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Just bought MATLAB

  1. Aug 15, 2006 #1
    I just bought MATLAB because it is absolutely required at the university I will be attending in the fall. While I've only given MATLAB a quick overview, it seems that it's probably not something I would be able to use for writing papers. It also doesn't look very efficient for quick graphing (since you basically have to code everything).

    Would it be worth it to also get Mathematica or Maple? Or should I just stick with Open Office Formula editor (what I use now for writing papers with math in them) or a latex editor, and use my TI-89 for graphing?

    And if Maple or Mathematica is a good complement to MATLAB, is the extra $40 for Mathematica worth it against Maple?

    Oh, if it matters, I'm an EE major who will probably minor in pure math.

  2. jcsd
  3. Aug 16, 2006 #2


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    MATLAB is not used for typesetting. It's a numerical computation engine. Mathematica and Maple similarly are not really designed for typesetting, though Maple is probably somewhat decent.

    MATLAB is actually an insanely capable visualization tool; the ease of plotting is in fact one of its top features. Mathematica is much, much more terse, but is capable of even more demanding visualization.

    The best equation editor plug-in is MathType. If you're interested in a professional mathematical typesetting system (which is, happily, 100% free), look into LaTeX.

    - Warren
  4. Aug 16, 2006 #3

    Aside from typesetting, what are the differences between MATLAB/Maple/Mathematica? Are they all basically the same thing with different strength/weaknesses? Or are there any major fundamental differences?
  5. Aug 16, 2006 #4


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    MATLAB is aimed at numerical computation, and has a quick, non-rigorous syntax. Mathematica is aimed at symbolic computation and has a rather terse, rigorous syntax. Maple is prettier, easier to use, and less capable than Mathematica, but is also aimed at symbolic computation.

    There is, in fact, a lot of overlap. Most things you could do in one, you could also do in another with a varying degree of difficulty. On the other hand, they are certainly different enough that I would normally choose one over the other, depending upon the needs of my work.

    - Warren
  6. Aug 16, 2006 #5
    I would hesitate to buy any software before you enroll, as software such as Mathematica and Matlab is expensive and you may be able to get them through your school for free. The copies at my school only work when you are on the campus network, but it is better than paying for it. You can also use public or department computers, so running it on your own computer may not be necessary.
  7. Aug 16, 2006 #6


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    Also, as I said in another recent thread:

    Maxima is a free Mathematica look-a-like, and Octave is a free MATLAB look-a-like. Both are probably powerful enough to see you completely through a bachelor's degree. At a minimum, they can help you get some familiarity with the purpose and syntax of the two tools, so you can decide which you need.

    Also, your professors will assuredly mention which tool they require at the start of any such classes.

    - Warren
  8. Aug 16, 2006 #7
    Well, MATLAB is explicitly required by my engineering school, so I just went ahead and got it.

    I'll put off any other purchases and give Maxima a try.

  9. Aug 16, 2006 #8
    There is allways microsoft equation editor in word, but youll have to do the math yourself then ;)
  10. Aug 16, 2006 #9
    Some engineering courses, like Control Systems or Signal Processing, would have been impossible without MATLAB. I'm not sure if Maple of Mathematica can even generate Bode, Nyquist, Root Locus, or Nichols plots.
  11. Aug 27, 2006 #10
    I know it is nowhere in the same league, but I thought it was worth mentioning that Eigenmath is a very simple mathematics program that is free and I believe it is in current development. It would not allow for typesetting, but the developer may add an ability to export to LaTex if requested.

    It has a lot of examples right in the program off the menu and a very simple interface and you can get started with it really quickly. I don't see much on the net on it and nothing on Physics Forum. So I thought I should remedy that.
  12. Aug 29, 2006 #11


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    I produce all "print ready" figures using Matlab.

    Free stuff I've used in the past include Octave (like Matlab) and Gnuplot.

    Always use LaTex for math typesetting :smile:
  13. Aug 29, 2006 #12
    Yeah, I finally got around to teaching myself how to code LaTex over the last few weeks, and it can't be beat. It's just awesome. I think I will even use it for non-math papers, now that I found a MLA style file. Once you get the hang of it, it's actually easier and much more efficient than using a word processing program...
  14. Aug 29, 2006 #13

    Far more efficient.

    In my opinion, gnuplot is more efficient at producing print ready figures than matlab, but requires more learning since matlab you can do all by point and click. Of course, the convenience of writing a matlab script to do all your processing from start to finish is hard to beat (it can certainly be done, with a combination of say fortran, perl, and gnuplot, but it is somewhat less convenient that way).
  15. Aug 30, 2006 #14
    My 2 cents here would be --

    Matlab is great because there is alot of resources for it. If you look hard enough, you can find modules out there for just about everything you'd need to do.

    I have also found that in the world of Fluid Dynamics/Meterologists/etc -- Matlab is very popular.
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