the enormous body of supporting material, from video and interactive tutorials, to source code for applications to high quality scientific databases. Free software alternatives no doubt have similar resources available, but not from one source, and therefore not as accessible or well organized.

I come to a similar judgment when comparing GIMP to Photoshop, for example. I've used GIMP since 1998, early in its life. It's a very powerful program that will do practically anything you want a 2D graphics editor to do. Finding out how to do things can be challenging though. If I had to start from scratch learning it today, I'm sure I'd have a tough time. Photoshop on the other hand comes with huge resources, both from Adobe and third parties, which make learning the program much easier. I find the UI differences to be not so significant with these two programs, but that may be due to my 10+ years of experience with GIMP.

Of course the other big difference, for both these programs as compared to their Free alternatives is the cost..



I have had the student version of Mathematica (version 4) since I was a student a few years ago. I still have it although I rarely use it these days. I think it cost about $120 or $130 as I recall, something students could afford. Functionally, it is the same as the regular Mathematica. I also bought the 1500-page Mathematica book, from Wolfram, which cost almost as much as the software, as I recall. I would highly recommend that book too.

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