Thursday, April 27, 2006

Parametric to buy MathSoft

Only a month ago I reported on some MathSoft financial news. Now we have the answer to how the makers of MathCAD are going to stop making losses - they are selling up and going home!

CAD/CAE software giant Parametric is to buy MathSoft for the bargain price of $63M. This is a price per earnings ration of just 3. Compare that to Parametric themselves with PPE of 22, or the somewhat less realistic valuation on Google of 70. It looks like the backers, Edison Venture Capital, are pretty keen to get their recent $10M investments back.

Some of the information released confirmed my suspicion that the "Managed installations" in the previous news, were not so impressive. They work out to have an average value of $3000 per company. Not exactly the corporate site licenses that the press release implied.

What will happen next is known only to the senior management of Parametric. But what usually happens in takeovers is costs are cut by getting rid of people that do jobs already covered by the buyer. The recently opened MathSoft offices, that now look more like an expensive advert to Parametric, than a serious business step, may close. And at least some of the remaining distributors in other countries will be replaced by Parametric's existing sales teams.

I think we can safely expect the technical direction to focus on integration and interoperability with Parametric's other products. MathCAD has long focused on engineering more than science and any lingering interest in science may now be gone.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Matlab virus reported

Security specialists F-Secure are reporting the existence of a functioning Matlab virus known as "Bagoly".

This is a harmless proof of concept virus that replicates itself into all of the infected users Matlab ".m" files. It does little to hide its presence and so should be easy to detect and remove and Symantec added it to their virus files within 24 hours.

However, proof of concept code is likely to be modified by others with more malicious intentions, making the sharing of models and computations in Matlab much more dangerous than it was before.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

64 bit scientific computing

A press release from MathWorks tells me that Matlab now supports 64bit Windows, not in previous versions as I mistakenly commented in previous news. This prompted me to do a quick survey of software which should benefit from 64bit support to see which does.

The real benefit of 64 bit to scientific computing is the large memory allocation that is made possible. No 32 bit application can use more than 4GB of RAM, and OS issues often reduce that to 2GB. So products that should go 64bit are those which might be applied to large data or complex data structures, my survey picked a collection of such products.

The only two important 64bit platforms are Linux and Windows. The first already has large penetration, and the other is, well, Microsoft, and so automatically important!

Supports Linux 64 and Windows 64
Matlab, Mathematica , Stata

Supports Linux 64 but not Windows 64
GAUSS, IMSL, Maple

Supports neither
AutoCAD, ChemOffice, Genstat, MathCAD, MatrixX, Minitab, O-Matrix, Origin, S Plus, Systat, Unistat

Rather disappointing!

On closer inspection, nearly all of the products that I looked at in the "neither" category, support only one platform - Windows 32 bit. Having had a strategy of focusing on one popular platform, it is not surprising that they will wait until 64 bit is not only mainstream but majority. But I suspect that because these companies have no experience in porting and have made no effort to write portable code or muti-platform build systems, it may also be harder for them not make the shift.

With the release of Vista at the end of the year, the 64/32 distinction will be blurred, allowing these companies to hide the fact that they do not have 64 bit support.

So when you do make the switch to 64 bit, remember to ask if it will make any difference for the software you use.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Site comment

Apologies that, with the easter break, I have not been able to write an article for a few days.

So instead, I will fill this item with an appeal. If you find this site useful or interesting, please add a link from your own site, or mention it to some colleagues.

Also please notice the "Submit news" link on the left hand side. If you have suggestions for articles you would like researched, or interesting experience you want to share. Drop me a line.

This goes especially to the regular readers that I have from some of the software suppliers - yes, I see you in the site statistics! We all like leaks and insider gossip, so please share.

I will get an article together for later in the week.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Beamer support for Scientific Word

MacKichan have added experimental support for the Beamer class of slide show transitions to Scientific Word

Software makers add features, it's what they do. Typically to take them into new markets. But I have always felt that the MacKichan have been trying to make Scientific Word into things that it just isn't.

Scientific Word is a perfectly nice TeX editor, and with the right knowledge makes very nice documents. But rather than develop that idea, they tried to make it into a computation tool by bolting on, first a Maple engine, and then a MuPAD engine. It was never a comfortable mix.

