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Should my Students Use Prime 3.0 or MCAD 15?

mfrench
10-Marble

Should my Students Use Prime 3.0 or MCAD 15?

I teach university classes that require lots of calculations. I make sure to introduce the students to Mathcad, but I get lots of questions about Mathcad 15 vs. Mathcad Prime 3.0. The university computer system doesn't have Prime 3.0, so our default is MCAD 15. I tell them that either program will work and they can use whichever one they like. They almost never choose Prime 3.0, though that might be because they see MCAD 15 in class. Two students this semester out of 85 have gone for Prime 3.0.

I've had to explain to them that they need to buy Prime 3.0 in order to downgrade to MCAD 15. I use the analogy that it's kind of like having to buy Windows 8 in order to downgrade to Windows 7. It's not a great way to start the conversation about why using Mathcad is a good thing.

Here's my choice: I can try to introduce them to Prime 3.0 on the assumption that it's what will be available in the future or I can stick with MCAD 15 because it's by far the most popular of the two right now.

My question: Do you in the user community recommend that I stick with MCAD 15 until Prime catches up? And how long with that take? Or, should I just rip the band-aid off and deal with Prime 3.0 on the assumption that it will get better? Which one do you think better serves my studetns?

Thanks for your help, folks.

P.S. I've been a MCAD user since version 1.1.

20 REPLIES 20
Werner_E
24-Ruby IV
(To:mfrench)

So you are a longterm Mathcad user and you seem to be pretty well aware of Primes drawbacks.

As your university does not provide Prime and "only" Mathcad15 is used in classes it should be obvious that your students should use that very version on their computers, too. While an experienced Mathcad user should not have that much handling problems switching from MC to P and back but for new users it can be quite a hurdle to have to work with different user interfaces in class at university and at home. As an additional benefit, with MC15 they can use the more advanced and faster version, too, but I agree that thats something which is hard to explain. As announced the next maintainance relaease to MC15 should provide compatibility to the current Windows operating systems and so we can hope that the problems with installing MC under Win8.1 and the inability to use 3D plots in Win8 which some users report are gone then.

But I think that he main question is, if you really think that Prime will ever catch up and if it is fair and warrantable to expose future engineers to Prime (and Mathcad is to be discontinued). Don't let me be misunderstood - I am a longterm Mathcad user myself and I love this program and so I really hate to be forced to write that. But maybe its the better (only) option to search for an alternative (and use MC15 in the meanwhile).

P.S.: I suspect that you and your students will have to use so called advanced features of Mathcad/Prime. Otherwise it would be evident to use the free Prime Express 😉

Thanks for your help Werner. I just got back from my grad class. I asked them outright which version they preferred. I don't think I ever voiced an opinion in class one way or the other, so I think their response was untarnished. Every single one of them preferred MCAD 15. In fact, the universal response was "Prime sucks". Wow. I have to say that I didn't expect that. I guess it's MCAD 15 for us as long as that's possible.

Werner_E
24-Ruby IV
(To:mfrench)

I just got back from my grad class. I asked them outright which version they preferred. I don't think I ever voiced an opinion in class one way or the other, so I think their response was untarnished. Every single one of them preferred MCAD 15. In fact, the universal response was "Prime *****".

Interesting, especially as I made a different experience in teaching students and given them a free choice over Prime or Mathcad. At the time I did the current Prime version was Prime 2 - a really unusual unusable piece of software. Nevertheless a rather greast part of the students had chosen Prime as "their" version at first. While forbidding and repellent to most long term users, the new interface seems to appeal new users. But over the time of the course all but a few (I think there were just two at the end) switched over to good all Mathcad. The drawbacks, limitations and especially the fussiness of the interface show up after some time of usage.

I agree with Richard that it does not make much sense to expose your students to a dying software, but as long as your university does not povide access to Prime I still think its the best solution to stick to MC15, as switching from Prime in class/university computer lab to MC on the personal computer and back is something you should not expose your students to. But I see MC15 as an interim solution and you should look for an alternative as quick as possible and not use MC15 as long as possible as it has no future. PTC owns Mathcad for about eight years and judging upon what they did so far in this long time I see no future for Prime either.

RichardJ
19-Tanzanite
(To:mfrench)

Does Prime 3.0 do everything that's required for the course? I assume is does, or you would not tell them that they can use it. If that is the case, you should tell them to use Prime 3.0. Mathcad 15 is a much better piece of software, with a lot more capability, but it has no future. So if they learn Prime then they are learning something they may be able to use in the future. If they use Prime and decide it is not adequate for their future needs, and probably never will be, they can switch to an alternative (Mathematica, Maple, Matlab, whatever), and they have not lost anything more than if they had used Mathcad 15. If, on the other hand, they decide that Prime does meet enough of their needs to be useful, then they have learned something valuable.

Basically, it's not about which piece of software is better. They are students, and there not much benefit to a student in learning a piece of software that has no real future.

athurin
4-Participant
(To:RichardJ)

So if I understand your point (as well as Werner's), you're just saying there is no future for Mathcad at all, whether it is the old or the prime version, and that student should stop using it at all, am I right ?

