Sunday, February 08, 2009

Home Edition of Mathematica Available

I've written before about my fascination with Mathematica but it has always been way too expensive to have a copy. In its very early days, it was included free with every NeXT computer sold, and it was only a few hundred bucks to buy it otherwise. Consequently, there are quite a few references in Wolfram materials about how "hobbyists" were among the million or so users. Alas, it has been priced at about $3000 for as long as I can remember, which puts it well out of the range of hobbyists. Now, however, Wolfram is selling a full version of Mathematica 7.0.1 as a download from their web site for a price that is considerably better. Due to a licensing agreement at my work, it is possible for employees to get a "home copy" of Mathematica for free but my experience with this has been somewhat problematic: the license was always expiring and it would be weeks before it would be reinstated and the available version was always one (or two!) generations behind the current version. So I went ahead and bought a copy at the reduced price , thereby joining the storied ranks of the hobbyists, or "amateurs" (to be understood, also, in the sense in which Peter Kreeft uses this word in one of his books: "lover"). A contributor to one of the political blogs I regularly read is named John Derbyshire, who has written a couple of books about math. I like his books, but look askance at his politics sometimes. Nevertheless, I like what he said in his 2003 book, Prime Obsession,
"I should perhaps say, for the benefit of any reader so fired up by my exposition as to be on the point of running out and buying a math software package, that very strong opinions are held about the relative merits of the different packages, along the lines of the evergreen PC/Macintosh debate, with Stephen Wolfram, who created Mathematica, playing the part of Bill Gates. As a mere journalist, I consider myself hors de combat in this war. I am certainly not propagandizing on behalf of Mathematica. It was the first math software package that came to my attention, and it is the only one I have ever used."

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