What’s new in Mathematica 6.0.2?

March 12th, 2008 | Categories: mathematica | Tags:

I have been playing with the new release of Mathematica for a little while now and thought that I would share what I have found. Now, as indicated by the small increment in version number, this is a minor release and so we should not be expecting anything earth shattering. The sort of things that one expects in a minor release like this include things such as bug-fixes, small performance enhancements, documentation upgrades etc. So…let’s see what he have got.

First on the list are some changes to the documentation center. Copying and pasting from Wolfram’s press release:

  • New Virtual Book documentation with updated Mathematica Book content
  • New Function Navigator, an easily browsable overview of all Mathematica objects

Let’s start with the Virtual book – what’s that all about? Like Gavin Scott, the writer of this forum message, I went to the help browser and searched for ‘virtual book’ hoping to be enlightened. Nothing – not a single search result! I found this surprising since Wolfram Research felt that it was such an important modification that they chose it to be the first thing they mentioned on their press release. To be honest I probably would not have noticed the new virtual book icon in the help browser without Gavin’s help. To help you find it I have circled it in red in the image below

Clicking on this icon opens the virtual book itself (see the image below) which is essentially an alternative way to navigate the documentation system. This might not seem like much to the casual observer but since the release of version 6 many people have been complaining about the changes made in the documentation system since version 5.2. The Virtual Book is Wolfram’s attempt at addressing some of these complaints by adding some structure that is reminiscent of the original Mathematica Book and I don’t think its too bad at all.


Personally, I have gotten used to the new Documentation center and, although I feel it has some problems, I quite like it – especially the huge number of examples that it contains. However, it does contain a massive quantity of information which is sometimes difficult to navigate through so the extra layer of structure that the Virtual Book provides is a welcome addition.

Next up we have the Function Navigator (below) which, like the Virtual Book, is yet another way to navigate through the documentation. Now this is something that I feel will be very useful – particularly when you are exploring a new area of functionality in Mathematica.

Say that you need to do some statistical calculations and you want to see what functions are available to you in Mathematica. Start off by expanding Mathematics and Algorithms followed by statistics to reveal the window below.

Clicking on our area of interest (Random Number Generation say) will reveal all of the functions available in that area. This is a very useful addition to the help system in my opinion. One minor issue with both the Virtual Book and the Function Navigator is that the windows take longer than expected to initialize. I conducted all of my tests on a pretty fast dual core machine with 4gb RAM and it took almost 3 seconds for the window to appear from the instant I clicked on the icon. I imagine that it is going to be painfully slow on my laptop which has a much lower specification but I haven’t tested it yet. At least one other person has noticed this issue.

The next item on Wolfram’s press release is

  • Several additional documentation enhancements, including performance improvements, indexing, and link trails

I simply cannot comment on this as they have not given any examples and I cannot see any obvious changes. Would anyone care to enlighten me? Moving on…

  • Full 64-bit performance on Intel Macs

This is great news if you are an owner of an Intel Mac but I’m not so onto the next item.

  • Improved performance of Import/Export converters on Mac and Unix

That’s great but it would be even better if Wolfram were more specific on this. There are some extra details on Wolframs blog post concerning 6.0.2 but even that doesn’t tell the full story. Quoting from Wolfram’s blog:

“A few examples are dramatic compression of graphics that include transparency exported to PDF, more robust embedding of graphics in TeX, and full support for all metadata in FITS images.”

What I would have really liked to have seen here is a comprehensive list of the improvements made – not just a select few. The next few points on Wolfram’s list are all related to the above

  • Significant speedup in import of binary data files
  • Improved handling of graphics when exporting to TeX and PDF
  • Enhanced import of metadata from FITS astronomical image files

The final point Wolfram makes about this new release is

  • New coordinate-picking tool and improved highlighting of graphical selections for interactive graphics

This is discussed in detail in the Wolfram’s blog so I will leave it to them to explain what this new feature is. In short – it’s fantastic! I may blog about it myself soon as it looks like it might be extremely useful.

That pretty much covers everything that Wolfram has released concerning this update and apart from the changes in the documentation (which are welcome improvements) it all seems a bit vague to me. I am the administrator for a large university site license and already I have people asking me if the upgrade is worth it if you are coming from version 6.0.1. My current response is along the lines of “well for us its essentially free (more accurately we have paid for it in advance) so you may as well” but if I had to pay extra for it then I probably wouldn’t bother.

The reason that I wouldn’t bother to pay for an upgrade is not because I think it is a bad product – quite the opposite in fact as it is a superb product – but if one is happily using version 6.0 or 6.0.1 then Wolfram Research simply haven’t given us the information we need to decide if we should upgrade or not.

With a bit of googling I eventually came up with some more details that I wished Wolfram would have released publicly. All of the following have been gleaned from posts to newsgroups.

csv files – original source -> here
There is a subtle change in the way .csv files are imported at 6.02.
Put the following into a .csv file:
At 6.01 (and earlier versions of Mathematica) the string was read in as
“hope”. At 6.02 the quotes are included in the string – “\”hope\””.

Integration bug fix – original source -> here
N[Integrate[Log[z] Log[1 + Sqrt[1 – z^2]], {z, 0, 1}]] = -0.707202 (version 6 – incorrect)
N[Integrate[Log[z] Log[1 + Sqrt[1 – z^2]], {z, 0, 1}]] = -0.659589 (version 6.0.2 – correct)

Various improvements – original source -> here

  • Fix for a big slowdown in FactorInteger
  • Fixes for some wrong Integrate results pointed out by external users
  • A few Series fixes
  • A few Simplify/FullSimplify/FunctionExpand fixes
  • Faster and more reliable numericizing of MeijerG
  • A few fixes in special function evaluation
  • Fix for RamanujanTau with large arguments

That’s the sort of thing I want to see – details.

I want to see a big list of bug fixes so that I can point to them and say to a user “the new version fixes all of these – if they affect you then you need to upgrade”

I want to see a list of performance enhancements so that I can point to them and say to a user “the new version is faster in all of these areas – if you need them then you need to upgrade”

I want to see a list of changes in function behaviour (such as the csv example above) so that I can explain to someone why their 6.0.1 code no longer works in 6.0.2 without spending all night figuring out some undocumented change.

I don’t have any of this information so all I can do is say “You may as well upgrade I guess – the documentation navigation has been improved a bit. It probably won’t do any harm (unless they have changed the way a function works without documenting it – see the csv example above)” Its hardly compelling is it?

Please Wolfram, give me more details. I like details and so do a lot of other people who are wondering whether or not to part with their hard-earned cash for this release.

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