Not that it is any different from my own conclusion, but I just want to make sure I understand you point correctly...

RichardJ
19-Tanzanite
(To:athurin)

There is no long term future for Mathcad 15. I have my doubts that Mathcad Prime will ever be as capable as Mathcad 15. At least, at the current rate of development that point is so far in the future that it's not worth considering. That doesn't mean Prime is useless though. It is still likely to be the most capable (other than MC 15) math software with a true whiteboard interface for the foreseeable future.

athurin
4-Participant
(To:RichardJ)

Richard Jackson wrote:

It is still likely to be the most capable (other than MC 15) math software with a true whiteboard interface for the foreseeable future.

I wouldn't be as assertive as you are. Maple seems to have made a lot of efforts in this direction (at least, since the version I tried in university 12 years ago, which probably wasn't the latest version at that time either). I would really like to give it a try at some point. It is really quite disappointing they don't do trial versions for individual licenses (and intellectual honesty prevents me from faking an interest from the company in order to try it for myself).

mfrench
10-Marble
(To:athurin)

Hi Folks,

Thanks again for sharing your thoughts. You've been a big help.

Here's what I think I know now about the future of Prime vs MCAD15 and of how they might be used in the classroom:

- Prime development will continue in the foreseeable future, but much of the additional capability will focus on connection with Creo and web stuff. I don't know of anyone at my university who uses Creo. Also, I'm doing number crunching, not web apps, so I'll probably never use most of the new features.

- MCAD is probably gone in two years. I suspect PTC would kill it faster if they thought they could.

- My students mostly don't like the current UI on Prime. In fact, a large majority really dislike it.

- They like being able to get Prime for free, but the free license only lasts about four weeks and a semester is 16 weeks long. Those who have purchased an academic license have all downgraded to MCAD15.

- PTC is going to write the code they want to write, not what we want them to write. We can complain all we want, but it won't matter.

- I'm not willing to spend class time trying to explain why Prime 3.0 is missing basic features when MCAD 15 works well.

- Prime 4.0 and Prime 5.0 may include some of the features that Prime 3.0 now lacks, though it is very unlikely that they UI will have all the features I like in MCAD 15. Still, it might be enough.

- Someone familiar with MCAD 15 can probably transition to Prime 4.0 or Prime 5.0 without too much trouble.

- Over the next two years, other options may become available. The Ti N-Spire calculator aspires to be Mathcad in a box. It certainly isn't there yet, but a couple new releases from now, it may be enough for student use. Maple may also further develop. However, there will probably be no direct replacement for MCAD15.

- If my university doesn't adopt Prime (and nobody seems too interested in it), it's a moot point anyway. I'll pretty much have to use something else or I can bring my own laptop to class to show them Prime, to which they will have only limited access. I don't think that's going to work.

I wish things were different, but it's an off-the-rack world. Since they already like MCAD15, I think the best way I can serve my students is to stick with it until either support for it stops or Prime gets some of the features it's missing. I'm not a power user, so some simple improvements would probably do the trick. In the next year or two, I'll probably either go to Prime or find another solution. If PTC fixes some of the UI problems, future releases may be OK.

There are a few alternatives not mentioned here (yet.)

Smath (a "free" web app) has been mentioned as a Mathcad "look like."

Octave is a MatLab "open source" alternative.

athurin
4-Participant
(To:Fred_Kohlhepp)

Does Octave do symbolics ?

As a Matlab alternative, I belive Scilab is better (and free & opensource too)

Adrien Thurin wrote:

Does Octave do symbolics ?

I don't know.

I'm angering my management by obstinately using Mathcad . I downloaded Octave at home to see whether it would run Matlab scripts. (It did, the one or two simple ones I tried.)

MatLab is a programming language. All the new hires know it because it's free in school. My superior, who wrestled his entire career with FORTRAN thinks it's the best thing since sliced bread; he wants everyone to write MatLab scripts that create graphs for PowerPoint.

I started doing analysis on a yellow pad with a calculator; when I discovered that Mathcad would create my yellow pad with automatic calculation AND unit checking I put the calculator in the drawer next to the slide rule.

athurin
4-Participant
(To:Fred_Kohlhepp)

I completely agree with you regarding Mathcad (and competitors like SMath and Maple). As an engineer, these software allow me to focus on how to express the problems, and the process of solving them (fun !) rather than the actual calculation (dedious !). Not that Math isn't useful anymore, but certainly, that lightens the burden.

Regarding Matlab, Octave and Scilab, I was told (= rumor = needs confirmation) that Scilab is a fork of an old version of Matlab, that evlolved in his own way. It is quite mature, but therefore diverged a bit from Mathlab in terms of synthax (your "FFT()" function might be called "fft()", maybe not use the same parameters, etc). No direct use of the same scripts in both, but easy enough to transfer across, given a little bit of time to read the documentation. On the other hand, Octave is younger, but was designed to match Matlab's syntax. So most common functions would be directly reusable from one to the other. But the counterpart is that it is less mature, and possibly lacks features.

