
Maple 12 (Cadalyst Labs Review)
1 Aug, 2008 By: IDSA ,Mike HudspethHighly Recommended math software interacts directly with CAD applications.
How many of you liked math class in school? I suppose your feelings about it reflect how successful you were at it. I know some people loved it. I didn't much care for it. I wasn't so bad at it, but there were so many things to remember. I had significant trouble keeping everything straight.
Times certainly have changed. I use math all the time now, but I can still remember how I felt back then. I can especially empathize with my children as they struggle with math in school. I tell them that it's important, but they have a hard time believing me. They struggle with the concept that numbers translate into daily things and actions. I try to help them by telling them the same things my teachers told me: break things down into manageable chunks and document each and every step. Interestingly enough, it seems that a company called Maplesoft has taken my teachers' advice. Its product, Maple 12, would seem to be everything my teachers told me, wrapped up in one truly handy package.
Enter, Edit, Perform
Billed as a calculationmanagement tool rather than just math software, Maple 12 allows users to create documents that make math easier to understand and use. With a properly set document, you can see your data very clearly, and that can help you make better decisions. You can also use your documents to preserve the history of your calculations — something not really practical in a spreadsheet.
Figure 1. Maple s embedded controls may have a certain weird geekiness to them, but I really like them. You can actually control your calculations by cranking the virtual dials. 
I have to admit that I'm not much of a programmer, so I don't fully understand the work that has gone into Maple 12. Maplesoft tells me it has improved the math solvers to handle more complex math and to do it faster. That boggles my mind. This isn't the first time I've looked at Maple, and it has always been more capable in the math department than I ever will be, so saying that it'll do more complex math astounds me. But the fact that it will do it faster starts to pique my attention.
Maple 12 will do more than I personally will ever need, but I'd bet if NASA had used it for that Mars probe — you know, the one that was lost because of an incorrect conversion between standard and metric measurements — it probably wouldn't have lost it in the first place. Maple will even do differential equations.
Let's get into the nuts and bolts of Maple 12. I've already told you that you create documents to do your math. It has never been so easy to do that. Interactive task assistants help you much as a wizard would. You have customizable palettes that you can set for more streamlined workflow (or at least a workflow that makes more sense with how you do things). A unique and interesting feature is Dynamic Embedded Components, which are controls that you can insert into your document. Why would you want to do that? Well, leaving the sheer coolness factor aside, it will allow you to experiment with your math to get what you want or pursue those whatif scenarios every pointyhaired manager loves to request. These controls allow you to turn a dial (figure 1) or slide a slider to change your variables' values. You can zero in on the numbers you need.
Figure 1. Maple s embedded controls may have a certain weird geekiness to them, but I really like them. You can actually control your calculations by cranking the virtual dials. 
You also have a meter control. The meter can either change or just show your values. A contextsensitive menu can be accessed at any time (figure 2). That way, you always have the commands and functions available to you that make sense for what you are doing. Whole palettes full of canned expressions are available to use in your documents. That way you don't have to waste time typing them or worrying about typos (which happens to the best of us).
Figure 2. Maple 12 lets you access contextsensitive menus that make sense for what you are doing. 
And what if you can't remember the entire command you want to use? Maple 12 will allow you to type in the first few letters and get all the commands that start with them (figure 3). It's like a live lexicon of mathematical commands.
Figure 3. Remembering what everything is called can be a major challenge. Fortunately, Maple 12 lets you type a few letters in the command box and gives you choices from which to pick. 
You also can add graphics to your documents. Sure, you can import them much the same way you might in any other program, but what if you need something for which there isn't a graphic? Maple 12 has it covered. You can add a drawing canvas (graph paper) to your document, and then you can draw right on it.
Maple 12 also has a handwritingrecognition symbols pad. I love this feature. Sometimes you know what you want to put in your equation, but you might not remember where to find it in the menus. No problem! Just draw it in the handwriting pad, and Maple 12 will present you with all the choices that match or even come close.
Visualize and Communicate
Now that you have your equations set up the way you want them, what do you do with them? The sky's the limit! You can display and explore a surface by plotting it on your document (figure 4). Maple 12 has a wide range of plotting styles in both 2D and 3D. You can plot your explorations in 3D and change your variables along your specified range, and the graphic will update accordingly. That's what's so cool about the embedded controls. Just crank the dial and the graphic changes to show you the effect of your change. You can even color your backgrounds and formatting to jazz up your math (and most math cries out for some jazzing). You can also link documents from other programs, such as Microsoft Word and Excel, into Maple 12.
Figure 4. Maple 12 has more ways of plotting your data than you can shake a stick at. This 3D plot illustrates how complex they can get. 
Expand on It
After you have your document the way you want it, what do you do with it? You are essentially asking the ageold question, "Is this all there is?" The answer: "Not by a long shot!" Maple 12 has some of the most powerful downstream capabilities in the industry. Do you work with a parametricbased modeling program? If so, you have no doubt found yourself entering mathematical equations to get the parameters you want. Has the modeler's interface for that function been easy to use? That's not a problem for Maple 12. You can use it to create any formulas you want and then link them right into your modeler with the CAD linker assistant (figure 5). You can assign the formulas to any particular dimension or constraint you wish. Then, when changes need to be made, you can make them in Maple 12 and update your model.
Figure 5. Maple 12 is not an island unto itself. It can interface with your CAD program and run variables that define your models. 
All kinds of help and reference materials are available to you in Maple 12. The Getting Started Guide will take you quickly through the basic functioning of the program and have you up and running in no time at all. Under the Tools menu you will find tutors that will actually teach you math. It's almost like taking a class. You can learn algebra, calculus, and more. Then, as you grow along with Maple 12, you will want to know more about the complicated things. Maple Portal is a collection of short flash videos that are available to you at any time. It's pretty obvious that Maplesoft is trying to be as helpful as it can be.
Pay the Piper
About the only thing some people might hold against Maple 12 is its price. Maple 12 Professional goes for $1,895. Of course, Maple 12 has academic pricing as well. Maple 12 Academic is $995 (for educational institutions) and Maple 12 Student is $99 (for students). I don't think those prices are unreasonable for the kind of power you get.
Maple 12 is a bit more than merely a virtual calculator. Try it; you'll like it. For more information about Maple 12, visit the company's Web site. Highly Recommended.

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