Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Mathematica and property rights theft

A licence for Mathematica software in your office costs $1300 (Aus) and that of an extra licence for home use about $340. It is expensive but powerful software, although not very intuitive. Mathematica can do symbolic mathematics and is particular strong in graphics and in solving complex numerical problems, such as control tasks and differential equations.

The office version of the software is machine-independent so, if you change your machine, you should be able to reinstall the software without hassle. The only requirement is that this version should not be installed on more than one machine at a time and then linked to the Web. The home version is machine-dependent so you need to get permission from Wolfram (its owner) if you upgrade your hardware. This is a hassle as hardware upgrades occur quite frequently.

Wolfram are focused on preserving their property rights on the software but, in doing so, impose costs on users. Upgrades of Mathematica are a hassle on both home and office machines. It never seems to work right for me - today I spent an hour or so grappling with my office machine.

Carl Shapiro & Hal Varian point out, for sensible profit-maximising firms, the objective of enforcing property rights is to maximise profits not merely to feel aggrieved when rights are trampled upon. Overly strict enforcement of rights, such as requiring permissions to use when any aspect of your computer hardware changes, reduces the productivity of software and hence reduces its value to you. Given my repeated problems with Mathematica I feel like making a substitution into an alternative, such as Maple. A much less ambitious suite of maths software, that is very easy to use is Derive, which also has attractions.

Even given the inevitable greater learning costs of making the switch (not so great since I have never been a particularly competent user of Mathematica anyway) I might make a switch.


Joshua Gans said...

Amen to that. It just took me 4 months of renewing subscriptions and getting the right downloads to put Mathematica on my new laptop.

Joshua Gans

Anonymous said...

You might like to look at Matlab too, as it has the Maple engine in one of its toolboxes (although I've only used it for other things).

James Sinnamon said...

I think the whole business model behind Intellectual Property is stupid, particularly when we are reaching the limits of our capacity to extract natural resources from the earth.

The ability to freely copy intellectual property, whether software, music, designs or whatever, is one way we can easily (at least while the Internet still exists) improve the quality of our lives without our having to consume a lot extra in the way of natural resources.

Instead of relying on expensive and cumbersome legislative and technical means to restrict the copying of information, we should have a pool of funds set by our governments with which to fairly remunerate those who have created the knowledge.

The astonishing success of Open source software including Linux, and most of what drives the Internet, proves that we don't need copyright laws to motivate highly talented people to put their skills to use for the benefit of humankind.

Robert Merkel said...

Harry, I presume you're familiar with the widely-publicised works of Larry Lessig? He touches on this topic, amongst a lot of broader arguments about the cultural damage he believes that overeager enforcement of IP rights causes.

Anonymous said...

You may be interested to know that

The Religious Authority, Grand Ayatullah Sayyid Ali Husayni Sistani

Has a solution to your problems:

Question : Can I use cracked CD software?
Answer (Sistani) : If someone else has cracked the software, you can use it but you are not allowed to copy or burn it.〈=eng∂=4

hc said...

Thanks Robert I'll follow up on Larry Lessig. But here the Shapiro/Varian story suggests excessive enforcement of property rights damages private and not only social interests. Firms sell too little of their software -- their profits are lower than if they were more liberal.

Thanks anonymous I'll check out MathLab since people here use it.

Hi Joshua! Yes, the frustration builds - particularly when it is such expensive software.

Anonymous said...


Chui Tey said...

Virtualization is the answer. VMWare player, for instance is a a software PC. You run the software, and the application behaves like a PC booting up, it'll run the operating system and you can install Mathematica on it. Since your software PC never changes its hardware, you are fine.