SageMath — Open source is ready to compete with Mathematica for use in the classroom



When I think about what makes SageMath different, one of the most fundamental things is that it was created by people who use it every day. It was created by people doing research math, by people teaching math at universities, and by computer programmers and engineers using it for research. It was created by people who really understand computational problems because we live them. We understand the needs of math research, teaching courses, and managing an open source project that users can contribute to and customize to work for their own unique needs.

The tools we were using, like Mathematica, are clunky, very expensive, and just don't do everything we need. And worst of all, they are closed source software, meaning that you can't even see how they work, and can't modify them to do what you really need. For teaching math, professors get bogged down scheduling computer labs and arranging for their students to buy and install expensive software.

So I started SageMath as an open source project at Harvard in 2004 to solve the problem that other math software is expensive, closed source, and limited in functionality, and to create a powerful tool for the students in my classes. It wasn't a project that was intended initially as something to be used by hundred of thousands of people. But as I got into the project and as more professors and students started contributing to the project, I could clearly see that these weren't just problems that angered me off, they were problems that many people had.

The scope of SageMath rapidly expanded to creating an open source competitor to Mathematica. After a decade of work by over 500 contributors, we made huge progress.

But installing SageMath was more difficult than ever. It was at that point that I decided I needed to do something so that this software could be easily shared with the world.

So I created SageMathCloud, which is a powerful web-based collaborative way for people to use SageMath and other open source software such as LaTeX, R, and Jupyter notebooks in their teaching and research. SageMathCloud is based on two decades of experience using math software in the classroom and online, at Harvard, UC San Diego, and University of Washington.

SageMathCloud is commercial grade, hosted in Google's cloud, and very large classes are using it heavily right now. You open your web browser and just use SageMathCloud. No installation required.

Open source is now ready to directly compete with Mathematica for use in the classroom. They told us we could never make something good enough for mass adoption, but we have made something even better. For the first time, we're making it possible for you to easily use Python and R in your teaching instead of Mathematica; these are industry standard mainstream open source programming tools with strong support from Google, Microsoft and other industry leaders. For the first time, we're making it possible for you to collaborate in real time and manage your courses online using the same cutting edge software used by top mathematicians at the best universities in the world.

A huge community in academia and in industry are all working together to make open source math software better at a breathtaking pace, and traditional closed development models just can't keep up.



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Credits: story structure, Dennis Stein, William Stein, Harald Schilly, Payton Moriarity, Bharathwaj Palvannan, Tim Clemans, Jackson Brown, Ha-Ram Yun, Sequoia Lefthand, Ryan Spence.

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