MathGroup Archive 2009

[Date Index] [Thread Index] [Author Index]

Search the Archive

Re: Re: Thoughts on a Wolfram|Alpha package for

  • To: mathgroup at
  • Subject: [mg101912] Re: [mg101885] Re: Thoughts on a Wolfram|Alpha package for
  • From: George Woodrow III <georgevw3 at>
  • Date: Wed, 22 Jul 2009 06:23:58 -0400 (EDT)
  • References: <h41f31$rfv$> <>

This is my take on the situation:

Over the years, I have purchased any number of add-ons for  
Mathematica, including stuff from Wolfram and some third party  
packages, including David's.

I've been disappointed time after time. (It wasn't *my* money most of  
the time, so the time saved by using the winners usually made up for  
the bad choices.)

First, even for Wolfram applications, there is the inevitable lag  
between a new version of Mathematica and an update to the packages.  
This problem was worst with major changes, such as Mathematica 3 and  
6. Many of my add-ons are still not working with Mathematica 6 or 7.

This is understandable for a one person shop: the transition from  
Mathematica 2.x to 3 and 5.s to 6 were substantial. However, it has a  
serious impact on the perceived value of the add-on.

Second, as the capabilities of Mathematica have improved, it is simply  
easier to write my own code. I am sure that this is the case with many  
Mathematica users.

There is also enough free stuff out there that 90% of the code for any  
specific application is already done.

Also, I would generally want to customize the code. If I did the work  
myself, then I'd already understand what is going on. Trying to alter  
an existing program is more difficult. My code might not have all the  
bells and whistles of a polished app, but generally, I only need a  
subset of the code to get the job done.

If I want to send the program out to my co-workers, I cannot assume  
that they also have the package or add-on, so anything I want to  
deploy cannot have any expensive dependencies.

I looked into this possibility as a source of income (and something to  
do) in my retirement. I came to the conclusion that there are only two  
viable business models:

1.	Develop something and sell it to Wolfram. An example of this is the  
Classroom Assistant in Mathematica 7 (I'm assuming that there was some  
compensation involved.)

2.	Develop a turnkey application using Mathematica for an application  
that does not require any knowledge of Mathematica. Player Pro is a  
delivery system for this application model. There are certain  
advantages to using Mathematica over developing a program in c/c++.  
However, this is not the type of program we are talking about here.

It is easy to be wrong about this. After all I do not have any numbers  
about Mathematica users. Wolfram states that the number is in the  
millions, but I am not sure that the vast majority of these are  
students. I am surprised that it is hard to reach a break-even  
userbase of as little as 200-300 users.

In many ways, using Mathematica is similar to the way it was in the  
1970s, before there was any 'commercial' software. I use the Apple ] 
[ as an example, but it was only the first commercial PC.

Mathematica takes the place of the built-in BASIC interpreters. People  
shared programs. There were books of programs that you could type in.  
(A *BIG* program at the time was 300 lines of BASIC code.) There was a  
lot of sharing. People were happy to show off by providing neat code  

I missed those days. With Mathematica (and especially the newer  
versions), I can recapture the essence of using the computer to do  
mathematical things without all the overhead of learning c, Xcode, etc.

I may be an aging idealistic hippie, but I think that there will  
always be enough people who will delight in sharing what they know  
that the market for paid mathematica add-one will always be undercut.  
The nature of Mathematica itself, and Wolfram Research's ecosystem  
that encourages this type of thinking.

So to summarize: I think that there is little market for Mathematica  
add-ons for the following reasons:

1.	Poor support in most cases. Code that breaks with each new version  
of Mathematica is a poor value.

2.	Free code that is 'close enough' trumps paid code unless the paid  
code is really exceptional.

3.	The mind-set of the users who might buy mathematica add-ons is  
biased towards either rolling their own or finding something free.


On Jul 20, 2009, at 7:21 PM, AES wrote:

> In article <h41f31$rfv$1 at>, David Reiss  
> <dbreiss at>
> wrote:
>> Sadly 3rd party application for Mathematica sell very poorly--rarely
>> even beginning to recoup the cost to develop them.  But I could do
>> this if there were a couple of hundred users willing to purchase it.
> I'd welcome your thoughts (or anyone's) on _why_ this is the case?
> (I have my own ideas, but reality checks are always useful.)

  • Prev by Date: Re: Re: Add syntax highlighting to own command
  • Next by Date: How to define real functions?
  • Previous by thread: Re: Thoughts on a Wolfram|Alpha package for
  • Next by thread: Re: Thoughts on a Wolfram|Alpha package for