Friday, June 30, 2006

Maple moves closer to Matlab

This week's announcement of a new "Maple toolbox for Matlab" raises interesting issues, even though the product being announced is quite minor.

The product appears to amount to a new command for Matlab that sends computations to Maple. The press release claims that it is "bi-directional" though no examples are given of the reverse call being made.

Firstly, this is yet another example of the Maplesoft strategy being to position Maple as a companion product for control engineers using Matlab. See my speculation on this back in March. All the explanation for the link are written for the Matlab user, not the Maple user: features listed are mostly not the new link features, but a summary of what Maple is, only two of seven screenshots on the website show any interaction between Maple and Matlab, the others show Maple being used for control calculations .

Maplesoft's recent announcement to discontinue all of the platforms that it supports except Windows XP, Mac, Linux and Solaris makes sense in this context, as these are the exact platforms that Matlab supports.

However, it is interesting to note that this appears to compete with the existing relationship between Maplesoft and Mathworks.

Mathworks already offer two "Symbolic toolboxes" which are the same as this - Maple (or a subset of Maple) and a link to call it from Matlab. What's different? This one uses the current version of Maple, while the Matlab toolboxes use Maple 8 (three versions behind). This one includes the Maple interface. This one is sold by Maple. This one uses different syntax.

Mathworks has not made any announcement of this new toolbox and neither party has said anything about future support for the existing symbolic toolboxes.

So while the product strategy seems to move closer to Matlab, the business relationship seems to move away from Mathworks. I can only speculate to the reasons - lack of interest from Mathworks to upgrade the existing toolbox or perhaps Maplesoft is unsatisfied with the royalties that it gets from the Symbolic toolbox sales.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Government bodies and computing don't mix

Something amusing today. A news item on Grid Computing Now says...

"THE TWO principal Grid standards bodies, the Global Grid Forum (GGF) and Enterprise Grid Alliance (EGA) have announced the completion of their merger, forming the Open Grid Forum (OGF)."

It starts with some exciting phrases about passion and action...

"This merger integrates the passion, expertise and experience of the EGA and GGF members to enhance our capability to deliver results faster, communicate more clearly and collaborate more effectively," said Linesch."

But then in a reminder that no government, that I am aware of, has ever managed the deployment of a major IT project without overspending and over-running, or ever written a successful piece of software, it then goes on to say...

"Over the next several months, OGF will focus on completing the merger integration. It will finalise the Board of Directors and day-to-day operations leadership team; transition current members and recruit new members into the organisation."

Look to industry for the action.

It reminds me of the People's Front of Judea in Monty Python's The Life of Brian- read the transcript here to understand why.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Eclipse IDE for Mathematica

Wolfram Research have announced a new integrated development environment for Mathematica based on the open source platform Eclipse.

It always seemed that because Mathematica's language is very elegant and readable that Wolfram felt that development tools like debuggers were somehow unnecessary. While I have always liked the language (eg see comments on function naming), the lack of developer tools was definitely a weakness. It is good to see this deficiency finally corrected.

Wolfram have hooked up a large number of the Eclipse features: code editing (syntax highlighting, error reporting, local variable coloring, code outline etc), performance profiling, revision management, test management, a build system as well as step by step debugging.

As I commented previously, Eclipse has been gathering a lot of momentum. So as well as helping Mathematica users, this will make Mathematica more accessible to developers who use Eclipse for Java, C or FORTRAN development, who already use Eclipse.

PTC plans for MathCAD

A few details of the plans that Parametric have for MathCAD, after the purchase of Mathsoft completes, were released at their user conference recently.

The headline feature is, as I predicted, a link between their Pro/Engineer products and MathCAD, which will allow you to link a parameter in Pro/Engineer to a variable in a MathCAD worksheet. Since they already have this capability between Excel and Pro/E it is not clear that they will push this 100% as the "right way" to work.

MathCAD will remain available as a stand-alone product- logical since the management of Parametric have stated their plans to reach a revenue goal, so as much of the reason for buying Mathsoft was to buy their revenue as to support any strategic technology plans.

One amusing quote from the PTC panel Q+A lead by Jim Heppelmann and Brian Shepherd was that there are 1.4 million MathCAD's out there. This is 400,000 less than the number that Mathsoft are quoting. Having just spent $60M you would think you would remember the right number- or perhaps Mathsoft have been guilty of just a little hype.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Endnote X released

Thomson ResearchSoft have released a new version of their popular reference management software Endnote.

The main developments are in the handling of PDF files and less exciting, but very important for such a product, improvements to searching and organization.

I have always felt that PDF files were the wrong way to go for information, with their focus on visual presentation rather than semantic markup. But much as I would like to see XML type formats be developed further, there is no serious competitor to PDF right now, so like millions of others, I use them widely.

For Thomson to position themselves as the people to organize your PDF information, is a smart move.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Is Maplesoft MacTel support what it seems?

I usually try to add personal experience and opinion to news, but last week with the Maple MacTel announcement, I reported it from the press release, like most of the Mac media, without question.

