It is often said that the release of Mathematica marked the beginning of modern technical computing. Ever since the 1960s individual packages had existed for specific numerical, algebraic, graphical, and other tasks. But the visionary concept of Mathematica was to create once and for all a single system that could handle all the various aspects of technical computing--and beyond--in a coherent and unified way. The key intellectual advance that made this possible was the invention of a new kind of symbolic computer language that could, for the first time, manipulate the very wide range of objects needed to achieve the generality required for technical computing, using only a fairly small number of basic primitives.
When Mathematica 1.0 was released, The New York Times wrote that "the importance of the program cannot be overlooked," and Business Week later ranked Mathematica among the 10 most important new products of the year. Mathematica was also hailed in the technical community as a major intellectual and practical revolution.
At first, Mathematica's impact was felt mainly in the physical sciences, engineering, and mathematics. But over the years, Mathematica has become important in a remarkably wide range of fields, technical and otherwise. Mathematica is used today throughout the sciences--physical, biological, social, and other--and counts many of the world's foremost scientists among its enthusiastic supporters. It has played a crucial role in many important discoveries and has been the basis for thousands of technical papers. In engineering, Mathematica has become a standard for both development and production, and by now many of the world's important new products rely at one stage or another on Mathematica in their design. In commerce, Mathematica has played a significant role in the growth of sophisticated financial modeling, and is being widely used in many kinds of general planning and analysis. Mathematica has also emerged as an important tool in computer science and software development: its language component is widely used as a research, prototyping, and interface environment.
The largest part of Mathematica's user community consists of technical and other professionals. But Mathematica is also heavily used in education, and there are now many hundreds of courses--from high school to graduate school--based on it. In addition, with the availability of student versions, Mathematica has become a popular and prestigious tool for students around the world.
The diversity of Mathematica's user base is striking. It spans all continents, encompasses ages from below 10 on up, and includes artists, composers, linguists, and lawyers, as well as hobbyists from all walks of life.
Ever since Mathematica was first released, its user base has steadily grown, and by now the total number of users is in the millions. Mathematica has become a standard in a great many organizations, and it is used today in all of the Fortune 50 companies, all of the 15 major departments of the U.S. government, and all of the world's 50 largest universities.
At a technical level, Mathematica is widely regarded as a major feat of software engineering. It is one of the largest single application programs ever developed, and it contains a vast array of new original algorithms and important innovations. Several paradigms pioneered in Mathematica have emerged as major directions in software thinking, and each successive version of Mathematica has invariably redefined the state of the art in a number of areas of computing.
The development of Mathematica
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Over the years, the generality of Mathematica's core design has steadily allowed it to expand its reach. From its origins as a system used primarily for mathematical and technical computing, Mathematica has gradually emerged as a major force in many other areas of computing. And with its dramatic breakthroughs of 2007 and 2008, it now stands at the end of its first two decades as the defining system for the broad future of computation.