CHAMPAIGN – Wolfram Research founder Stephen Wolfram plans to announce today that a new version of the company's flagship product, Mathematica, will be released this fall.
Wolfram, in town for the annual International Mathematica User Conference, said Mathematica 7 will have about 2,700 functions, or roughly 500 more than the previous version.
The technical computing software's new functions include image processing, charting and automatic configurations for doing computations using parallel processing, he said.
The new version should be ready to ship in about a month and will range in price from $130 to about $2,500, depending on the user. Student versions are conventionally priced on the low end, while business customers pay more.
Though mathematicians were the principal users of the original software, Champaign-based Wolfram Research has enhanced subsequent versions to appeal to many academic disciplines, including physics, computer science, economics, biology, even music.
But some potential users may not realize the breadth of applications because of the Mathematica name.
"Communicating and connecting it to potential customers is the next challenge," Wolfram said.
Wolfram, who lives in the Boston area and visits Champaign a few times a year, said he was pleasantly surprised how quickly the new version came together. Mathematica 6 was released on May 1, 2007, and its successor is coming out 18 months later.
Wolfram called that "incredibly impressive. ... This level of innovation just doesn't happen." He credited the fast turnaround to processes honed in the company's efforts to build "a research-and-development pipeline."
Another new wrinkle in Mathematica 7: Developers tried to make it easier for first-time users to get started, putting more emphasis on the first five minutes of software use.
"What was hard for people in 1988 is not in 2008," Wolfram said, "and there are things people are confused about now that they weren't confused about then."
Today, Mathematica probably has more users in academia than in the corporate world, but revenues from the corporate side are greater than those from academia, he said.
The privately owned company does not release its sales figures.
Wolfram Research employs more than 300 people in Champaign, occupying the entire fifth and sixth floors of Trade Centre South at Kirby Avenue and Neil Street, as well as parts of the third and fourth floors.
Wolfram said he's not making specific forecasts of when users can expect Mathematica 8, given other projects the company is pursuing.
Sometime in 2009?
"We'll see," he said.