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Press Release - Benno Fuchssteiner:
Future Perspectives of MuPAD

Dear MuPAD friend!

Recently one of our users wrote into the MuPAD visitors book:

    "I am also crushed by your decision to make the windows95/NT version commercial. Now yet another promising package will be priced out of reach of the independent researcher."

Although I do not agree with the conclusion of that statement, I can say that I am as disappointed as he is. Indeed, a part of MuPAD goes commercial. As the one who is mainly responsible for that decision I regard this as a serious personal defeat of the many ideas I had when we started the project. I still believe that scientific software encapsulating the basic methods of a science developed by so many generations of mankind should be free. In the following I want to explain briefly what lead to that decision and I also would like to give you a perspective of what will survive of our ideas.

The MuPAD group was always suffering from a severe lack of funding. However, this diet with respect to availability of resources not only had disadvantages, but it also strengthened our survival spirit. To give you an idea of what the situation was: until last year the extra amount my university was contributing to the work of the MuPAD project was far less than what the same university was spending for the Maple license. This despite the fact that almost 90 percent of the university's own output on the internet came from our small group which had the same standard size as all other groups in mathematics at that institution.

Recently my university decided to contribute more to our research and development, but this only for a limited time and under the condition that MuPAD will be commercialized. The same story (with some variations) holds true for other funding sources: they all pushed us towards commercialization, scolded us for concentrating too much on unscientific issues like interfaces (which is not justified at all because a lot of research was done). Another line of argument was that MuPAD is such a great success that the project should be ended, since no further development is necessary and, therefore, no more development funds are needed.

Sometimes I regard it a wonder that under such conditions MuPAD could prosper at all and reach such a mature state making it a nonnegligible market force. Our success is only due to the determination of my students, my collaborators and many outside developers. The lesson I have learned from our experience is that in academia there is no understanding for you if you not only strive to do scientific research but also insist to cast that research in a form that can be easily used by others. Yet, in contrast to many of my colleagues, I do not consider it to be a mistake to provide a user friendly form of scientific output.

I do believe it worthwhile to spend efforts on interfaces, documentation and internet presence - I would do it again.

Of course, I am not totally a dreamer, so I always knew that some day we would have to commercialize something. But I was sure that, if successful, we could keep the basic tool (MuPAD itself) free for an indefinite period of time and that we would be able to build up a commercial structure on peripheral products. I was hoping that such a commercial structure would not only support the continuing development of the system but also bring additional funds for the university which I participated in building up over the last 25 years. But, alas, we were not given the time for that. So last year the decision was due either to make the source code of MuPAD freely available on the internet and finish all development in Paderborn or to aim at a commercial structure according to the laws of a free market society. The reasons why I decided for the latter were:

  1. I believe such a complex piece of software as the kernel of a computer algebra system has to be developed under efficient management by a dedicated group of people. I was afraid that a continuing development was not possible under the free organizational structures of the internet. And certainly, a system whose kernel is not under constant development is dead, surviving only a couple of years. I did not think that this should be the fate of MuPAD.
  2. I also did care for the future of my collaborators, a group to which I and our users owe a lot. We have in Paderborn a group of dedicated people with unique know-how and I could not see what would be gained if this group had to be dispersed. In fact, we already suffered from a severe brain drain due to the uncertain job perspectives I could offer.
So I and my collaborators decided for commercialization provided private investors could be found who share our vision. Such investors have been found. Nevertheless I am still in total and unrestricted control of decisions for the future development and market policy. I believe that this a very fortunate situation which eventually can be used for our users as well as for the scientific community.

Believe me that this decision was not easy for me, since, alas, I am not of the age anymore to be attracted by adventures. However, I am rather confident about the future since I am sure we can build up a strong and viable company which will always be committed to the scientific community and will support the interest of that community. To show you that these are not empty words: among the first projects the newly founded company started is the development of the interface for "MuPAD light", a product which will be freely distributed to the scientific community. It will feature all the mathematics of the MuPAD system, so you should not mix this up with the restricted versions you know from other systems.

At present our ideas are: there will be two versions of MuPAD, "MuPAD pro" and "MuPAD light" which only differ in their interfaces but have the same mathematical capabilities. Since commercialization mainly concerns the interfaces, the name of the new company is SciFace (standing for Scientific Interfaces). The CEO of that company is Dr. Kluge, one of the leading MuPAD developers. SciFace will also play a leading role in the further development of libraries and the kernel. SciFace hopefully will provide a safe haven for the accumulated know-how of the MuPAD group. As soon as resources permit SciFace will start the development of the next-generation-kernel (which, I believe, will open new horizons for doing mathematics on the computer).

The professional version of MuPAD will be licensed for a competitive price. Since we will accelerate interface development, we hope that most of our users will find it worthwhile to contribute to the MuPAD development by using that version. Those who cannot afford to do so will come to love "MuPAD light" as a powerful tool.

Of course, all these words cannot hide the sad fact that SciFace is a commercial company following the laws of the market. I wish good luck for the new company and I hope you do so as well. I sincerely hope that in the future SciFace will not forget its origins and will always feel indebted to the scientific community.

Yours sincerely,

    Benno Fuchssteiner

Do you have questions or comments ??
Copyright 2003 SciFace Software GmbH & Co. KG, Paderborn, Germany