Mathematical packages:
from self-economy
to mass production through the Internet

(Russian version of the article)

Valery Ochkov

http://twt.mpei.ac.ru/ochkov/v_ochkov.htm

The history of computer use for science and technology analysis can be as consisting of three stages:

         Utilization of the specific computer machine codes

         Programming with high level languages

         Application of mathematical packages such as Mathcad, Maple, MatLab, Mathematica.

There are not any strict borderlines between these stages (methods) for example when working in the Mathcad environment, you can call for proprietary functions written in C code with elements of inserted Assembler language. Programmable calculators (popular for analysis) still use specific machine codes.

The discussion should be diverted from the stages of this development in problem solutions to a trend aimed to substantially decreasing the time spent to create and implement different methods and mathematical models. Another trend is to avoid using a programmer as a necessary and often counterproductive (from the professional user point of view) link between the researcher and the computer.

But roses always come with the thorns. The most serious difficulty when working with mathematical software arises in the fact that, as a rule, you can not create an executable file, and resolve problems without the governing program. This particularly interfered with such a useful move among the ones using the computer as separation between the users (in the particular narrow meaning) and developers.

The people using mathematical software, as a rule, are specialized isolationists since those products are made specifically for personal use. A Mathcad file can be shared only with somebody who has Mathcad installed on his or her machine. But this person wont necessarily spend any additional resources to buy the file but might try to create the necessary analytical product as his or her own. And talking about transferring (selling) the file to a person who is not familiar with Mathcad and does not have it installed makes sense only if the proper version will be installed.

This can often additionally cause a requirement for the user to update the Windows operating system and in the extreme case to acquire new hardware. And the necessity to gain skills in Mathcad should not be forgotten.

Mathsoft Engineering & Education, Inc (www.mathsoft.com the developer of Mathcad has recently moved to improve this situation.

Mathsoft had an earlier Mathcad read-only browser, called Math Browser, then in Mathcad 8 they released a free complete version Mathcad Explorer, which allowed opening and running Mathcad files without a possibility of saving edited Mathcad documents (a read-only version).

Most recently, Mathsoft has developed a means for publication of Mathcad documents on the Internet, accessible to all. One rationale behind this action is the fact that the educational system where the skills and ways to get the results are more important than the result itself is a major consumer of mathematical programs. This philosophy was pursued in the Mathcad 2001i version (with the suffix i standing for interactive).

Everything described presented only some partial solutions. Users needed to download Mathcad Explorer from the Web and to installed on their machine and here a question loomed of may be a better idea to install the entire Mathcad instead of the shortened version (we are not discussing here the expenses associated with such enterprise; neither we are going to talk about the illegal use of the packages). But obviously everyone would like not only look at the html or MathML copies of Mathcad documents, but to touch them as well and may be to try to make a change in the initial input data and see the results and possibly print it out or save them on a disk.

The solution, and not the partial one, but almost complete, has come from the Internet.

In 2003 Mathsoft launched the Mathcad Application Server (MAS), which allowed users post Mathcad documents so that non-Mathcad owners can read and interact with them through the Internet. The author of this article has used MAS at this site www.vpu.ru/mas. This site also has the references to the documents on how to use MAS and prepare Mathcad documents for publication on the Internet.

The following is a list of the problems that can be resolved with the MAS technology.

         There is no need for users to have the Mathcad program installed on their computer to be able to view and interact with a Mathcad file just switch to the Internet and call for MAS using the Internet Explorer browser (5.5 and above); it works just as if the Mathcad document has been opened and you can make a change to the input information and arrive to an answer and then to print it out and/or save your results. The methodology of the calculations (the equations expressed in the traditional mathematical notation, but not in the row of hidden programming codes-the feature the users like the Mathcad for) Mathcad features and complex calculations can be either visible or hidden).

         There is a possibility to provide immediate availability to the co-members of the Internet society of new methodology of calculation for any specific branch of science and technology just refer to the site address. A variation of languages can be incorporated (Russian, English and so on).
If a reasonable and modest charge will be used for the service, the calculations can be looked on as a subject of trade, by such being turned into an elements of economics and business.

         Any corrections can be made quickly and if necessary without calling for the users attention, but if desired the user can make the changes directly.

         The MAS technology does not exclude the possibility of routine downloading from the server of Mathcad documents for their expansion and updating. In these cases a proper reference to the FTP-server is the only action necessary.

The MAS technology is additionally a solution to the program licensing problem: it releases the occasional users from the need to buy an expensive package or illegally install a pirated copy on the computer and more to constantly upgrade the software just use the MAS. The developer being the seller of the methodology will be the supplier of the overall software solution.

Also MAS avoids the need for occasional users to learn to use and edit Mathcad documents with a fear of damaging them. The changes to input information can be done using the methods known to the Internet users through their participation in the forums, seminars, chat rooms and continuing education efforts.

And finally I present two examples of Mathcad documents.

Figure 1 shows the end of the Mathcad document, available at the site http://twt.mpei.ac.ru/mas/worksheets/Old_Car.mcd which is used for an appraisal of an old car based on its age and mileage. The beginning of the document contains a description of the statistical editing of the array of information covering the cost of secondhand cars, which the author has managed to gather from the Internet, allowing him to come up with some evaluation.

Another example is presented in figure 2. Structural engineering requires performing a lot of technical calculation of varying degree of complexity. Incorporated Building Codes are supposed to control all the pertinent requirements. These regulations can be found on the Internet, not in a formal descriptive mode, but as recommendations and examples of their application.

The MAS technology turns these rules into a live interactive process, which give the possibility to interactively perform these calculations on the Internet, print out all intermediate results, and submit them for an inspection and approval, presenting the crucial part of any important construction procedure (see http://twt.mpei.ac.ru/mas/worksheets/Izol_Trub_Teploset.mcd). Its absolutely clear that a demand for such items is enormous.

Here comes the mass-production!

(Translating into English by I.Krupnik)