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Re: How does Octave shine?

From: Jordi Gutierrez Hermoso
Subject: Re: How does Octave shine?
Date: Wed, 20 Sep 2006 17:16:30 -0500

On 20/09/06, Cameron Laird <address@hidden> wrote:
 What shows Octave off to best advantage for a Matlab-using audience?

I can think of a couple of enhancements I particularly enjoy:

1) "Better" syntax. By this I generally mean that I find Octave just
slightly more readable in that allows for some mostly cosmetic
enhancements like endfunction, endfor, or endif instead of just a
plain end.

2) Speed. Try tic-tocking some individual operations, single function
calls, preferrably ones already in the main 2.9 branch and not in the
'forge. Compare with Matlab. I found this way quite a few functions
that were individually faster than the competition, although most
people (myself included) usually immediately notice that Octave is
"slower" because it suffers more severely from unvectorised code like
Matlab once did.

3) Variety and interoperability. ImageMagick, the C++ coding, gnuplot,
PLPlot, Octaviz and the VTK functions, plus all the 'forge functions.
Graphics are always a good way to get people initially interested. If
you're doing a presentation, show 'em Octaviz. That always raises
eyebrows in my workplace.

4) Other cosmetic enhancements. I particularly like that output is
paged by default to less, instead of crapflooding my prompt if I
inadvertently page an excessive amount of output.

5) It works. It's possible to get work done with it, perhaps not
always exactly as you would do it with Matlab, but usually it does
work. And when it doesn't, there's an extremely helpful mailing list

The Octave FAQ, admittedly a bit old but still mostly relevant, has a
few more features tht could be good selling points, such as data
structures and the unwind-protect exception handling:

And I also think that freedom and community are huge reasons to use
GNU Octave. To quote from the TeXmacs documentation:

   Why freedom is important for scientists

   One major objective of TeXmacs is to promote the development of
   free software for and by scientists, by significantly reducing the
   cost of producing high quality user interfaces. If you plan to
   write an interface between TeXmacs and other software, then please
   contact us.

   As a mathematician, I am deeply convinced that only free programs
   are acceptable from a scientific point of view. I see two main
   reasons for this:

       * A result computed by a ``mathematical'' system, whose source
       * code is not public, can not be accepted as part of a
       * mathematical proof.  Just as a mathematician should be able
       * to build theorems on top of other theorems, it should be
       * possible to freely modify and release algorithms of
       * mathematical software.

   However, it is strange, and a shame, that the main mathematical
   programs which are currently being used are proprietary. The main
   reason for this is that mathematicians often do not consider
   programming as a full scientific activity. Consequently, the
   development of useful software is delegated to ``engineers'' and
   the resulting programs are used as black boxes.

   This subdivision of scientific activity is very artificial: it is
   often very important from a scientific point of view to know what
   there is in the black box. Inversely, deep scientific
   understanding usually leads to the production of better
   software. Consequently, I think that scientists should advocate
   the development of software as a full scientific activity,
   comparable to writing articles. Then it is clear too that such
   software should be diffused in a way which is compatible with the
   requirements of science: public availability, reproducibility and
   free usability.

   1998--2002 Joris van der Hoeven

   Permission is granted to copy, distribute and/or modify this
   document under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License,
   Version 1.1 or any later version published by the Free Software
   Foundation; with no Invariant Sections, with no Front-Cover Texts,
   and with no Back-Cover Texts. A copy of the license is included in
   the section entitled "GNU Free Documentation License".

Hear, hear...

- Jordi G. H.

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