Mathematica 4.2 for Mac OS X

By Juha Haataja

I ordered Mathematica 4.2 for Mac OS X in the Summer of 2002, and it took almost four months for the software to arrive. A long wait! (Contrast this with the experience with Matlab 6.5.)


The installation was easy. You just drag the Mathematica folder from the installation cd to the hard disk. Registration was also easy, although the long password was tedious to type in.

Performance and ease of use

Mathematica behaves quite nicely on my 450 MHz G4 Macintosh. This machine was running Jaguar (Mac OS X 10.2). Mathematica starts up fast. The system responds nicely to commands and menu actions.

The user interface seems to be fitted into the Mac OS X environment. Here is a screenshot of how Mathematica looks like in Mac OS X:

Mathematica is easy to use, although for a first-time user the huge size of the system can be overwhelming. But if you know how to execute commands and get help, working in Mathematica is easy. And the build-in help system is still one of the best in scientific software.

New features

The biggest new features according to Wolfram research are support for building Java applications, and support for XML-based data input and output.

XML support makes it possible to use standards like MathML and ChemML with the new version of Mathematica. On the other hand, there are relatively few other applications which handle these formats. Trying to use MathML output form Mathematica in Mozilla 1.2a results in the following screenshot:

Mathematica 4.2 offers some new features in linear programming, nonlinear and global optimization, statistics, combinatorics, and graph theory.


Here are some additional screenshots of Mathematica 4.2 on Mac OS X. The help system is one of the best features of Mathematica, as can be seen in the help on minimization:

Here is an example from the graphics gallery:

I tested the new version by retrieving a Mathematica package for hyperbolic geometry I wrote about five years ago. Everything seemed to work, so here is a screenshot of hyperbolic geometry in the unit disk:

This package was a pain to write, because there was a serious bug in Mathematica when drawing arcs of a circle. Fortunately the package still works.

Previous versions of Mathematica have contained obscure bugs, which have resulted in the program producing wrong results. Partly this is due to the huge size of the program, and the fact that the source code is not available for verifying the algorithms. (Compare this with the Maple approach of implementing most of the functionality in files available for browsing and study.)


If you need a mathematical software package for Mac OS X, Mathematica version 4.2 is currently the best choice. Maple is not yet available, and Matlab doesn't work too well (see a review of Matlab 6.5). Of course, Mathematica is not strong in numerical computing, and Matlab is weak in symbolic computation.

I hope that Maple will soon be available for Mac OS X to generate some competition. Currently the prices of Mathematica and Matlab are too high for many users.