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Need Alternative for my Students

mfrench
10-Marble

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 🙂

27 REPLIES 27
RichardJ
19-Tanzanite
(To:mfrench)

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

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.

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!

athurin
4-Participant
(To:Fred_Kohlhepp)

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 !).

RichardJ
19-Tanzanite
(To:athurin)

  • 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

StuartBruff
20-Turquoise
(To:athurin)

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

RichardJ
19-Tanzanite
(To:StuartBruff)

Does Mathematica handle units?

StuartBruff
20-Turquoise
(To:RichardJ)

Richard Jackson wrote:

Units: New in Mathematica 9Does Mathematica handle units?

Yes, indeed. Units: New in Mathematica 9 and Mathematica is now at Version 10.

Stuart

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.

athurin
4-Participant
(To:HarveyHensley)

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)

It looks like 2D math has been added after I used Maple. The example I looked at on their site didn't use it. Looks like Maple be closer to Mathcad than I thought.

athurin
4-Participant
(To:HarveyHensley)

I am currently having a look at Maple's latest version, I can send you the sheet when I am done if you want to see...

In PDF format?

athurin
4-Participant
(To:HarveyHensley)

Either PDF format, or Maple format. Maple provides a free reader (don't know how good it is though).

mfrench
10-Marble
(To:mfrench)

Hi Folks,

Just a quick update. I've now got Maple on both of the machines I use and am trying it out. So far, it seems to be about halfway between Mathematica and Mathcad. It's very powerful, like Mathematica. The user interface is not bad, but not as intuitive as Mathcad. It will probably take a little time to get comfortable with it, but I'm coming off of something like 25 years as a Mathcad user (started with version 1.1). I may have some habits to unlearn.

I'm curious as to how Maple has worked out for you?  I'm looking for a tool to help with engineering design work.  Mainly solving simple systems of equations, plotting, occasional symbolic derivatives and, once in a while, curve fitting.  The output from the tool is as much for documenting the design as it is for doing math, so format/presentation are important.  I don't have any experience with either Mathcad or Maple and suspect Mathcad Prime would work fine for me, but am reluctant to give money to PTC after reading many, many complaints about Mathcad Prime (including even the latest 3.1 version).

If you were starting fresh and had both options, which way would you go?

RichardJ
19-Tanzanite
(To:tcampbell)

The complaints about Mathcad Prime are largely in comparison to Mathcad 15, which has a lot more capability. Based on your brief description of your needs Prime will do everything you want though, and the format/presentation is better than Maple.

Agreed.  Mathcad is all about the interface.  In terms of raw mathematical horsepower, it's not better than the competition.  However, for me, that is seldom a problem.  I've been using Mathcad from almost the beginning and am a big fan.  I use MCAD15 right now because it's powerful enough and the interface is really nice.  I've avoided Prime 3 mostly because the formatting is still pretty rough and some of the plot features are not there yet.  I'm hoping PTC will add those features in the next release.  The features I need are basic ones and it would not be a big deal to add them.

Once there was a free Russian look alike for Mathcad sMath
see also http://www.topbestalternatives.com/mathcad/


I wonder whether Matlab is preferrable over Scilab, or for advanced engineering OpenModelica ?
May be tablet based classes are a thing for undergraduates using MathJournal, any hands-on experience with that?


@efried-2 wrote:

Once there was a free Russian look alike for Mathcad  - Smath
see also http://www.topbestalternatives.com/mathcad/

 


A fresh animation and 3D-plot from SMath

https://community.ptc.com/t5/PTC-Mathcad-Questions/Formulas-for-the-lungs-stomach-liver-and-other-in...

But not all is simple with SMath!

While we are at free softeware - how about Maxima or Geogebra.

Here are links to some animations for Valery (if the animation doesnt start automatically, use the sliders or right click the slider an chose "Animarion")

https://www.geogebra.org/m/FrYcftFq

https://www.geogebra.org/m/AkkvBAGj

https://www.geogebra.org/m/X6m6ES8C

Geogebra and Maxima both use symbolic math, too, but none can work with units and of course neither has Mathcads whiteboard interface 😞

 

There's always free cheese in the mouse traps, but the mice there ain't happy!

 


@ValeryOchkov wrote:

There's always free cheese in the mouse traps, but the mice there ain't happy!

 


Unfortunately the paid for cheese named Mathcad doesn't make us happy, either - not at all!

