Asked by Paulo Silva
on 14 Aug 2011

We all know that MATLAB is probably the best software for engineering purposes, I think it's a little expensive unless you have it for free on your school or place you work, please share your opinion about MATLAB cost, including toolboxes, student versions... is it that expensive?

Answer by Derek O'Connor
on 8 Feb 2012

The academic version of Matlab at about €500 is too expensive for me, a retired lecturer. Cleve Moler in his SIAM oral history interview said that Mathworks makes most of its money from industrial clients who pay the full price, so I don't think they are too concerned about indigent academics.

I believe R is a very good free alternative to Matlab, especially now that the R 2.14.xx 64-bit version gives the correct answer to sin(1e22)[= -0.8522008497671888], among other things. The 32-bit version does not give the correct answer. It has a Matlab mode (e.g., x = y instead of x <- y, etc.), and has many packages (= toolboxes) that may be loaded on-the-fly. It is slower than Matlab because it does not use the Intel or AMD Math kernels. I'm not sure if it has a JIT compiler. However it is being constantly improved.

R has become so popular that even economists and doctors are using it. Imagine! Also, R has a huge user community which is growing daily, so that help is always available, especially on StackOverflow:

Revolution Analytics has a very professional version of R that has an excellent GUI and it uses the Intel math kernel(s). Academics can get the full version free.

Malcolm Lidierth
on 5 Jul 2012

@Derek

Thanks for this link. I had tried and been impressed by R , but did not know the Revolution incarnation. Downloaded after reading your post. For those, like me, who want a proper GUI, it puts R in a new league. Only problem: Windows+Linux but not Mac.

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Answer by Jan
on 14 Aug 2011

MATLAB is not cheap. If you need 4 toolboxes and a commercial license, you have to pay some thousands dollars. Using Matlab for scientific purposes costs about the half. (For my argument a factor of 2 or 4 does not matter...)

In a real business case, a customer can invest X dollars to solve a specific problem. If X is smaller than the costs of MATLAB, MATLAB is expensive.

If X is about 10 times the costs of MATLAB, MATLAB is getting very cheap, because its very powerful and well tested toolboxes allows a rapid prototyping, implementation and testing of the program.

So cheap or expensive is a simple balance between the total costs for development and the utility value of the program measured in dollars. If I compare MATLAB with a low level langauge as C, it is cheap, even when a free C-compiler is used: The previous question I've answered here concerned POLYFIT. I suggested to create the Vandermonde matrix manually and calculate R\(Q*y) directly - imagine the effort, if I want to explain this based on C99 and BLAS/LAPACK, including checks of inputs and an automatic usage for DOUBLEs and FLOATs...

A comparison with SciLab, Octave and SciPy is more reasonable. The student version of MATLAB (about 100 Euro) is expensive, because I do not see anything a student can learn with MATLAB, which cannot be learned with Octave. In opposite to this, 5000 Euro for a scientific license for MATLAB and some toolboxes is cheap for the development of a large program (>100.000 lines of code) for clinical decision making.

Jan
on 15 Aug 2011

@Walter: I've heared, that Octave is a calculator only, as MATLAB ;-)

Graphics are supported, see e.g.:

http://www.gnu.org/software/octave/doc/interpreter/High_002dLevel-Plotting.html#High_002dLevel-Plotting

Olidzhon
on 28 Mar 2013

Royi Avital
on 22 Dec 2015

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Answer by Mark Whirdy
on 5 Jul 2012

Personnally no, I think its fairly priced. Mathworks developers need to be paid after all, and a reduction in fees will have an impact on the quality of the product - its not a listed company and there are no shareholders to pay dividends to. In 2010 The Mathworks Ltd had Sales of £22.69m and after costs had a Net Income of £290k only.

One of the advantages of matlab is its easy interfacing ability, so rather than say buy the datafeed toolbox, you can write your own Bloomberg API C# code and use it via matlab dotNet Interface, same with database toolbox - its pretty easy and quick in C#. Only buy a toolbox if really necessary!

R is extremely unreliable as the code coming from the user community is very prone to errors (without being rigourously checked for bugs) and not reliably supported (you may get a reply from author in 1day or quite possibly never), its a black box. And if you have to take the time to run through it yourself to check everything, then you may as well be writting it yourself. C++ of course is faster in execution but takes many many more man-hours to develop anything - this time is curcial for us.

These days people seem to more and more expect everything to be for free, I guess music and movie downloads have something to do with it.

