Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Design Science releases news - MathFlow 1.7

Back in October I was rather sarcastic at Design Science's expense over their lack of news output. In the comments, BruceV from Design Science, promised that news would start flowing again as he was hiring a new Marcoms person the next week.

So it has been with some anticipation that I have been waiting to criticize their first output! I have to report that it is a nicely written and hype free piece of news.

The item is an announcement of a new version of MathFlow, their XML oriented math typesetting tool.

Though the news was too late to prevent 2006 being empty of news, I wonder if one of the key new features is also a bit late. Headlining the new features, is compatibility with Arbortext XML authoring system. Now that isn't too late to be a sensible and useful feature, but it would probably have got a lot more traction from the users and makers of Arbortext if it had been a year earlier.

In the last year Arbortext was bought by PTC, who then also purchased MathCAD, which can also be used to write math, and outputs in XML. So it is likely that PTC will have little interest in making Arbortext users aware of Design Sciences solution and will instead push their own solution.

I should mention that I have previously argued that MathCAD is not a good way to author XML (though that would be easy to change).

The release also alludes to behind-the-scenes changes to MathFlow that might be more significant, but not yet of major benefit to users.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Site comment

Apologies to those who subscribe to the RSS or ATOM feeds, which are all messed up.

I upgraded to the new engine for blogger.com and implemented some basic tagging on the archive of articles here.

For those who blog, the new engine is certainly an improvement with better layout editing and faster content management, as well as the tagging. However, the transition managed to convince it that a lot of old articles should be at the top of the feed, instead of the newest ones!

I guess the answer is just to write some new articles!

[Update: 12-Feb, the solution is to edit the recent articles, so I have hyperlinked a lot more of the text]

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Guessing at MapleSoft's strategy for VSNI

In a good start to this year, scientificcomputing.blogspot.com managed to break two world exclusives that have now both been confirmed. The announcement of Maple 11 and the appointment of MapleSoft's Jim Cooper to the board of VSNI.

Looking in more detail at the VSNI tie-in... the press release from VSNI is all very sensible, talking about using Mr Cooper's experience to help grow VSNI. But there is still no clue as to what's in it for MapleSoft to lend out their (presumably) most expensive employee for the benefit of another company, or if its in his own time, why Mr Cooper would want another job.

I now think the idea of shared sales channels seems unlikely, as VSNI have few major resellers that are not already selling Maple and are not, themselves, a large sales force. So MapleSoft must be interesting in accessing the statistics technology and expertise that they currently lack.

It would fit with previous strategy, since little of recent versions of Maple, except for the interface, are created by MapleSoft themselves - they have mostly been assembling parts from other organizations (numerics from NAG and GMP, algebra from INRIA, ORCCA etc) why not statistics from VSNI?

Two key choices would be needed: whether to do lots of work to interface existing data structures seamlessly, or just bolt it on the side and lets the users do the work. And whether to use the existing statistics language design of Maple as a user layer, or to deprecate all of that and expect users to re-write their work in a language more akin to Genstat. If you take the NAG integration as an example, then you could expect a middle compromise on the first, and the deprecation route on the second. Either way, there is enough to do to make this a Maple 13 or Maple 14 feature, not Maple 12!

Whatever the choices, I can see no downside for VSNI, who at the least get some advice from an old hand, and at best might be at the start of a negotiation for a big sale.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Maple 11 to be announced next week

Some more news leaking out of MapleSoft...

On January 8, they will be pre-announcing an upgrade to their principal product Maple although the actual product is not anticipated to be ready until (at least) March.

I will comment again when the actual details are out, but I understand the headline features to be mostly improvements to their Java interface. Unlike the recent minor upgrades to the interface (see comment here) these look not so much bug fixes as design fixes. eg Allowing the typesetting to work within a graphic, equation numbering that works between documents, and the confusing "in place" menu driven operations that previously left no history as to what you did to get your result, now automatically insert a comment.

Features that are actually new include a "preview version" of new handwriting recognition for math. But if you recall my comments on the handwritten character recognition in current Maple, I think we can read "preview" to mean "doesn't work". There is also a Mathematica style "slide show" mode for documents and some kind of content "annotation" feature.

There are some new computational capabilities, mostly "speciality packages" or centred around some nice new Groebner basis capabilities, which they already announced back in March.

So with the central drive still being the document interface, it will be interesting to see if this is the release where they push people to move from the "Classic interface" or if that will still ship alongside the Java interface.