Clinton Wolfe, August 1999
What is Mathematica?
Mathematica is a computer program for doing mathematics. It is often used for instruction, homework, research, and writing. Mathematica is extraordinary well-rounded. It is suitable for both numeric and symbolic work, and it has remarkable word-processing capabilities as well. Mathematicians can(and often do) search for a working model, do intensive calculation, and write a dissertation on the project (including complex graphics) -- all from within Mathematica. Its weaknesses include a somewhat steep learning curve, an interface that is difficult to use from the command line, and rather complex installation procedures.
Mathematica is more than just a program. It isan attempt to redefine the interaction between mathematician and computer. Every command, function, option, button, menu, or object in Mathematica fits into this philosophy in a standard way. In the mid-to-long term, this makes Mathematica a very easy-to-use, enjoyable tool. For the new user, Mathematica can seem opaque and threatening. Mathematica was created by a mathematician for othermathematicians. A user of Mathematica should be comfortable dealing with abstraction, generalization, and pattern discovery. If you feel you do not fit this profile, you might want to learn Maple first.
How to use this document
This document is intended for new users of Mathematica. No prior math software experience is assumed, though we do point out differences between the major packages along theway. We assume you are familiar with your operating system, so we will not cover clicking, dragging, etc. Since Mathematica is quite visually oriented, we assume you will be using it on a computer with a windowing system (such as Windows, Macintosh, or X-windows). If you intend to use Mathematica from the command line, it would be best to first learn it in a graphic environment, and then learn toUse Math Software under UNIX. We will use a few conventions throughout this document.
Example File -> Open 3,Ctl-6,5
Explanation Select Open from the File menu. Press 3, then hold the Control key and press 6, then press 5. Input to be typed at the Mathematica prompt. Output from Mathematica An important tip. A tip for Maple users. A tip for Matlab users.
Where to find MathematicaMathematica is available in all Macintosh, SGI, and Sun computer labs at IUB. It is also available on Steel and the SP (node sp09). Mathematica is also available for sale in the IU Bookstore.
How to start and exit Mathematica
To start mathematica, follow these instructions.
Unix: from a command line, type "mathematica &" Macintosh: Apple Menu->Stat/Math->Mathematica If you are usingX windows and you get a stream of font errors, follow these instructions from the Knowledge Base. To exit Mathematica, you can:
Choose File->Exit Type Quit.
When you first start Mathematica, you should see a "splash" screen with the Mathematica logo, version, and license
information. When the program loads, you should see several objects on the screen. We will nowdescribe what they are and what they do. You may wish to turn on your speakers (or bring headphones if you are in an STC). Mathematica uses audio cues to notify the user of errors, finished calculations, etc.
A notebook is a collection of Mathematica statements, output, and graphics. The concept is like that of a "document" in a word processor. You enter information and commands intothe notebook window, and the output (if any) is displayed there.
If the notebook has been modified since it was last saved, an asterisk (*) will appear in the title bar. To save your work, choose File->Save As... or File->Save. If Mathematica is ready for new input, the cursor will flip sideways (see above). Just start typing to enter information. Try typing this (don't press return yet):