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Re: Assertions in Mathematica?

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  • Subject: [mg113587] Re: Assertions in Mathematica?
  • From: Andrzej Kozlowski <akoz at>
  • Date: Wed, 3 Nov 2010 04:21:58 -0500 (EST)
  • References: <iaj4ob$n70$> <iajftk$qas$> <>

For better or worse, Mathematica is not an "open source" system and 
nothing is likely to change in this respect anytime soon. Everybody who 
buys Mathematica knows about it (or can easily find out) and can make 
his purchasing decision accordingly. If you need a "fully documented" 
(in your sense) alternative, they are available and cheaper, though you 
make have to pay a price in easy of use and functionality.   There is no 
"objective" way of deciding how much Mathematica should cost except by 
market forces, so your reference to the price of Mathematica in this 
context has no merit whatever.

The mathematical algorithms used by Mathematica are quite well 
documented for the needs of the average user 
( or Wolfram's target audience. A researcher who needs 
more can turn to journal papers written by some of the Wolfram staff - I 
have read several in areas that interest me and found them very 
informative and fully satisfactory.

The non-mathematical aspects of the software are treated no differently 
than is the case with other commercial software.

Andrzej Kozlowski

On 2 Nov 2010, at 11:04, kj wrote:

>>> Whatever the reason, the fact remains
>>> that, when it comes to the *content* of its documentation (as
>>> opposed to its presentation), Mathematica is third-rate at best,
>>> which is scandalous for software as expensive as it is.
> All the things you list as pluses fall under "presentation", not
> content.
> Do you understand what I mean by "formal specification"? Don't you
> see that Mathematica's documentation avoids formal specification
> as much as possible?  Don't you see that this documentation forces
> readers to *guess* at the formal specification on the basis of a
> few examples, and unbounded amounts of trial-and-error? If you
> don't understand these points, then of course my criticism of
> Mathematica's documentation won't make any sense to you.
> In response to the attack on Unix man pages in a different response,
> I disagree.  The Unix man pages are, on the whole, incredibly useful
> to the experienced programmer.  In fact, that's exactly what I
> think Mathematica is missing, a proper *detailed* reference manual,
> with full, explicit specification of what every function does, as
> opposed to what it has now, which is, at best, a lightweight user's
> guide (trying to pass itself off as a reference manual).  There's
> nothing wrong with a user's guide; it definitely has a place in
> the whole documentation library.  But it is not even close to being
> enough.  As far as I know there has never been an attempt to make
> a Mathematica reference manual available to the public (although
> I'm sure Wolfram's developers have access to that level of
> documentation internally; it would be impossible for them to do
> their work without it).
> Software developers need formal specifications to do their work.
> That's why formal APIs and formal protocols (HTTP, SMTP, etc.)
> exist.  It would be impossible to implement a web browser or a mail
> reader without such *exhaustive* formal specifications, where
> nothing is left for the reader to guess over.  By the same token,
> it is impossible to write solid code in Mathematica without formal
> specifications that say *exactly* what each Mathematica function
> does.  This lack of formal specification is particularly egregious
> in the area of research-oriented programming, where the wrong
> "educated guess" on the part of the programmer over what the
> Mathematica code is doing can eventually lead to the publication
> of erroneous results.
> ~kj

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