One thing that will certainly be missing from both opensource alternatives are the toolboxes, and particularly the allmighty Simulink (an engineer's dream !). As far as I know (again, needs to be confirmed), there is no equivalent, or if there is, not as mature and powerful.

On the other hand, Matlab costs an arm, Simulink costs a leg, and each toolbox costs a lung or a liver, so if you can live with either alternative, you will certainly avoid the pain of selling your organs on the black market to pay for a piece of software...

I hadn't thought about it, but we have required MATLAB classes for engineering undergrads and it is, by far, the most common number crunching package on campus.

I have always thought of it as super-duper FORTRAN. It's a great step up for the FORTRAN I learned in college. It's also really good at big number crunching. I like it. However, it's not so good for smaller, homework-sized problems. That's where the Mathcad interface shines.

Support for MATLAB is great and it's easy to get access to it - it's on all our computers and also on software remote, so everyone uses it.

In contrast, Mathcad is harder to find. It's on the computers by the engineering computer network and it's on software remote, but you have to know it's there. It's buried a couple levels down, so you need to do a search for it. It's also version 14 - not sure why. There are no classes here on Mathcad as far as I know.

I'm a faculty member and, if I want Mathcad on any of my computers, I have to buy licenses. Right now, I only have two machines with Mathcad. If I want any of my grad students to use Mathcad, I have to dig up a charge number and buy it for them. Mostly, I just have them use MATLAB.

MATLAB is free to me and is on all my computers. I don't know if we have a site license or if they just supply it for free to universities. We get a lot of software for free. For example, most of what AutoDesk makes is free for educational use.

PTC (and Mathsoft before them) do a lousy job of salesmanship at colleges and universities.MatLab got it right, give it away at school so they learn it, like it, and use it by default. Then make them pay thru the nose when they get out.

Floating site licenses for MatLab are about three times the cost of a "chair" of Mathcad (I've been told. My Company has several hundred "seats" of MatLab,so that complaints of "no license" are held to a minimum; but the 15 Mathcad seats see about a 5% useage rate.

I've had conversations with sales reps about why they can't get Mathcad into my company and I tell them to give it away in schools. When a new engineer is given a job it usually comes with a need date that emphasizes urgency; he's going to reach for the tool he's comfortable with. And if he's been using MatLab for four plus years at school . . .

Yet I have (using Mathcad) taken force and position time history data and extracted spring and damping values for a test article (with units.) And when the dynamicist (who is supposed to do that for a living) came back with his MatLab results Mathcad unit verification found his/MatLab's unit conversion error. Could I get him to switch? HA!

athurin
4-Participant
(To:Fred_Kohlhepp)

Fred Kohlhepp wrote:

Floating site licenses for MatLab are about three times the cost of a "chair" of Mathcad (I've been told.

From the quotes I got :

  • Seat licenses of Matlab are 3 times the cost of seat licenses of Mathcad
  • Floating licenses of either software are 3 times the cost of seat licenses

And that doesn't include any Matlab toolbox.

Adrien Thurin wrote:

Fred Kohlhepp wrote:

Floating site licenses for MatLab are about three times the cost of a "chair" of Mathcad (I've been told.

From the quotes I got :

  • Seat licenses of Matlab are 3 times the cost of seat licenses of Mathcad
  • Floating licenses of either software are 3 times the cost of seat licenses

The reply I got (when they refused to buy my individual license any longer) was that the floating license was more versatile and productive since different individuals could use it--it would see more use that a solo license.

athurin
4-Participant
(To:Fred_Kohlhepp)

So I have been told too.

Interestingly, some other companies have fares that I find less prohibitive (a couple of simulators for electronics only charge you 20 to 30% extra for the floating licenses, which is quite acceptale in my opinion)

RichardJ
19-Tanzanite
(To:athurin)

It's not the whiteboard interface of Mathcad, but it's close enough that maybe it will be a better option than switching to Prime. I guess at some point I'll have to evaluate it, but I don't need to do that for a while. I think the key tipping point may be when Windows 10 becomes the main Windows OS. If MC 15 doesn't run under Windows 10, then it will be time to start looking for alternatives.

athurin
4-Participant
(To:RichardJ)

And just in case you are wondering, I don't work for Maplesoft, nor do I get commisions from them

Having the same problem, for the third year I'm thinking about switching and couldn't take a leap. Mathcad 15 is really nice tool for engineering studies, how it handles units is really great but the mess they made with Mathcad Prime is dissapointing. I'm still waiting and not willing to transfer hundreds of problem solutions into prime, mainly because conversion is not good so I'm in a loop and hope they will keep Mathcad 15 until prime has at least same functionality as Mcad15. Also all my teaching materials are based on Mcad 15 and redoing it... hm, don't really want to. When they get it to be better than 15 I'll be first to switch.

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