## Mathematica 8 released

Version 8 of Mathematica was released on Monday 15th November and it’s a big one! With permission from Wolfram Research , I’ve been releasing little preview snippets from the beta version over the last couple of months but they hardly scratch the surface. I’m really excited about this release and so rather than post a traditional review of the product in a couple of weeks time, I thought that I’d try something different.

The idea is that this post will grow with new information and observations on the new version as they happen. One of the things I’ll be focusing on is the new Wolfram portal for site license administrators in the hope that it might help other unlimited site administrators.

So, if you have anything to say about version 8 then post your comments, links and code here.

**10th March 2011 – Wolfram Portal Problems Fixed**

I am very pleased to be able to report that almost all of the issues I had with Wolfram’s portal have been fixed and Manchester University is beginning the Mathematica 8.0.1 roll-out to its staff and students. A huge thank you to the Wolfram portal staff who have been working with me on this.

**9th March 2011 – Wolfram Demonstrations Site Overhauled. CDF Player launched.**

Check out Wolfram’s blog post on this at http://blog.wolfram.com/2011/03/08/innovating-interactive-web-publishing-with-wolfram-demonstrations/. See one of the first interactive .cdf (computable document format) demonstrations outside of Wolfram Research at Mathematica: Interactive mathematics in the web browser

**7th March 2011 – Mathematica 8.0.1 has been released**

In an email to me Wolfram say ‘*Mathematica 8.0.1 includes more than 500 improvements, including feature, stability, and performance enhancements, as well as documentation updates.’ *Sadly there is no indication of what any of these changes actually are! That sucks!

**10th December 2010 – Wolfram Portal Problems**

When I first saw the new Wolfram Portal, I thought that it would make my life as a license administrator (and the lives of my colleagues) much easier and that I would be able to release Mathematica 8 to our University in double quick time. Sadly, however, it has not lived up to expectations and I now feel that it has some serious problems that need fixing before we start using it in anger. I don’t want to go into details just yet because I’m working with Wolfram to try to come to a resolution.

For now, however, I am sad to report that Manchester University won’t be rolling out Mathematica 8 to the masses for a while yet.

**20th November **

- Just discovered that Image capture is not supported on Linux machines.
- Some people have asked me if Mathematica 8 has improved ‘undo’ functionality. The answer is no – undo is identical to v7 (as far as I can tell).

**18th November **

Some new Mathematica 8 coverage:

- How many MATLAB toolboxes make a Mathematica 8? I wrote this out of curiosity. The list is longer than I expected.
- Programming with Natural Language is Actually Going to Work. Stephen Wolfram discusses the new NLP features in Mathematica. I have to say that it’s a feature I find myself using more and more. I don’t like leaving natural language in my notebooks though – it just looks wrong to my eyes and I worry that the behaviour of my notebook may change if Wolfram were to modify the Wolfram Alpha back-end. It is, however, a great way of quickly looking up Mathematica syntax and that’s mostly how I use it right now.

**17th November 11:00**

Some issues with Wolfram’s new site license administration portal are as follows

- Downloads are much slower than people would like. My beta testers have already requested that we host the Mathematica 8 installers on our local university servers. I’ve officially requested this from Wolfram. (
**fixed)** - It is not possible to use email wildcards when specifying who can request licenses or not. For example, if the requesters email doesn’t end with @manchester.ac.uk (and variants) then I want it to be automatically rejected with a message of our choice. Sadly I cannot do this which means that we’ll be doing lots of rejections from people who we can’t easily verify are are members of our university. (
**fixed**) - The site license admins get an email
**every single time**someone requests a license from us. A once a day digest would be much more useful!

**16th November 15:50**

I have my own copy of Mathematica 8 up and running and I’ve started playing with it a little. Just tried the following two commands on my desktop machine to see if I can get the CUDA interface working

Needs["CUDALink`"] CUDAInformation[]

Mathematica 8 needs to load something from Wolfram’s servers in order to complete this command and it’s taking an age. Several minutes in and it’s only at 17%. I guess Wolfram’s servers are being hammered right now (either that or there’s a local network problem). Definitely a down-side of cloud-based computing.

