Greetings from Indianapolis, my old stomping grounds, where I’m attending the 2014 American Society for Engineering Education Conference. I’m speaking tomorrow morning on the flipped classroom in calculus and its implications for engineering education, and I’m also the Mathematics Division chair this year and so I have some plate-spinning functions to perform.
But what I wanted to just briefly note right now are some news items that I picked up from some folks at the Wolfram Research booth about upcoming developments with Mathematica and the still-sort-of-new Wolfram Language.
First: Mathematica is not being rebranded as the Wolfram Language. Two weeks ago, this post was put up at the Wolfram Blog that said
Back in 2012, Jon McLoone wrote a program that analyzed the coding examples of over 500 programming languages that were compiled on the wiki site Rosetta Code. He compared the programming language of Mathematica (now officially named the Wolfram Language) to 14 of the most popular and relevant languages, and found that most programs can be written in the Wolfram Language with 1/2 to 1/10 as much code—even as tasks become larger and more complex.
To which I replied,
I asked the Wolfram people here at the ASEE conference to clarify, and they were unequivocal that Mathematica and the Wolfram Language are different things. One of them explained that Wolfram Language is what Mathematica “runs”. The blog post makes sense now – I was misunderstanding that Mathematica was being renamed but it’s actually the programming language within Mathematica instead. Kind of a close distinction, but there is a difference.
Second: The Wolfram Language is going to be basically a completely cloud-based implementation of Mathematica. There will be certain elements that (as of the latest beta) don’t work as well as in Mathematica, particularly sliders and manipulatives, but otherwise everything you see in Mathematica will be doable completely in the cloud. There will be cloud-based accounts, file-sharing options, and other features you’d expect from cloud services. They are envisioning the Wolfram Language as a sort of API for Mathematica with lots of user features that remind me of Sage Math Cloud.
I think this is what I’m most interested in seeing. At my university we have a nice site license for Mathematica but it does require that you have a machine that can run it, and that you go through some steps for installation that in my experience don’t always run smoothly. Something that a student can simply log into would be preferable IMO. The Wolfram people also said it should run just fine on mobile devices, which is a big plank in my department’s overall technology strategy (i.e. to prefer software that is mobile-friendly). There will also be apps that link directly to the Wolfram Language. (They said “OS X” but possibly they meant “iOS”, and when I asked them about Android they didn’t know.)
Of course this won’t be free. I’ll be interested to see how it prices out and whether universities with site licenses will have this rolled in automatically.
Third: The Wolfram Language could be out in as little as a couple of weeks from now. So you heard it here first.
I’m excited about this because I like Mathematica and I’m inspired by Conrad Wolfram’s vision for computing in mathematics instruction. Having what is essentially the heart of Mathematica available in the cloud seems like a good thing for students – kind of like the “pro” version of Wolfram|Alpha (but without the “show steps” feature…?).
In addition to the news on their products, I also got this awesome green Spikey from the Wolfram people, so thanks!