MODELLING AND SIMULATION
5 July 2011
Reviewed by Felix Grant
Having gone all out, over several releases, to develop a graphically ‘pencil and paper’ face for its CAS, Maple now has a polished smart worksheet interface which no longer changes in obvious ways between versions. Developments are now made behind the scenes, allowing an existing user to pick up the latest manifestation and use it without any pause to acclimatise.
A command line option remains available, and popular with many experienced Maple users. The ‘classic’ worksheet, however, has taken a back seat, documented as ‘a basic worksheet environment for older computers with limited memory’ and present in 32-bit, but not 64-bit, installations. The graphic calculator interface – so useful for quick scratchpad explorations – remains for all Windows users. Consideration has been given to making the best use of small netbook screens, and the whole package continues to run responsively and well on all systems.
New interface features include an interactive and directly embedded data table linked to an array, matrix or vector object. Accessible by other components from Maple programs or by direct manual editing, there are a variety of import and export options. Plotting, the cloud repository with its Google-powered search, contextual menus, unit handling, data sources connectivity, templates and assistants all see evolutionary enhancement. There is also a very useful variable manager which allows direct inspection of all document variables (or a filtered subset of them) in a single palette.
Progress continues under the hood with both algorithmic and operational developments further providing extended fetch as well as speed and efficiency gains. The range of solvable nonlinear first and second order ODEs is extended, and PDE handling is extended and refined. Sparse methods in optimisation, polynomial and matrix handling give real time gains. Arrival of Bell polynomials, a new package for finite general binary systems, improved arithmetic for large dense polynomials, enhancement of differential geometry and control design (including very high precision Riccati), and new auto and cross correlation commands are among the range of extensions.
Alongside these, continued extension of means to exploit parallelising facilities generate further consequent synergies. Multithreading was already available before this release, but now sees performance and management gains. The Grid Computing Toolbox provides access to HPC systems, but an API common to Maple’s highly flexible local native grid programming makes use of multiple processes (generated on the fly, if required), scalable upwards from native clusters (or even a single machine) with remarkably little fuss. Much parallelisation is now taken care of by automatic provisions; without any need for explicit programming, the number of cores being interrogated by Maple itself and the necessary options are selected for their efficient use.
Taken together, all of this boils down to a package which remains a front runner in an ever-refining CAS market, even at the single interactive user level and more so as advantages of scale kick in. At the same time, none of the value for hands-on exploratory or educational use is lost; if anything, it draws on the same improvements to become better.