But queries on the Maple user forum hint at something more to the story. Two users have pointed out that while the Maple interface layer is claiming to be a Universal Binary, the Maple computational engine is reporting itself as a PowerPC application, and therefore running under emulation. Now since the computational engine is the purpose of the product, this rather undermines the claim of a native port of the product.

Furthermore, since the majority of Maple interface is written in Java and therefore is designed to run on the virtual platform of the JRE (likely slower than native PowerPC code running on Rosetta emulation), it is not clear that the native code can be doing anything very significant.

Perhaps this will turn out to be a misunderstanding or a bug is causing Maple to mis-report itself. But a thin layer of native code hiding an unported application would not endear Maplesoft to the Mac enthusiast community.

[[Update 15-Jun-6]]
So the issue turns out to be carelessness rather than a wholescale absense of Mactel code. Also, I had not noticed that the press release had carefully avoided the use of the word "Universal", as the Maplesoft statement that follows explains. Goes to show even press releases are sometimes worth deeper analysis!

"Hi there,

I'm a developer and a resident Mac expert at Maplesoft. I'd like to clarify some of the confusion about the state of the Intel version. The summary is, everything that counts in the kernel and GUI is universal. We have a two remaining vestiges of PowerPC code, but they should not impact performance in any significant way.

Here's a detailed explanation of what's going on.

1. A PowerPC process (mfsd) shows up when you start Maple. This process is a third-party license manager daemon and is not involved in Maple computations in any way. It won't affect the performance of computations done by the Maple kernel (mserver), which is a universal binary.

2. Maple shows up as "PowerPC" when you do a Get Info from the Finder. This is because Maple is packaged as a Java app, and such packages contain a launcher application stub (JavaApplicationStub). This is a tiny executable that launches Java and then quits. Unfortunately, we didn't update this stub (oops) with the rest of the update, so we're still using the PowerPC-only version. We'll address this in a future version, but in the meantime rest assured that the worksheet uses the Intel JVM and takes full advantage of Apple's latest and greatest Java technology for the Intel platform. (Read: it's a LOT faster than before!)

Because of this remaining PowerPC-only code, you may have noticed that we can't technically use Apple's "Universal" moniker for our product.

I'd be happy to answer any other questions you may have about Maple, whether on the Mac, or in general.

Yu-Hong Wang
Senior developer, Maplesoft"

Friday, June 09, 2006

Mathematica and Matlab add support for Microsoft CCS

As I posted yesterday, Microsoft released their new HPC OS, Compute Cluster Server 2003 today.

Wasting no time at all both Wolfram Research and Mathworks have already released updates to their HPC products to support the new technology. Both have made the update free, though Mathworks appear to restrict to customers with active service agreements.

I am not sure if there is a recommendation hidden in the diplomatically similar comments provided by John Borozan, group product manager, Windows Server Division at Microsoft...

On Mathematica: "Microsoft is pleased to work with Wolfram Research to deliver a quality computing experience to our shared customers. gridMathematica is an essential application for high-performance computing, and with Wolfram's Cluster Integration Package for Windows Compute Cluster Server 2003 we are pleased to know that our customers will have a zero-configuration, seamless solution that meets their needs."

On Matlab: "We are pleased to work with The MathWorks to help facilitate the next wave of discovery in the technical computing community by delivering software that addresses some of the barriers engineers and scientists face. The MathWorks' Distributed Computing Toolbox and Windows Compute Cluster Server 2003 work together to simplify the process of developing distributed computing applications so that users can address more complex problems out of the gate."

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Microsoft CCS takes on HPC

Microsoft's new platform for high performance computing is rumored to be launching officially tomorrow(ish).

Anachronistically named Microsoft Compute Cluster Server 2003 (because it is an extension on the Server 2003 product range), it supports job scheduling, MPI, MPICH and MS MPI messaging, active directories, and other goodies for setting up and running a cluster.

While a little late on the HPC scene, Microsoft appears to be taking it seriously. And while they do not succeed in everything that they do, you have to expect this to make a big impact in driving the accessibility of (relatively) low cost HPC to a wider audience.

Also significant is that it only supports 64bit hardware. How long before we expect that of a new software release?

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Mac Intel support for Maple

Maplesoft announced today that they will shortly start shipping a native Mac Intel (Universal Binary) version of Maple. They have not said whether this will include the "Classic" interface version of Maple, still used by 30% of their users, or just the new Java based interface. It is likely to be just the latter.

Delivery has been rather tardy compared to, Maple developer, Paul DeMarco's estimate to the Maple user group, on Jan 17 that it would be "several weeks",and is nearly four months behind Mathematica.

Still this is well ahead of Mathworks who are now estimating that they won't even have a 'beta' of Matlab for Mac Intel until "late fall". Mathworks developer Brian Arnold, was surprisingly open about the situation to the Matlab user group, commenting, "It sucks that our Intel Mac transition is taking this long, in the face of Apple's accelerated hardware changeover, but we can't (currently) make this go any faster."

Other scientific suppliers who have managed to ship Mac Intel software include statistics softwares Stata and XLSTAT, visualization software Imaris, TeX editor LaTeXiT and ChemSpotlight.

[[14-Jun-06 Update: Is Maplesoft MacTel support what it seems?]]