Mathematica 9 offers a bigger bucket of formulas

Stephen Wolfram continues his quest to computerize mind-bogglingly complex calculations

Hoping to ease the mathematical labors of researchers across all scientific disciplines, Wolfram Research has added more capabilities to its flagship Mathematica software, offering formulas to ease social networking analysis, three-dimensional modeling and other computationally complex calculations.

Mathematica 9 also offers a new predictive analysis feature that provides users with suggestions of how their work can be further refined through use of the software.

"It's been two years since we released Mathematica 8, and to me it's very impressive how many new things have been finished" during that time, Wolfram founder Stephen Wolfram wrote in a blog post announcing the release.

This new version of the software is the first that would allow researchers to analyze patterns of behavior in social networks such as Facebook. A new function allows users to pull data by way of APIs (application programming interfaces) from social networks. The data then can be analyzed and visualized.

The feature "promises to be very valuable not only for professional data scientists, but also for math and computer science students who want to jump immediately to the frontiers of one of the hottest current areas," Wolfram wrote.

The new version adds to Mathematica's already considerable repository of mathematical formulas. This version can handle a number of new, tricky differential equations, such as equations with discontinuities -- a model of a ball bouncing on a surface, for instance. More algorithms have been added for signal processing, control system modeling and vector analysis.

The purpose of these new algorithms is to reduce the amount of formulation researchers must do. "Computations in general relativity that even recently seemed like major research projects now happen in mere seconds," Wolfram wrote. This is also the first version of the software with built-in integration with the R programming language for statistics.

Mathematica also contains visualization tools, and this release will allow users to view their data in three dimensions. It can export very large image processing tasks to more powerful machines, and can provide live data visualizations that can be distributed to other users.

The software also gains an autosuggestion feature, called the Wolfram Predictive Interface, which suggests actions a user can take based on the context of the workspace. "Never again will they be left in a 'so what do I do next?' state; they'll always be given suggestions about how to move forward, as well as automatically be shown what's possible in Mathematica," Wolfram wrote.

Mathematica has added the ability to calculate with units of measurement to its namesake software. Users can now add kilometers and miles together, or compare pounds to kilograms. The software supports units of measurement from a wide variety of sciences, including physics, chemistry, astronomy and engineering.

For the home edition, Mathematica 9 starts at US$295 for a one-time license, or $149 per year. The standard edition starts at $2,495, or $995 per year.

Joab Jackson covers enterprise software and general technology breaking news for The IDG News Service. Follow Joab on Twitter at @Joab_Jackson. Joab's e-mail address is Joab_Jackson@idg.com

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