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Yesterday, I received a tweet announcing the release of a project called mathics that advertises itself as an open, lightweight alternative to mathematica. In fact, the documentation reads

"a tool for quick explorations and in educating people who might later switch to Mathematica".

I am in no way affiliated with the project but the little I played with it on the web interface I found that it did what it says on the package: I managed to define a function with upvalues, and all the (noncomplicated) rules and patterns I played with, worked out of the box as they would in Mathematica.

As it stands, based on the Mathematica.SE manifesto, a question of a user of mathics would be classified as "off-topic". This isn't much of a problem now that the user-base of that project is small but if it ever grows, I feel it would be a shame to ignore it.

On the other hand, having only played with mathics for a small amount of time I don't know what the differences are (first impression is that there is a major speed issue seeing as mathics is written in SymPy which is already slow) and how much incompatibility there is between the mathematica core language and that project.

So my question is: should we allow questions of mathics in the Mathematica.SE (we could add a relevant tag)?

If more experienced users would care to make a case for or against we could vote over it.

------EDIT (2)------

The open source variants just multiplied (although this time compatibility is guaranteed) :)

I was too quick to speak. Although this is out:

http://www.raspberrypi.org/archives/5282

and it might also need its own tag, whatever kernel it's running isn't open-source :(

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    Mathics might not be a problem now since its syntax is almost entirely that of Mathematica, and any question on it will also be applicable to Mathematica as well. However, the trouble arises when Mathics starts to diverge from Mathematica in the future (and it will) — should we still allow those questions then? I would think not. It's just like MATLAB–Octave... the latter started out as a free clone of MATLAB, but now has non-trivial differences from the master. Sometimes it's a conscious design choice, and other times, it's a legal issue that forces them. – rm -rf Oct 29 '13 at 13:16
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    So, to answer your question, I'm mostly against us ruling a specific 3rd party software as explicitly on/off topic. I'd rather use our existing rules (re: Mathematica /Wolfram language being on-topic) and allow/close Mathics/other software's questions on a case-by-case basis depending on their closeness to Mathematica. – rm -rf Oct 29 '13 at 13:20
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    Another question: should we introduce and encourage the use of a mathics tag to distinguish questions submitted by Mathics users? – m_goldberg Oct 29 '13 at 17:16
  • @m_goldberg I think such a tag would be useful. