Sunday, February 18, 2007

MathCAD 14 released

Its appealing to try and find a simple narrative to summarize new software - either it is total junk or some excellent advance. But the contents of the first release of MathCAD since PTC purchased the company is not so easily categorized.

There is unsubstantiated and weak claims, and there is real development.

Lets start with the lame...there are several items where one's natural response should be "what? didn't it do that before?" like the ability to enter more than one step of a calculation at a time in a single piece of input and support for UNICODE (so that the majority of the world can type their own non-ASCII based words into it) and they think that "Polar plot can now accept negative radii" is a significant advance! And perhaps the best "IMPROVED Worksheet Search – Search results are more complete, including collapsed and hidden regions of worksheets." - so, before, if you couldn't see the text, neither could the search feature!

There are some features with limited evidence "improved symbolic engine robustness" (I have a theory, which I will report if it turns out to be true [update]). And disingenuous features e.g. one of the "Highlights of the enhancements in Mathcad 14.0" was "Increased technical support" - they should license that code!

Then there is the solid... PTC exerting its more significant development resources, by providing translation into 9 languages (fitting in with the Pro-Engineer existing market) , integration of document difference highlighting (fitting in with the existing Arbortext document workflow products).

Really what I think this release shows is that PTC knows what PTC knows. The most significant features are the more prosaic ones that are about integrating with their existing business, and the more technically interesting, are no more solid that when MathSoft was a small company standing alone.

There is nothing wrong in that per-se, but you can also see where corporate culture can be negative. In the cheer leading over the improved symbolics, you find the phrase "Power users, research and design engineers, and other Ph.D. level users requiring symbolics will benefit from these improvements." Hold on. I was doing symbolic math when I was 13 or 14 (OK, it was only simple equations, and I didn't do integrals until 16, but it was useful and I didn't have a Ph.D!).

But PTC has always built numeric-only software and you can almost sense their confusion that there are people who need more..."Oh, it must be some Ph.D level thing"


JacquesC said...

I heard the symbolics engine is from a totally different vendor.

Scientific Computing said...

Yes, this was the theory that I alluded to. I wrote about a year ago that I had heard that they were dropping the Maple engine and switching to Maxima (look for the "Partner swapping" article.

One of the screenshots, seems to be evidence for this, but I haven't had it confirmed anywhere, and I don't currently have access to MathCAD to look for myself.

Anonymous said...

The switch is to Mupad.