Now with the Beamer class support they are trying to turn it into some kind of PowerPoint clone with typesetting. If you are one of those people who likes PowerPoint, then why not just export your work into it? If you are not happy with being limited to slides, then why not show your work in a real working environment where you can show it live?

Perhaps I am not in supportive because PowerPoint always seems to be wielded by salesmen!

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Matlab GOTO joke

As an exercise in not taking oneself too seriously, I will admit that, probably for the first time in at least 25 years, I fell for an April Fools Day joke.

I wrote the following piece, and only as I wrote the last line, I realized that this proposal wasn't real. Nice one Loren.



Matlab developer Loren Shure writes on her blog this week about a proposed spec for a adding the GOTO command to Matlab. Now I was trained to believe that GOTO is a source of pure evil in programming. The core Matlab system design has never been very "modern", showing too clearly its FORTRAN background, but even so, this seems like an unnecessary backward step.

Loren writes that "The problem with GOTOs is not the GOTO itself, but with the label." but then goes on to describe a bizarre spec that includes fractional line numbers, complex line numbers and random GOTO targets. This would be guaranteed to make "spaghetti code".

She wrote this on April 1, and it looks more like an April fools joke than a serious proposal.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

S-Plus 8 goes to Beta

Unusually for this part of the software industry, Insightful are being very public about the timing of the beta program for S-Plus 8, which is planned to run from now until August. So one might expect a quarter-4 release of this popular statistics software.

The feature list which will include:
-A new package mechanism for the distribution of addons.
-A collection of new statistics functions.
-A debugger in the Eclipse based workbench.

The package mechanism turns out to be a port of existing functionality in the R language (the open source cousin of S-Plus), and seems to be a move to get closer to the large R community and existing R resources.

The Eclipse debugger is already widely used by developers in other languages and so adding support for S-Plus will be beneficial to many. The Eclipse project has a lot of momentum behind it, and for Insightful to extend their use of it seems sensible.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Review of Maple comparison against Mathematica, MathCAD and Matlab

I got sent an interesting document which appears to have been produced by Maplesoft (it uses their graphic design and asserts Maplesoft copyright). It is a bullet point list of Maple 10 compared to Mathematica 5.2, MathCAD 12 and Matlab R14.


Such documents are always interesting, not because of the conclusion, which of course is pre-determined, but because it reveals what the author considers important and where the author believes his product has an advantage.

The document contains 46 items across the following catagories: Ease of use, Interactive Document, Mathematical Power, Connectivity, Testing and Assessment, Add-on Products and Platform support.

My first impression was that its emphasis was centered far away from the core features of the products. The largest section, over a quarter, was on connectivity (but with no reference to many important areas of connectivity: code linking, SQL, web services, I/O board reading or import of any file formats. Their concept of connectivity was just file export and code generation).

Conversely, important areas were reduced to one bullet: "Full programming language", "2D plotting with interactive scaling", "Symbolic and Algebraic solving". Odd given the title of the document "Mathematical analysis software comparison chart".

There were several rather trivial items "Handwriting recognition", "Graphing Calculator Interface" which, I suspect are not supported by the other suppliers by choice.

There were several instances of misleadingly carefully chosen words. e.g Under Platforms Linux gets listed as 32bit and 64bit (Maple supports both), but Windows does not get split into 32 and 64bit support (Maple supports only 32bit, while Matlab and Mathematica support both). [[Correction 20-Apr-06: Matlab was not Windows 64 compatible when this comparison was written, but is now]] "Integrated math dictionary" scores a point for Maple and a half point for Mathematica. mathworld.wolfram.com provides orders of magnitude more than the Maple dictionary, but it is not "integrated". Likewise "2D plotting with interactive scaling" scores a point for Maple and none for Mathematica, MathCAD or Matlab, as they lack the "interactive scaling".

But the most unreasonable part of this document are the inaccuracies. As far as I can tell they are all related to Mathematica. "Support of units and conversions", "High performance industry standard libraries (Lapack, Atlas, Blas)", are given as "no" and "Non-linear optimization" as a chargeable extra. I wasn't sure if this was ignorance or mis-representation, but I did find that entering into google "Mathematica unit conversion" or "Mathematica Lapack", and "Mathematica nonlinear optimization" each gave links revealing the fact that Mathematica supported these features within the first 4 hits. Hardly taxing research.

Overall a rather unconvincing and slightly sleazy document.