Malcolm Lidierth
on 6 Jul 2012

@Jan

Thanks for this. Your FEX submission illustrates the advantage of open-source. Code available, documented and referenced. Therefore open to discussion/suggestion. Here's one suggestion: as commented in your code, there is a typo in the 2004 Ogita paper. It might be helpful flagging that on the FEX description - it would have saved me some head scratching.

PS A handy test of various algorithms is discussed at http://developers.sun.com/solaris/articles/fp_errors.html

Mark Whirdy
on 7 Jul 2012

Malcolm Lidierth
on 19 Jun 2016

@Mark Whirly

Reproducibility seems often to be a bigger issue in financial modelling. I've been in "Meetups" where none of the participants were too bothered about the precision, but were concerned to reproduce their results exactly in the event of a law suit. The same rule applies in other fields and is the reason MATLAB Version 2.01 can still be found running of a steam-powered 80286 PC in the corner of some offices.

For my own work, IEEE double precision is typically more than adequate, but it can be too easy to dismiss innacuracies as due to rounding errors when, in fact, there is a bug that should be addressed.

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Answer by Walter Roberson
on 14 Aug 2011

I am of mixed opinion on this.

If you have professional work to do, you use professional-quality tools, and it is normal to expect them to be higher priced, as they generally pay for themselves in generality or durability or in being designed for what you as a specialist need. Those traits cost money to make and people are willing to pay appropriately.

From that perspective, perhaps some particular toolboxes might not be worth the value, but overall I do not think MATLAB is unreasonably priced.

However, there are people in the MATLAB community who donate a lot of time and effort to helping others, and those people often get little or no pay for those efforts. To those people (especially the retirees), there is little realistic hope of earning back the cost of toolboxes or of keeping MATLAB reasonably up to date: to those people, MATLAB is expensive.

I do not have a solution to offer to this difficulty at this time.

Oleg Komarov
on 15 Aug 2011

Benjamin Schwabe
on 7 Feb 2012

Walter Roberson
on 8 Feb 2012

Benjamin, where would you get the MVP's sufficient that all questions were dealt with "way quicker than here" and with high quality answers? Have you estimated how many MVP would be required?

If the MVP principle is used that independent (non-employees) only are to be considered, then that would eliminate a number of the people who often answer questions here and in the newsgroup. Please keep that in mind when you think about individuals who might be nominated.

I have it in mind that any structure like that would rely on _individuals_. I do not think it appropriate to name names in public, but I ask myself, "Okay, whom?". I know of some people who would probably decline for various reasons.

I also suspect, Benjamin, that you are significantly underestimating the portion of the questions here that are not really programming questions, but are instead science or mathematics or technology. MATLAB is "The language of technical computing", and MathWorks is "Accelerating the pace of engineering and science". If it has to do with engineering, science, mathematics, or technology, then the question might be posed here.

It is not uncommon for questions here to be about some focused aspect of a topic that has literally been researched for decades. Those questions are often posed by someone who has no background in the topic and has not done research in the topic nor read the relevant papers that focus on that specific aspect. "Complete code" is an oft-expressed desire. Where are you going to find the stable of volunteer scientists and engineers ready to promptly handle whatever question comes up ?

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Answer by Paul Metcalf
on 6 Jul 2012

Edited by Paul Metcalf
on 6 Jul 2012

Whichever way you look at it, MATLAB is expensive. But that's not to say it isn't good value. The value of MATLAB of course depends entirely on its use/user, and many users including myself would argue that MATLAB does offer very good value. As a total package, it is the best software available.

MATLAB is not the only expensive software out there, look at AUTODESK or ANSYS for example. Unlike AUTOCAD which has MICROSTATION, MATLAB is essentially free from direct competition. MATLAB's main competitors in the control sectors are National Instruments and Esterel Technologies, the latter of which just got bought out by ANSYS. Of these, in my oppinion MATLAB offers the best and most complete product and should therefore demand the highest price.

But I do wish there were more flexible licensing options available. For example, sometimes you may only require MATLAB for a short duration, for a fixed specified project.

I feel for those who want to buy additional toolboxes for old versions. This should be allowed, because some people may want to standardise on a specific release. Especially if clients or colleagues are working from the same version.

I also think it should be easier to patch MATLAB. For example, you can go to the bug reports page and download patches for many fixed issues, but this is an entirely manual, time consuming and sometimes complex process. IMHO there should be an automatic software update mechanism.