 


@WernerExinger wrote:

@ValeryOchkov wrote:

There's always free cheese in the mouse traps, but the mice there ain't happy!

 


Unfortunately the paid for cheese named Mathcad doesn't make us happy, either - not at all!

 


Unfortunately or fortunately, but we can not buy happiness for money. There's another fee!

mfrench
10-Marble
(To:mfrench)

Hi Tim,

I went into this semester fully expecting to go with Maple.  However, I had a discussion with the class and they were unanimous in wanting to use MATLAB.  This is a small grad class, but I think their decision will scale to other classes.  There were basically two reasons.  The first was that MATLAB may be as close as we have to a universal piece of software for technical calculations.  The second was that they didn't want to spend a semester learning Mathcad if they'll likely never see again.

I pointed out that Mathcad is more than powerful enough for the class and its interface makes it really easy to use.  However, that is not what they valued.  Maple is also powerful, though the interface is pretty rough.  It also may not good for problems with lots of variables.  Mathematica is extremely powerful, but the interface is difficult and it, too, doesn't seem well-suited to problems with lots of variables.

The bottom line is that they were willing to put up with the primitive interface in MATLAB (they described it as a 1980's interface) and the steep learning curve in order to get the power and the universality.  It will do just about anything and can handle problems of any size.  They also quickly came to appreciate the worldwide ecosystem built around MATLAB.  I like MATLAB because I originally learned FORTRAN and MATLAB looked like a logical extension of that.  Even so, the syntax can be tough.  I was surprised they were willing to put up with the interface and the need to program, but they understood they were learning skills that would serve them for a long time.  That made the difference.  Not what I expected.

I'm a big fan of Mathcad, starting with V1.1, but I have to agree with their reasoning.  All the homework and most of the examples for the class were in MATLAB.  However, I did use Mathcad at times when I needed to show something quickly in class.  They got to see the ease of use, but none of them picked it up on their own, even through the trial version is free.  They are big on standards and compatibility and they know they can't easily share Mathcad files because there are so few users.  I don't think any of them had seen Mathcad anywhere, but this class and that was just too high a hurdle.  I would love to see Mathcad be free to students, but that's a pretty tough business model.  PTC could certainly be forgiven for not wanting to do that.

The next step is how to introduce numerical software in my sophomore class (80 students this semester).  The undergrads strongly prefer widely used software and are understandably big on activities that build marketable skills.  Both of those point toward MATLAB, but the learning curve is more of a problem for the undergrads.  That said, lots of companies hiring our students want MATLAB skills (or at least give credit for them when evaluating resumes), but I don't recall ever seeing one looking for Mathcad.  Perhaps it would be an attractive thing for companies looking for graduates skilled with Creo.  Not sure.  I'll probably just ask the undergrads whether they want to use Mathcad or MATLAB after I explains the benefits and problems with each.

Sorry for the wall of text.  I just wanted to make sure I captured the details.

Mark

hughes
1-Newbie
(To:mfrench)

We use SwiftCalcs here at our university, It's a great alternative since there is no software to install, everything is on the cloud. It has a simple interface, easy to use, full unit support, database of materials. It's pretty complete

While it's not free, they do offer rebates for bulk educational licences 

Werner_E
24-Ruby IV
(To:hughes)

I had not heard about SwiftCalcs so far and I looked it up and watched a few of the tutorial videos.

Its sure an interesting and capable software. Can't tell about how strong the symbolic is or how capable the numeric solvers. But at least it can solve basic ODEs symbolically, too.

I think I would miss the white board interface of Mathcad, making it such a nice mathematical scatch pad.

And I sure would dislike the idea of it being a cloud based application being available online only (I know that others would see this as a benefit not being forced to install a software on their computer and being able to access it from any device with an internet connection and a browser).

And as is the case with Mathcad now, too, I dislike strongly the idea of a non-perpetual license which means that I am denied access to my own IP if I don't pay on a regular basis. In case of Mathcad its a monthly fee, in case of SwiftCalcs it seems to be a monthly fee.

But anyway - its one of the few kind of math software which also can handle units in a natural and intuitive way and from what I had seen in the short time it looks like the app it pretty capable and useful for engineering work.

Haven't seen how it does when it comes to customize formatting plots, 3D-plots or creating reports for customers.

Anyway - thanks for the input!

 

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