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Wolfram and Whitespace

W is for Wolfram and Whitespace.

Wolfram, or the Wolfram language as the marketing people would want me to call it, is really Mathematica rebranded with its master‘s name.

Mathematica Wolfram (the language) is currently the dominant player in its niche market, where is its future? In the short term its future is in the hands of Wolfram (the person, company information suggests family ownership), with possible short term decisions and their long term consequences including:

  • keeping its sole implementation proprietary: in this case its fate depends on the commercial success of Wolfram Research. The main competition appears to be various Open source systems (e.g., Sage) and while these might not be as good, history shows that free software only needs to be good-enough to soak up a market share that makes the sale of commercial offerings uneconomic. How long before the drip-drip improvement of Open source makes it good-enough? Five, ten years?
  • selling to a larger company: Wolfram strikes me as a lifestyle business, so I don’t see this happening. How much might the company be worth? Wolfram Research Europe Ltd was valued at £3,138,002 in its 2013 financial filing and the Delaware incorporation had an annual tax assessment of $1,575.00 in 2013. No doubt other numbers are available and somebody who knows about these things could estimate a ballpark figure, but I am not that person,
  • releasing the code as Open source: if done now Wolfram (top dog that it is in quality and market share) would be the language for doing computer mathematics for ever more. However, few people have been willing to let go to this extent unless backed into a corner. Perhaps there is a subset that can be made Open source, enough to mow the lawn of competing systems but not so much that corporate customers will stop paying for support and what they believe are useful add-ons.

Whitespace is an invisible language (its written form is based on the characters space, tab and linefeed). The execution of this invisible language obviously requires a matching invisible virtual machine such as sed.

Programs and the means to execute them are all around us.

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