Lastly, I agree that there are too many toolboxes that are too much alike. I think Mathworks should continue to merge very simuliar toolboxes to simplify the product portfolio. Take the Signal Processing Toolbox and DSP System Toolbox for example... Or the MATLAB and Simulink Report Generators... Personally I don't think that's justified and only serves to complicate their portfolio.

I am glad that MATLAB is a commercial product, developers need to get paid and for those that rely on quality, there is simply no comparison to the free 'alternatives'. Just my 2 cents...

Paul

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Answer by Darrell Thomas
on 13 Aug 2017

Walter Roberson
on 13 Aug 2017

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Answer by Matt Slezak
on 31 Jul 2018

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Answer by Daniel Shub
on 15 Aug 2011

I work at a university, but I have to pay for MATLAB out of my grants. MATLAB is one of two non-free (both as in beer and speech) pieces of software I use. The other is a sip/voip phone which I just haven't gotten around to replacing with a FOSS alternative. I do not think SciLab and Octave are viable alternatives to MATLAB for me. I think Python is a viable alternative for me. There is not much that I can do in MATLAB that I cannot do in Python. There is no question that if I was just starting out I would use Python instead of MATLAB. MATLAB, however, is cheap for me compared to the cost of porting my existing code to Python.

I really wish Mathworks would separate the MATLAB IDE from the MATLAB language and then make the MATLAB language free, as in speech, while keeping the IDE proprietary. I would be more likely to continue to pay software maintenance and software support in this case and not switch to Python.

Andrew Newell
on 8 Feb 2012

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Answer by Susan
on 15 Aug 2011

Walter Roberson
on 8 Feb 2012

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Answer by Benjamin Schwabe
on 7 Feb 2012

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Answer by K E
on 27 Feb 2012

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Answer by Raymond
on 1 Jul 2012

Edited by Wendy Fullam
on 12 Nov 2014

Matlab is indeed expensive, but it is not the initial price that irritates me per se. What is inexcusable is that Mathworks do not permit the purchase of additional toolboxes unless you have an up-to-date maintenance subscription (20% of total cost per annum). Should I decide that in 2 years I want to purchase the statistics toolbox, for example, I must start again from scratch if I haven't paid maintenance. I understand that any company needs money to develop their existing software, but I see no reason why they cannot allow me to purchase the older version of a toolbox, appropriate for my licence (e.g. 2010a Stats for 2010a Matlab).

In addition, the extreme parsing of smaller and smaller toolbox functions seems unjustified. For example, why are the Wavelet and DSP toolboxes not simply part of Signal Processing?

I have recently purchased Labview to help with the data acquisition side of things and, while not perfect, NI seem to have a more fair approach to academic licensing compared to Mathworks. The software also seems less buggy. For just over £1000 I can perform real-time operations and employ stand-alone embedded controllers. To do the same in Matlab is at least twice the price.

Dont get me wrong, I think Matlab is an excellent product and I will continue using it, but they seem overly keen to bleed their customers dry. Unfortunately they can get away with this due to lack of direct competitors. It is no surprise that they are currently under investigation for anti-competitive behaviour: http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2012-03-01/mathworks-software-licenses-probed-by-eu-antitrust-regulators.html

Answer by Sean de Wolski
on 15 Aug 2011

Image Analyst
on 8 Feb 2012

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Answer by Geoff
on 5 Jul 2012

Yes, I think it is expensive.

In New Zealand, it's about $2000 per toolbox. The compiler is over $8000. The work I was doing was going to rack up $20k in licensing. I had to make some sacrifices and squeeze that down to about $10k. And this is for a single user only.

If I was to do this all again, I would learn R or Python or just do it in C++. But being a developer, that's probably easier for me than for those without much foundation in programming. Personally, I think MatLab toolboxes should ship without all the fancy GUI crap, and be cheaper for it. I just want the functions. Bells And Whistles Toolbox should be sold separately. =)

At the end of the day, I see MatLab as being useful for research work or prototyping. Once an application grows to a certain size, using MatLab becomes impractical and counter-productive.

Answer by John
on 8 Aug 2014

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As a "retired" person I am happy that mathwork finally decided to have an Home edition. But it is sad that the Home edition does not offer the possibility to upgrade! Spending the money for the Home Edition and adding Toolboxes as the financial ability makes it possible is an effort well worth and justifiable at the reduced cost within the family budget. But the development related to technologies related to the design and modeling process linked to external proprietary hardware is taking place at a very fast speed makes the fact of not being able to update the tools painful.

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