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Need Alternative for my Students

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Gravel

Need Alternative for my Students

I work at a large university and just found out that our computer people are uninstalling the few remaining seats of Mathcad in my college (if a university was a company, a college would be a division). Unhappily, Mathcad is effectively being removed from my college. We can buy licenses for $500 per seat, but there isn't enough money; 50 seats would be $25,000.

I had planned to stick with MCAD 15 for another year or two, but I'm afraid circumstances may be forcing my hand.

If you were going to introduce a number crunching program to undergraduate students who often have no prior experience, which of these would you pick:

- Mathematica

- MATLAB

- Maple

These are all widely available on campus and there is a user base to rely on. I like MATLAB and it's really easy to get (Amazon), but the programming interface is dated and simulink has a learning curve. Maple is easy to get (Amazon), seems to be both easy to learn and capable. Mathematica is very powerful and easy to get, but there is a learning curve. Also, it's related to the Wolfram Alpha web site that everyone already uses. Mathematica is probably the easiest sell, partly because of the web site and partly because some students already have already used it in high school.

Thanks for your input 🙂

25 REPLIES 25

Re: Need Alternative for my Students

You will get a more informed, and therefore probably more useful, answer if you provide more information.

What discipline or subject (based on previous posts, I believe some sort of engineering)?

Do you want unit handling?

Numeric math or symbolic math, or both?

Is a WSIWYG interface (or something close to it) important?

How much computing power do you really need?

etc etc. The more information you can provide the better

Re: Need Alternative for my Students

Fair enough. Thanks for taking time to reply.

- My students are studying mechanical engineering technology.

- Unit handling is one of the features that makes Mathcad attractive to my students. They find it particularly useful for unit conversions.

- At first, I think they use Mathcad mostly for numeric calculations. However, they move onto symbolic math once they get familiar with the program. So, the answer would be both.

- The WYSIWYG interface of Mathcad is perhaps its best feature. It's the thing I and my students would most miss.

- We really don't need a lot of computing power. Mathcad mostly gets used for homework and class projects. We are not generally power users, though some of the grad students do more sophisticated calculations.

Mathcad is useful for us because it's easy to learn and does all the calculations we need without a lot of fuss. If I could wave a magic wand, I'd fix some formatting things on Prime 3.0 along with some other simple stuff. After that, the switch would be fairly painless.

As it is, I can't, for example, make big deal in class of properly formatting a plot and then ask them to use software that can't even label the axes. However, that wouldn't be a big fix if PTC chose to address it. My other gripes right now are equally minor, but are still, unfortunately, deal breakers.

I have to say that I'm a little surprised some other company hasn't stepped into the void created by PTC.

Re: Need Alternative for my Students

Based (primarily) on the "We really don't need a lot of computing power" comment, and the desire for unit handling and WSIWYG appearance I have to ask: Would Prime Express (which is free) fill most of your needs?

As far as formatting plots goes, push the data over to EXCEL and have at it!

Re: Need Alternative for my Students

If he wants to be able to do symbolics, Mathcad Express is not an option.

I will soon be able to evaluate Maple (hurray !), but even though I haven't tried it yet, I still believe it is the most "like to like" alternative (be aware that this opinion is solely based on descriptions on Mathsoft website, a tiny bit of reading of Maple online help, and screenshots) :

  • It has the nice "natural math" inteface that I love so much in Mathcad. With operators inserted by clics (just like Mathcad), which makes the learning easier (since no syntax to learn)
  • It manages units, which is pobably the most essential feature for engineering. In fact, there seems to be several ways of handling them, so included in the basic package, some associated with extra toolboxes to purchase. I don't know how well the basic package does it, but it seems like a good starting point.
  • It does both numerical and symbolics.
  • Considering how heavyweight Mathcad Prime is, I wouldn't be surprised if Maple was more lightweigth (but that's just a guess)

Regarding the other alternatives, here is my view:

  • I would discard Mathematica due to the lack of "natural math". Natural math are (I hope) a reasonably universal language for science. Programming languages are not. Give me a C program and I will understand, give me some PHP and I will start crying. Same for Mathematica. For me, as an engineer, it is important that my colleagues, even if they don't use whatever software package I use for my design, can review my work without spending time learning the syntax. That's why "natural math" interface is an absolute need for me. I don't know much more about Mathematica, but that enough for me to stop even considering it.
  • I would discard Matlab for the same reason, but not only. I have used Matlab, it is absolutely designed for numerical solving. This is not for math, this is for algorithms. Which is fine, and may be useful to some people. In fact, what they do, they do very well.It just doesn't match my needs. I have been told it has embedded a symbolic engine (an old and/or feature limited version of the Maple engine, I believe). It might be in the basic core, but my guess is that it is more likely to be a specific toolbox that needs purchasing. It might be good enough for your needs. But I don't know what it looks like, I would be surprised if it looked anything like "natural math". And I don't think in manages units either.

Again, I am yet to try Maple, but from the little I know, it looks like the closest alternative. Everything else will definitely have advantages, but you will have to make some sacrifices, probably on "natural math" and/or "unit management", which is a complete deal breaker for me (I would rather stick to Mathcad Prime than loose either of those !).

Re: Need Alternative for my Students

  • I have been told it has embedded a symbolic engine (an old and/or feature limited version of the Maple engine, I believe).

Mathworks purchsed SciFace, the owners of MuPad, in September 2008. MuPad is now the symbolic math toolbox for Matlab.

Let us know what you find out about Maple

Re: Need Alternative for my Students

I'd be stuck here. Matlab is more common (it's my workplace's standar) and has a symbolic toolbox (more money), but I'm actually drifting towards Mathematica. It's more integrated, has symbolics built-in and you can get Traditional form output to make things look more mathematical (better than Mathcad). It has good capabilities in a lot of areas and flexible graphics. I know there's a learning curve, but there will be with any new product. I'm probably slightly biased here because Mathematica has actually got a lot of the capabilities that I've suggested for Mathcad over the years - and usually features that I've felt the need for before I found out that Mathematica had them.

Stuart

Re: Need Alternative for my Students

I looked at both Mathematica and Maple many years ago and at the time their programming code looked almost identical. Also, neither one actually works in "natural math" like Mathcad, they only can output a result in that form. Thus you end up with seeing the math twice, once in code and once in math form. You may be able to hide one or the other. If you discard Mathematica for it's code, then you won't like Maple either. I just looked on the Maple site and their code looks about the same as it did years ago.

I actually used Maple for a couple of years. My main complaint was with graphs. They were very difficult to create compared to Mathcad and I always had to go back to the manual when I needed one.

Re: Need Alternative for my Students

HARVEY HENSLEY wrote:

I looked at both Mathematica and Maple many years ago and at the time their programming code looked almost identical. Also, neither one actually works in "natural math" like Mathcad, they only can output a result in that form.

Did the version of Maple you tested have the "2D-math" feature ? I am currently testing Maple, and it looks pretty good so far...

(haven't tried plots yet, though)

Re: Need Alternative for my Students

Does Mathematica handle units?