MathSoft broadens statistical package

MathSoft Inc. this week will introduce a new release of its statistical analysis software designed to appeal to people outside the company's traditional base of professional number crunchers.

S-Plus is a data-mining software tool that allows statisticians in scientific and similar communities to carry out complex statistical analyses on large pools of data. Unlike traditional database tools, the software not only answers specific questions about data, but it often extracts information of which users are not aware.

With Release 4.5, MathSoft is offering S-Plus as a split offering. While its Professional product appeals to MathSoft's traditional customers, the Standard product provides less expensive and more user-friendly tools designed for engineers, technicians and lower-level analysts interested in functions such as data visualization and data analysis, said Rick Boh-danowicz, vice president and general manager of MathSoft's data analysis products division in Seattle.

Like the Professional product, the Standard release features an easy-to-use graphical interface, a special tool for putting results into graphics, and a large library of analytical functions and graph types. The product supports such functions as cluster analysis, linked graphics, power/sample size analysis and reliability/parametric survival analysis.

S-Plus Professional gives users the ability "to build customized statistical models," said Bohdanowicz said. Users can customize new types of analysis, add their own algorithms or recombine existing algorithms.

They also can use graphics techniques in new ways and manipulate data in nonstandard ways. The software features "S-technology," a programming language created specifically for data visualization and exploration by Lucent Technologies Inc.

The release of a "standard" version marks a turning point for MathSoft, known for its sophisticated statistical manipulation tools, said Robert Craig, vice president for application architectures with the Hurwitz Group, Boston. MathSoft intends to "broaden its appeal to a larger market," such as business managers, Craig said. In so doing, the company may offer increased competition to companies such as SAS Institute and SPSS Inc., he said.

The Federal Communications Commission employs S-Plus for mass media industry research, said Bruce McCullough, an industry economist with the agency. McCullough uses the customization features of the traditional high-end product to perform one-of-a-kind industry analyses.

But the idea of a standard version should have a lot of appeal, he said. "There was nothing accurate for the average [user]" before MathSoft Standard came to market, Craig said, but now that problem is being addressed.

McCullough noted that S-Plus "is very accurate." He ran a dozen statistical software packages against the Statistical Reference Data Sets benchmarks released by National Institute of Standards and Technology last year and found the MathSoft application to be the most accurate.

McCullough considers his results "real answers" because he ran the test "before people could tune their software."

MathSoft also counts the National Institutes of Health, Sandia and Los Alamos national laboratories and the departments of Defense and Agriculture among its users.

Growing Market

The business analysis market is fairly large and growing, Craig said. Demand is driven by the trend toward cross-enterprise data consolidation and the consequent need for data mining and decision-making tools.

The more data is consolidated into large data structures, the greater the need for end users to access it in order to prepare reports and perform ad hoc queries and analyses.

The worldwide market for data mining and technical data analysis, exclusive of hardware and services, is growing, said Henry Morris, director of data warehousing research with International Data Corp., Framingham, Mass. Eight hundred IT managers IDC recently surveyed told researchers that their top two requirements for data mining software are data access and statistical capability.

S-Plus 4.5 for Windows Standard is priced at $720 for government users, far below the $1,695 original list price for the previous release of S-Plus last fall. The more sophisticated S-Plus 4.5 for Windows Professional goes for $1,600. Both run on Windows 95 and NT. Volume discounts run up to 35 percent. Professional was expected to be shipped in late April, and Standard will be shipped later this month.

-- Adams is a free-lance writer based in Alexandria, Va.

MathSoft software helps design river lock


MathSoft Inc.'s Mathcad technical calculation software is helping the Army Corps of Engineers to design the McAlpine Lock Replacement Project on the Ohio River at Louisville, Ky. The project will replace a 600-foot-long lock with one twice as long.

Mathcad enables users to perform complex calculations by "free hand." Users type in equations using real math notation, and the software will recognize the notations and carry out the calculations. Users can save their work as documentation or forward it to other users.

"The bottom line is that you don't have to do it by hand," said Stephen Farkus, a structural engineer with the Corps in Louisville.

Automation means saving a lot of time, he said. Besides enabling the rapid calculation of complex engineering problems, the tool lets users put text annotations and equations side by side, rather than artificially dividing them.

The McAlpine project aims to allow small barges to pass through the new lock in groups, lashed together, three abreast and five long, which is about twice the current "throughput" for the lock. As traffic on the river increases, significant buildups are occurring.

Farkus and four other full-time structural engineers are using Mathcad 7 Professional to design much of the lock. The engineers also can attach Mathcad files to e-mail and send them to colleagues in Portland, Ore.

Mathcad typically is used by engineers and technical professionals, said Tina Hong, a MathSoft product manager in Cambridge, Mass. Unlike competitive products, Mathcad is intuitive, rather than command-line oriented, she said. Mathcad 7, the latest release, runs on Windows 95 and Windows NT. The Professional edition has a list price of $400.


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