Tuesday, September 26, 2006

StatSoft opens more offices

If the number of countries you have offices in is a measure of success then StatSoft, makers of Statistica, are doing OK.

Scientific Computing World magazine (not related to my little site) are reporting that StatSoft have opened an office in Norway, their third new office this year.

While opening international offices is sometimes about impressing the money markets, this seems to be just an ongoing strategy of being local. This is the 20th office such office now.

Though there is no information on how substantial the offices are, though they claim to all be "full service" and since Statsoft offers statistical services as well as software sales, they are unlikely to be "one man" outfits.

Monday, September 25, 2006

MapleSoft news reveals little new

Looking back I have been quite critical of some of MapleSoft's recent press releases, but sometimes they really do ask for it. They have just released four press releases in six days, but have very little worth announcing in any of them.

One was a repeat of the release that I covered two months ago about the Matlab toolbox. Except with the words "now shipping". Perhaps that is news because it didn't ship in August as was originally promised.

One was to say what I nice conference they had back in July. It might have been news then but two months later? Since you can still register for this event on their website it might be just incompetant timing!

One with real but minor news was for the Japanese version of their Blockbuilder product. But since that is quite small, I don't suppose there were many words to translate!

But the biggest piece of puff is the grand release of four "Engineering toolkits", which turn out to be already available products bundled together under new names.

In all, the only interesting thing I found was that with two of the bundles called "MATLAB Users’ Toolkit" and "Simulink Users’ Toolkit", there can no longer be any doubt about what I have been speculating since March and as recently as June, that MapleSoft are repositioning themselves as makers of Matlab add-ons.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

A WorkLife FrameWork for Mathematica

An unusual add-on to Mathematica this week- A WorkLife FrameWork claims to be a "creative workflow toolset for Mathematica".

That turns out to be a diverse set of tools such as ToDo management, blog creation, RSS reading, slide show creation, journal creation and more.

I can't see anyone buying Mathematica to replace Outlook or similar tools, but if you use Mathematica a lot, and want to stay in one environment, then it is probably useful.

Info on the Wolfram site and also on the original developers site.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Numerical Mathematics Consortium explains its problems

Last time I wrote about the Numerical Mathematics Consortium project to create a standard for numerical math algorithms, I was impressed with the work rate, though still sceptical about its direction.

A new document released by the consortium this week, reveals a much less impressive rate of progress as the committee hits the swamp of problems that the project needs to resolve.

The document summarizes and illustrates some of the problems quite neatly, but doesn't present a compelling case for their solutions which seem pragmatic but quite arbitrary.

In the 8 months since agreeing the nearly 200 functions to standardize, they have so far agreed the standard for just 10. The document claims that we should expect and increased rate, though we should only expect biannual reports of the progress. So I think we can conclude that this project will take years not months.

An early compromize is a bad omen for the future- There are already two levels of 'standard' (required and optional). This is exemplified by whether a particular function needs to support both real and complex numbers. Real support might be required but complex support could be optional. It is suggested that other features of range or type might be also options for different functions.

Since the claimed purpose was algorithm portability, what sense does optional support make? The only way to expect portability will be to restrict yourself to required support functionality. And so the usefulness of this standard contracts down to the lowest common denominator between the partner systems. But who wants to buy expensive software, to then deliberately restrict ones usage to a small subset of the functionality?

If they had set a level 1 and level 2 support, and required that ALL of the extras in the higher level must be supported, to claim that level, I might see some sense in it. But as it stands, they may end up being hundreds of separate places where a "standard" algorithm will fail when moved to another system that supports the "standard".

Politically speaking, this kind of decision may be inevitable. If you have some functionality in your product, you want to convince the other members of the committee to include it in the standard. If you don't have that functionality, you want to exclude it, so that you are not forced to build it. Put a group of such vested interests in a room, and you either fail to agree or find some compromize.

Site comment

Time for a new look to this site.

The colors are the blue half of the Summer Groove palette from DailyColorScheme.com in case you care.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

TI Nspire calculator delays

Back in May, at its announcement, I asked "Is the new TI Calculator good news for TI?".

What is certainly not good news for TI, is that they are having trouble delivering it.

German retailer Dynatech, which was until recently anticipating first shipments by the end of August, just in time for the new school year and in plenty of time for christmas, now says that it will not be available until Q2 2007.

TI's site is still suggesting that first shipments will be this year but only in Canada.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Software maintenance pricing strategies

A few weeks ago I did an item on the variance in upgrade pricing, to see who suckers you in with lower license purchase fees but plans to make money out of you later once you are committed. At the time I said that I would do an item on maintenance fees, but researching that has turned out to be far harder.

First, it turns out to not be as popular way of offering upgrades as I thought. Most of the companies that I write about regularly do not offer any kind of maintenance program. You can't plan a budget in advance, you must wait for the upgrade and then react. Some companies do offer leasing schemes, where you lose the right to use the software if you stop paying. -- dare I say it, I will cover this another time!

Second, when they are offered, the prices are often hidden from public view. Prices are listed as "call for quote" etc. When more people are clicking on the adverts on this site, I might spend that kind of time on an article!

Here is some data gleaned from unreliable sources (from customers that might be under special arrangements). Annual maintenance fee as a percentage of initial purchase price:

Maple 40% (from UK site Chest).
MathCAD 26% (also from Chest).
Matlab 20-25% depending on the source.
Mathematica 25% from their site.
Origin 25% (minimum of 2 years, or 3 years for groups) from their site.

I couldn't find any maintenance schemes from the usual products that I look at. (Expect updates as readers correct me!)

So with the exception of Maple, the values are much more consistent than upgrade prices were. Comparing with that data, it seems like there is some correlation between those who offered lower upgrade prices and the availability of a maintenance scheme.

There wasn't much variation either in what was offered. Upgrades and technical support were standard. There were some "exclusive websites", access to beta versions and discounts off further purchases etc. Mathematica had a couple of significant extras- a home use licenses and a webMathematica licenses. Origin included a custom webinar of 2 hours (only for group licenses), which could potentially be a valuable benefit if they provide the right presenters.

There were a lot of dubious "benefits" - like "custom communications" (read more email!). My favourite is that paying Mathworks maintenance fee will give you "Ability to purchase additional products for your license". Really, see for yourself (it's item 6)!

Maplesoft seemed a bit confused on the subject. There are two conflicting pages about their EMP maintenance scheme, here and here. The former refers to the benefit of "exclusive access" to a website that is in fact public. The newer page contradicts itself by giving the benefit of a new exclusive web area, before listing it again further down the page as a future feature!

Friday, September 01, 2006

Endnote X for Mac ships

I already covered the release of Endnote X back in July. Now two and a half months later comes the update to the Mac version of Endnote, which includes Mac Intel support.

I notice the lack of the word "Universal" in any of the product information or press releases. Either that is a little marketing oversight or, like the recent Maple Mac release, it indicates that, despite the release delay, a few shortcuts have been taken and the product does not meet Apple's specifications for use of the "Universal" tag.