**16th November 15:00**

A colleague and I have been poking around the new Wolfram site license administrators portal and overall we are impressed. There are a few issues to iron out before we feel confident enough to open Mathematica 8 to all Mathematica users at Manchester but the system appears to be a vast improvement on what has gone before. This may be the fastest release to site I have ever performed. Sent Wolfram tech support about a trillion questions (sorry guys!)

**16th November 12:30**

Our site license has been upgraded already! Now to get my head around the new portal and see what needs to be done to get the goodies out to Manchester Uni users.

**16th November 10:30
**

My employer, The University of Manchester, has a full site license for Mathematica and I am one of the administrators of this license. I’ve already had my first request from a user who wants to upgrade to version 8 (very keen these Mathematica users) but Wolfram haven’t yet upgraded the site license from version 7.0.1. So, even I, as the administrator of an unlimited site license can’t get my hands on the goodies yet. Hopefully this will change soon because we’ve got a lot of work to do internally before we release it to our site.

**16th November 09:00
**

I’ve just read Stephen Wolfram’s blog post about the new free-form linguistics in Mathematica 8. It all looks very awesome but it seems that Wolfram Alpha is used to process the free-form input. This leads me to wonder about the following questions

- How much of the free-form linguistic functionality will you get if you are offline?
- Will any information about the user be sent to and kept by Wolfram Research? If nothing else then I guess this will give Wolfram some very detailed usage information.
- Since it has to go across the Internet to do some of the processing, how much will using free-form input slow things down?

**Mathematica 8 around the web
**

In the year 2020, I wonder how much we’ll know about where our computations are actually being performed, and if we’ll actually care; e.g., “is this running on my CPUs or GPUs, or on CPUs or GPUs somewhere in the cloud?”.

Three things interest me the most:

1. How did the functionality concerning PDEs (esp. parabolic ones) grow?

2. Are stochastic integrals now supported (e.g. ito or stratonovich)?

3. Is there a “Show Steps” function included (like with WA)?

Oh, and one other thing: Is there a transparent way of transferring compute power into a cloud?

@vonjd There is a show steps function which is basically just an interface to the WA one.

@Mike

I’ve heard about the feature that you could add manipulate’s in a presentation (powerpoint / keynote).

Can we now?

@OP

“Since it has to go across the Internet to do some of the processing, how much will using free-form input slow things down?”

I did not know until yesterday that typing free form, will send things over the internet and wait for an answer. Why not build this into Mathematica? Since there are millions of users of Mathematica (accroding to WRI web site), what if these users all started to use the free form at the same time? Will this bring the internet down?

This is a strange design. I am not sure I want every command I type to be broadcasted over the net with my IP on it attached to it.

If I type some stupid command on the Mathematica notebook, I am the only one who likes to know it was a stupid command, and not the whole world :)

And if the connection is down, then free form is not usable any more.

–Nasser

Who will pay for a Mathematica 8 license and use free form at the end?

Even in WolframAlpha free form typing has a long way to cover till it can be used effectively.

Some licensing questions:

When Mathematica 8 for students will be available?

Will Mathematica 8 for home use have the same functionality as the full license product?

Can Mathematica 8 for home be used for academic research purposes at home?

A few quick answers to some of the questions raised here…

No significant changes to PDEs made it into Mathematica 8.

Nor did Manipulate embedding into PowerPoint, however, Mathematica 8 will run as a plugin to web browsers allowing Manipulates, typesetting and other Mathematica capabilities to be embedded into web pages.

There is an option to control whether you want to share any session state with Wolfram|Alpha to improve its linguistics, or not if you are concerned about privacy. Wolfram|Alpha requires quite a lot of code, data and CPU power to operate, which would make a local install prohibitive, hence the server-side computation.

Student version should only be a few days away, it is going through QA now. Home use licenses and student licenses have the full functionality of Mathematica. They are limited only by license restriction on use/user.

“I did not know until yesterday that typing free form, will send things over the internet and wait for an answer. Why not build this into Mathematica?”

This is a silly attitude.

(a) You have no idea what is required to get free-form interpretation to work. It may require a substantial number of processes running in parallel trying different things at once, and/or it may require large amounts of storage, both in working memory (ie more RAM than is reasonable to expect on current machines) and in backing store.

