Maple 9

Maplesoft's flagship product Maple has undergone an extensive interface overhaul in this release. The degree of overhaul is reflected in the availability of two worksheet interfaces: Standard and Classic. The Classic interface is the 'old' one that we've been used to for several releases. This still has its uses in that it requires very little memory to run efficiently. However, Maple 9 opens the newer Standard interface by default. Files can be saved back to previous Maple releases, so backwards compatibility is preserved. Maple's strength has always been in its ease of use; its syntax isn't as cryptic as that of other maths applications. Academic institutions have made a big commitment to Maple over the years, principally because of its ability to instantly convert its input syntax to traditional mathematical notation. The worksheet interface accepts the input syntax on the left and displays the traditional notation on the right. This removes the need to access palettes of mathematical symbols – a nice touch that saves time and input errors. Add-ons
Maplesoft recognized the support and respect it has found in the world of academia by enhancing the Student add-on packages first introduced in version 8. The most popular of these packages are the Calculus 1, Pre Calculus, and Linear Algebra. The Linear Algebra package contains calculation, visualization, and interactive routines. The interactive routines contribute most to learning both Maple and mathematics. For example, it will hold your hand only when required to solve equations using the Gaussian Jordan Elimination methods, by say, allowing you to ask it for a hint, or to define something you had forgotten. The Student Calculus 1 package has over 15 additional interactive tutorials. Again, the emphasis is on interactivity – and again, only as much as you require. You may also move through these tutorials without understanding Maple's own input syntax. Maple stays in the background, allowing you to get on with learning your mathematics; now there's respect for the world of academia. The Student Pre Calculus package includes interactive tutorials on lines, polynomials, and rational functions. The interface improvements come in the guise of improved On-line Help, an improved Matrix Browser, a new plot-renderer, and a faster and much improved command-completion tool. The On-line Help improvements are due mainly to the Contents page being tree-structured. This allows easy access to Maple's Help topics, and encourages browsing – one of the best ways to learn. The usual Search and History tools are available. Use of the Online Help is encouraged by the placement of a Help icon on the toolbar. Into the matrix
Invariably, it's difficult to look through large vector or matrix tables, especially when you need to edit such a table. Maple's Matrix Browser has been improved to make this task easier. However, a search tool should have been added to the Browser to bring it up to Maple's usual standard. If you're new to Maple or feeling in an exploratory mood, you'll appreciate and enjoy the Command Completion dialog box. Maple's syntax is case-sensitive (as is the command input of all mathematical applications), so input errors can slow you down unless you're thoroughly familiar with it. As you type, or even hesitate in mid-sentence, the Command Completion dialog box will pop up to offer solutions. I found this fast, unobtrusive, and genuinely helpful, unlike the Assistances found in some applications. Other small but significant tweaks are the ability to change the character and paragraph styles of input text, and the use of context sensitive menus to access definitions of functions or other relevant information. The range of PDE (partial differential equation) and ODE (ordinary differential equation) exact and numeric solvers has extended. A new interactive interface has also been included to manipulate numeric and symbolic solutions. New packages such as Scientific Error Analysis and Discrete Transformations are now included. For example, the Scientific Error Analysis package enables the computation of numeric quantities that then display a value and an associated error. The error is a measure of the level of precision of the quantities known value. These are then used to perform error-analysis calculations. Maple 9 lets you access a database of 150 commonly used mathematical functions to look up definitions, special values, or even Maple's own syntax for the implementation of the functions. Its interoperability is due to a suite of functions named OpenMaple and Code Generator. The Code Generator converts Maple code to C, Fortran and Java. Maple 9 has added MATLAB and Visual Basic to this list. Using OpenMaple, routines and data-structures can be called up from within C programs. Maple's ExternalCalling function lets it access external data-structures.


Maple 9 is possibly the best of the academic/student mathematics applications available: it's easy to learn its syntax, which it immediately displays in traditional notation. If you're looking for an open-ended mathematical laboratory, look to Mathematica or MATLAB; if you work with technical or engineering problems, opt for MathCAD. Maple's dedication to academic mathematics pays off in this release.

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