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Mathematica 8 Review


Financial and Statistical Enhancements

A number of new financial and statistical functions and graph types have been added to an already extensive list available in the previous version of Mathematica. New financial computations coupled with the curated data provided by Wolfram's online service makes the calling the FinancialDerivative[] function a breeze. Coupled with Mathematica's data visualization functions, these capabilities can construct rather impressive statistical and financial modeling applications.

Primitives added to the ChartElementFunction (Gradients, Rainbow chart styles, etc.) help generate colorful, flexible charts that when combined with Mathematica's Manipulate function and Wolfram|Alpha data can create some rather stunning dynamic analysis. Mathematica application can use these capabilities in new ways to analyze stock performance, GNP comparisons and breakdowns, and so on.

New statistical tools such as density and pairwise histograms, quantile and probability and scale-probability spanning exponential, Gumbel, and Weibull plot functions among others, keeps Mathematica 8 in step with the tools built for the sophisticated modern-day statistician.

Wolfram says they have also added "smooth kernel density estimate-based visualization functions for univariate and bivariate distributions." That sounds like a line that character Sheldon Cooper from The Big Bang Theory might deliver. Needless to say, this is very cool and very powerful. Wolfram's claim of the Mathematica 8 containing "largest collection of parametric distributions in any system" is also quite remarkable considering the variety of functions available to Mathematica users.

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Figure 5. The new SmoothHisotgram3D[] function in Mathematica 8 can be used to plot a 3D smooth kernel histogram for some impressively quick data visualizations.

Miscellaneous New Functions

Scientists and engineers will appreciate Mathematica's wavelet visualizations, including image plots and scalograms, discrete univariate and bivariate functions as well as scaling functions and texture mapping for surface functions add a heightened level of sophistication and polish that better highlight trends and notable data points.

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Figure 6. Mathematica 8 now supports CUDA and OpenGL GPU kernel parallelization.

File type import and export options have been expanded to include KML, iCal/vCal, zip, tar, and 26 other new data formats. If a format isn't built into the product, one can be created using Mathematica's plug-in architecture.

The Wolfram Workbench 2.5 is compatible with Mathematica 8, and Wolfram should have the free Mathematica 8 stand-alone player program available for download from the Wolfram.com website in the coming weeks.

Conclusion

While I would still like to see some form of social or collaborative constructive aspect incorporated into the application, the fact remains that Mathematica 8 is Wolfram's strongest Mathematica release to date. And while some may mourn the passing of Solaris and Mac PowerPC support, anyone who is interested in pushing the Mathematica envelope forward is likely doing so on more modern hardware anyway.

Having used Mathematica for years, each new release continues to impress me and Mathematica 8 is no exception. The expanded features continue to leverage the product's strengths and keeps it in step with today's personal computing capabilities. The product performs equally well on Windows, Mac, and Linux platforms of comparable hardware, and offers users of all levels of experience something new and exciting. While this review focused mostly on a handful of enhancements, Mathematica 8 offers a cohesive, comprehensive experience for those seeking a best of breed computational tool that will help users understand, visualize, and manipulate their data-rich world.

For more information about Mathematica 8, visit www.wolfram.com/mathematica/.


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