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From: http://history.siam.org/pdfs2/Gonnet_final.pdf

An interview with Gaston Gonnet
Conducted by Thomas Haigh
On 16-18 March, 2005
Zurich, Switzerland

Quotation:

HAIGH
Was the Axiom package marketed by NAG something that you were aware of in the early 90s?
GONNET
Yes, we were aware. Not only we were aware. We had very close ties with the Scratchpad group that produced Axiom that then was distributed by NAG. Stephen Watt was a Ph.D. student of Keith Geddes. He was an early Maple contributor, a very substantial Maple contributor. He was the one that designed the Maple leaf with the ASCII characters that still the TTY versions will print. He went and took a prominent role in IBM. He was working in Scratchpad at the time, Axiom later. Dick Jenks was the manager of the Scratchpad Group. A very good friend of mine. We had an excellent relation all the time. We were sharing ideas. We were quite open about what we were doing. We knew quite well what they were doing. It had always been my opinion, and it continues to be my opinion and I think that I have been proven right, that Axiom was way too complicated for almost every normal use. Scratchpad and Axiom had a remarkable object-orientation model which allowed you to define the mathematics in a very precise way and do the mathematics in a very precise and efficient way. But by the time that you had defined it, say that you had a field over this and it was commutative and there was this and there was that, then most users would not know what they were doing and would not be able to identify in which domain they were working. The system itself became so complicated that even the experts had problems trying to get it to do what they wanted, whereas Maple had preserved this initial flavor that you sit down, you type something to it, and you can start doing useful work immediately. I think that Maple managed to lose that in the later years because I think that usability of Maple has gone down in recent times. But for the average user of computer algebra, the usability of Axiom was terrible. I think that that’s the reason why Axiom was never a success and was barely distributed. I don’t even know whether NAG still promotes it or has dropped it.
HAIGH
They stopped distributing it in 2001. I think they have given the rights to an open source group attempting to revive it.
GONNET
Yes, that’s a possibility. Talking about open source, about three or four years ago, I mentioned this to Maple management. We had a sort of high-level discussion, and I was asked, “What would you do with Maple?” We were losing the battle with Mathematica. What should we do? I said, “Open source is your answer. Open source the programs, (the kernel, and the library) and sell the manuals, sell the consulting, sell the know-how for people that want to sell anything that is built on top on Maple. But get the open source energy...”

There is quite a bit of energy with open source. There is positive energy when people think it’s neat that we know exactly what we have, even though they are not going to touch, they are not going to look at it. But you feel much safer if you run Linux that you know exactly what you are running, or you could look exactly at what you are running, as opposed when you run Windows that they may be stashing information behind your back and you don’t know that it’s happening. There’s that effect. Then there is the effect of people that see a problem, are very worried about solving their problem, want to fix it, and actually go and fix it. Now you have a positive contribution. Sometimes it’s a negative contribution because they fix something and they break something else.

But overall, there are two aspects of open software that make it more popular. Maple desperately needs to be more popular if it’s going to win the battle with Mathematica. I don't think it’s going to win the battle with Mathematica, sadly enough.

HAIGH
So you raised this possibility of an open source model for Maple.
GONNET
I raised the possibility. But I didn’t have any influence in the company any longer, and I’m sure that some of the people may have raised it. Obviously they didn’t take it. Maybe now it’s even too late to go that route.




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