Mathcad, from PTC, is one of my favorite computer math systems. It’s one of those “just right” programs for engineers: It’s far better for doing engineering calculations than Excel, but is a lot easier to learn and use than Matlab. Here’s a splashy video that shows what can be done with Mathcad:
PTC has just released a version of the software, called Mathcad Express, that is free. Free, as in “free beer.” Free, as in “the software license never expires.”
There is a catch, as you might imagine: Some of the functionality in the full version (which is called Mathcad Prime) isn’t included in Mathcad Express.
The important question is this: Has PTC included enough capability in Mathcad Express to make it worth getting excited about?
It’s a harder question to answer than you might expect. Here are the major differences between Express and Prime:
In my testing of Mathcad Express, I found that its capabilities are sufficient to make it a practical alternative to Excel for most straightforward math problems. But I really miss some of Mathcad Prime’s most valuable features, including symbolic solving, the block solver, and advanced plots.
Mathcad Express never lets you forget that PTC wants you to upgrade to Mathcad Prime. The “upgrade” button is always there, front and center, as are menus and icons for the non-included features, with tooltips encouraging you to upgrade. Mathcad Express worksheets also include an advertising watermark, pointing to www.mathcad.com.
I can understand the calculus that led PTC to include so much aggressive upgrade promotion in Mathcad Express. But I think they missed something: For a freeware program to be successful, it needs social/viral promotion. It needs to be compelling enough that people like me (and the folks who read this article) want to take the time and energy to tell other people about it. It’d be a lot easier for me to be enthusiastic about Mathcad Express if it didn’t scream so loudly that its primary purpose is to get people to buy Mathcad Prime.