(b) Wolfram want to track the kinds of things people send through free-form interpretation to improve ths system. Right now they are basically guessing, based on common-sense and Alpha experience, what people will want. They will probably see a large number of unexpected queries in the first few months (and the system will not work as well as we all hope), but, in six months or so as things stabilize, we’ll probably see much improved accuracy.

Regarding the licensing issues.

I can’t answer these directly, but there is more to 8 (and thus more worth paying for) than just free-form input. Different people will have different opinions, but to me the three big things I immediately care about are:

– printing graphs to PDFs appears to be substantially improved. It’s still not perfect, but many of the irritations of the past have been removed — for example text on 3D graphs is now postscript text, not rendered bits, so scales nicely when the graph scales

– there is a cool new “language” (basically just notation) for describing things related to probability

– Performance has been improved in various areas. I don’t understand why this is not something that is being announced as one of the new feaatures — it really is there, and it is something everyone cares about and understands. The performance improvements are not universal, but they are widespread.

I complained ceaselessly about the lack of automatic parallelism in 7, and this is common in 8. A trivial way to see this is to compare CPU utilization running Benchmark[] on 7 vs 8. On 7 CPU utilization rose above 100% only in a few places — basically numerical FFTs and BLAS level 2 matrices. On 8 CPU utilization is pegged at 200% (on my dual-core system) for most of the benchmark. This parallelism occurs even in some unexpected places, for example 7 did not parallelize the eigenvalue code, while 8 does.

I would be interested in hearing from people with bigger (4, 8, 12 core) machines about how aggressively Mathematica uses their cores. That is — does a standard license allow you to fully max out a 12 core Mac Pro, or does it limit you to 4 or 8 cores?

Note

(a) You can’t directly compare the numbers from Benchmarks 7 and 8. The Mathematica code is the same in both cases, but the numbers used to scale the problem have changed, sometimes slightly, sometimes substantially. It would be interesting to know, in the cases where the changes are slight, why the changes were made. The nefarious answer would be something like “to make Intel machines look better than AMD, for which Intel is paying big bucks”. The non-nefarious answer would be something like “to better balance the benchmark to reflect what we think are some sort of average utilization of Mathematica’s capabilities across all users”.

(b) It is interesting to look at the Benchmark code. Among other things, this shows that nothing special is required — no Parallel statements of some sort — to get parallelization in places like the Numerical Integration code and various loops.

(c) The attempts to parallelize Mathematica are clearly deep and are obviously on-going. You can see this, for example, if you look at the new info they provide on Compile[] where Compile[] (and presumably, the compiler and intermediate representation) have received what appears to be a substantial facelift. On most interest is that the intermediate language utilizes tensor registers, to go along with the previous Real and Complex and Integer registers. What appears to be the case, for now, is that where the system would automatically call Compile[], the compiler (if everything is ideal) uses Tensor registers which then feed through to an engine that can run Tensor registers as parallel code.

This is obviously not perfect — I suspect little to nothing of the core pattern matching engine is parallel, and one has to remember where Compile[] doesn’t kick in, for example I suspect that something like a large Map[] would NOT run parallel automatically, so you still need the ParallelMap[] of 7.

Also, as far as I can see, SSE is still not used (except perhaps for single floating point arithmetic, to the extent that Intel tells everyone to use SSE for floating point and just ignore the x87 instructions).

But still, it’s a nice start and a good reason to upgrade to 8 if you have the [ substantial :-( ] cash and are occasionally irritated by Mathematica slowness.

Don’t forget — I’m very interested in reports from people with 4, 8 and 12 core machines, of how aggressively Mathematica 8 uses their cores, both for FFT/BLAS and for other stuff!

@Joplin

I don’t work for Wolfram but here are the answers to a couple of your questions to the best of my knowledge.

“Will Mathematica 8 for home use have the same functionality as the full license product?”

Yes it does apart from one key point. The home use version is 32bit only!

“Can Mathematica 8 for home be used for academic research purposes at home?”

No. Full terms of the home edition can be found at

http://www.wolfram.com/products/mathematicahomeedition/qa.html

Taken from that site:

Q: Can I use Mathematica Home Edition to support my teaching or academic research?

No, but significant discounts are available for educational licenses.