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Re: Mathematica and some General Comments

  • To: mathgroup at
  • Subject: [mg97424] Re: Mathematica and some General Comments
  • From: "Dr. David Kirkby" <david.kirkby at>
  • Date: Fri, 13 Mar 2009 04:47:56 -0500 (EST)
  • References: <goqphr$lt2$> <gp5fou$9nr$> <gp7vqd$1b4$>

mike.honeychurch at wrote:

> Other than people who use pencils and paper, or blackboards and
> chalk*, everyone is "chained" to commercial products in their
> workplaces. We need to "free" our minds a bit from the idea that
> software should somehow be an exception to everything else that occurs
> in our workplaces. Or alternatively perhaps someone can explain to me
> why software should be any different to scientific equipment, cars,

If a car gets you from A to B, in reasonable comfort, you probably don't 
care too much exactly how the car works and so you are unlikely to need 
the source code to prove it got you to B. You *know* it got you there - 
there is no uncertainty of that fact.

> dishwashers... 

If the plates are clean, the power consumption is not too high, and it 
does not make too much noise, I doubt anyone cares. There is little 
point in having the source code for a dishwasher.

> I cannot use an open source mass spectrometer, 

You have a point with the mass spectrometer. People should be more 
critical with a mass-spectrometer. Unlike the case of the car and 
dishwasher, it is not so obvious if the results are wrong. However, I 
suspect is is easier to detect problems with a mass spectrometer than 
with a result from Mathematica. Read the archives of sci.math.symbolic 
and you will find many examples where commercial computer algebra 
systems give incorrect results.

One obvious problem, even if the source to Mathematica was available, is 
that few people would be able to make use of it. However, I suspect it 
would improve the quality of the software, as some people will be able 
to check it.

Solaris has improved since Sun took it from a closed source system to an 
open-source one. They have stopped selling Solaris, but of course charge 
for support on it.

Is it any wonder that the most trusted encryption techniques are open 
source? Connect to your bank to make transactions, and you will be using 
SSL, the source to which is open for all to see.

It would never surprise me if more and more companies or governments 
insist on the source of software being available. Far too many people 
are concerned about the issues of closed source software, and this 
awareness is growing steadily (not just with mathematical software). 
However, I can't see too many companies or governments wanting the 
source for the dishwashers or cars they or their sub-contractors use.

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