Software you lose when leaving a university: Mathematica

February 2nd, 2015 | Categories: math software, mathematica | Tags:

I’ve been working at The University of Manchester for almost a decade and will be leaving in just less than 3 weeks time! A huge part of my job was to support a major subset of Manchester’s site licensed application software portfolio so naturally I’ve made use of a lot of it over the years. As of February 20th, I will no longer be entitled to use any of it!

This article is the first in a series where I’ll look at some of the software that’s become important to me and what my options are on leaving Manchester.

Here, I consider Mathematica – a computer algebra system and technical computing environment that I’m very fond of. I’ve been a Mathematica user for over 15 years and yet, suddenly, I find myself license-less! So much code, so much time invested! What to do?

Options for all use cases

  • Before leaving University, contact the administrator of your site license. It could be that you are entitled to a discount on buying one of the various licenses on offer.
  • Use the CDF Player – With this free tool, You’ll be able to look at and interact (at least partially) with Mathematica notebooks.
  • Re-write all code to use something else. Which language to use is open to massive debate but the closest open source systems to Mathematica’s notebook-like interface are Jupyter (previously IPython) and Sage. The languages are, of course, rather different though!

Hobbyist use

General mucking around!

  • Buy the home edition – The home edition of Mathematica can be used for  non-professional and non-academic purposes and, at the time of writing, costs £195 as a one-off cost or £95 per year.
  • Use Mathematica online: Home – Same rules as the home edition above but it’s a cloud-based, online version. Currently costs £95 per year.
  • Buy a Raspberry Pi –  The Raspberry Pi comes with a free version of Mathematica! This means that you can buy an entire computer AND a copy of Mathematica for less than the standard home-use license. I had a play with Mathematica on the Raspberry Pi just over a year ago and it was very nice. Now that the faster, more powerful Raspberry Pi 2 has been released this option is even more compelling!

Academic use

If you want to use Mathematica in an academic environment that doesn’t have a site license, you’ll need to purchase an individual academic license. At the time of writing, that will cost £860 + VAT.

Professional use

There are various grades of professional license and the cost varies according to how many compute kernels you need or Wolfram Alpha API calls you want to make. Current prices start at £2,035 +VAT



  1. February 2nd, 2015 at 21:38
    Reply | Quote | #1

    At your new venue, you will have MATLAB including the Symbolic Math Toolbox. So grief no more. ;-)

  2. Mike Croucher
    February 3rd, 2015 at 10:33
    Reply | Quote | #2

    The Symbolic Math Toolbox is very nice but what I’m *really* gonna miss is Manipulate

    This function is essentially the technology required for the Wolfram Demonstration Project

  3. February 3rd, 2015 at 12:26
    Reply | Quote | #3

    I see. Sorry, the closest resemblance might be animations (, which do not have the interactive part.

  4. martin cohen
    February 3rd, 2015 at 22:09
    Reply | Quote | #4

    Anybody working on a Mathematica to Sage translator?

  5. Denis
    February 4th, 2015 at 08:43
    Reply | Quote | #5

    you can try mathics as well.

  6. Szabolcs
    February 9th, 2015 at 17:35
    Reply | Quote | #6

    @martin cohen

    I don’t believe an actually useful translator to any other language is at all possible. Mathematica is not just a programming language. It’s a large and complex systems with functionality that touches on many areas, functionality that would need to be replaced by the translator. And even the core language is based on a concept–pattern matching and term rewriting–that makes it completely unique among semi-mainstream languages.

    It would be a big mistake to think that systems like these are plainly interchangeable.

  7. JP
    February 9th, 2015 at 20:29
    Reply | Quote | #7

    It looks like Sheffield has a Maple computer algebra site licence too, so you’re not exactly walking into the wilderness – the Maple Explore command does some of what Manipulate does too. Of course, that doesn’t help a lot with running all your existing code – automatic translators can only get you so far.

  8. Mike Croucher
    February 11th, 2015 at 09:05
    Reply | Quote | #8

    @JP – Sheffield has a very nice portfolio of software so I’m sure I’ll be fine :) I’m using my move as an excuse to consider what life would be life if I wasn’t going to another well equipped university. I plan a Maple version of this article very soon.

  9. March 30th, 2015 at 21:38
    Reply | Quote | #9

    My problem with Mathematica is not that *I* have to pay for it, but that *other* people have to pay for it. Mathematica is easier to use than any alternative that I know of, and I might gladly pay the license price if I never interacted with anyone else. But the price is prohibitive to others, so that keeps me from buying it for myself.