Mathcad 2001i Professional

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  • Editors' rating
    7.0 Very good

Pros

  • Export to HTML and MathML allows portable documents.

Cons

  • Not the fastest way of getting solutions to very complex problems.

Mathcad is a mathematics package that allows mathematicians, scientists, engineers and the like to use standard mathematical notation on a PC, rather than a programming language. It's been around a while and has a following and a range of resources to back it up. This latest version adds features that allow you to share your documents with others over the Web, including people who don't have Mathcad.

Mathcad can perform most calculations you can do using conventional programming languages, but allows you to write a document rather than a program. You can intersperse your declarations, equations and calculations with text, so it should be possible to write a paper entirely in Mathcad and have it do all the hard work.

Even though Mathcad uses standard mathematical notation, it takes a little time to get used to inputting things. You need to use certain keystrokes to enter elements like indices and subscripts, and they aren't necessarily the ones you'd expect. That said, after a little experimentation you soon learn how to enter even complex equations.

Although there are few changes to Mathcad's mathematical capabilities since the last version, a new method of solving differential equations, the Radau operator, has been included.

Mathcad's Animate feature allows you to visualise the effect of altering one variable in an equation. By using a special variable name -- FRAME -- and creating a graph of your function, Mathcad will automatically step through a range of values and create an AVI file of the effects.

New in this latest version of Mathcad is the ability to save your worksheets as HTML containing MathML -- an XML dialect used to represent equations and other mathematical expressions. The MathML exporter can now also be configured to use relative positioning, so that the output can be used with an HTML template -- useful for sites that have a predefined layout.

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You're supplied with IBM's TechExplorer Professional Edition browser plug-in that can render MathML, as well as equations formatted using the LaTeX typesetting language. A free version of TechExplorer is available for most operating systems, including Linux, from IBM's Web site. Using MathML in HTML documents allows you to distribute documents to people who don't have Mathcad installed, although they obviously won't be able to edit the documents without a working knowledge of MathML.

Another alteration to Mathcad's presentational features is the ability to save images as portable network graphics (PNG) files. This uses lossless compression, which won't introduce artifacts into the image in the way JPEG files can. However, only recent browsers support PNG files.

MathCad 2001i is just as capable as previous versions, and the additional Web-oriented features make it significantly more useful for collaborating with colleagues -- particularly those in other organisations. Although the standard pricing isn't cheap, there are special educational deals that allow students and schools to use Mathcad.

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