Wolfram Computation Meets Knowledge

Mathematica Player: So Much More Than Just the New MathReader

Slipped in quietly alongside Mathematica 6’s release is the start of another profound development: Mathematica Player. At the moment, Player is just the way to run Demonstrations and read Mathematica notebooks, but in the near future it will be much, much more.

Good things usually have a good reason to do them. Player has at least three.

The first push came from asking where to take MathReader when Mathematica 6 shipped. MathReader has long been the free way to view Mathematica notebooks—in a sense the technical Adobe (Acrobat) Reader that handled Mathematica’s typeset math, cell hierarchy, graphics, animations and even sound (usually of the weird function-based variety!). In the end, though, it was just a “dead” viewer.

For a number of years we’d known that “instant interactivity” would be central to Mathematica 6. So, why not make the accompanying MathReader the way to “view” this interactivity? After all, Mathematica was coming alive. Why shouldn’t MathReader too—in the role of a player or runtime for these newly dynamic notebooks?

Which leads us to reason two for Player. Ever since I can remember, people have asked, “Is there a runtime version of Mathematica?”

I’ve often responded, “What would you mean by that exactly…? I mean, what would be the distinguishing features between a runtime Mathematica and the full Mathematica itself?” or, “Which bits of Mathematica would our runtime support?”

There was no clear dividing line.

Now there is: if it’s mouse-controllable, it can be controlled through Player—and call on any amount of Mathematica functionality behind the scenes. At least that’s the rough guide (there’ll be some details to be aware of, some extra flexibility in the soon-to-come Player Pro).

It’s a dividing line that makes sense because in this new era of Mathematica 6, there’s so much power that can be encapsulated so easily in something that’s basically mouse controlled.

Back to Demonstrations—reason three. We wanted people to be able to use them interactively without having to buy Mathematica. With Player, they can… It’s just amazing how someone can write a sophisticated Demonstration (perhaps involving the sort of high-level automated math for which Mathematica is famous), upload it and deploy it to anyone else to run within minutes—Mathematica-aware or not.

Therefore, The Wolfram Demonstrations Project is for me not only an amazing resource of applications from all fields, but itself a demonstration (!) of what an exceptional environment Mathematica 6 is for making software.

I’ll leave going on about that to another posting…