Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Mupad - what went wrong?

A sad tale of politics at http://fuchssteiner.info/ explains why Mupad has
been withdrawn. The bottom line is that the Paderborn University, which has
funded the development of MuPad for many years, has had enough and closed the
project.

If MuPad Pro is to survive SciFace, the company that marketed MuPad and MuPad
Pro, and which developed the additional MuPad Pro interface will need to fund
itself. According to Dr Fuchs, the company was almost bankrupt in August
BEFORE the funding was removed. August is a tough time for companies which
sell to academics, due to the holidays, and unfortunately for SciFace, it
comes round every year. Can SciFace become viable within 8 months? It rests on
whether the 93% of the users who have, im the past, opted for the free MuPad
can be persuaded to pay for MuPad Pro. Without the resources to produce a
compelling upgrade, this seems unlikely.

It is hard to judge the rights and wrongs of the bitter dispute that Dr Fuchs
has had with Paderborn University but ultimately the problem was structural.
The entire viability of a product, the technology and the investment of the
user base rested on the generous support of one contributor. And what did
Paderborn University get out of it? Prestige? a skills base? pleasure in the
knowledge of their generous donation to the world? Intangible and evidently
unconvincing return.

Is there a lesson? Only one current product comes close to the same economic
model - SciLab, but there some significant differences. The lesson is more
general- before you lock yourself into a technology today, count how many
people you are relying on to fund and provide you support tomorrow. If its a
commercial company, count the paying users, if it is open source, count the
contributors (both programming and finance support).

Safety in numbers.

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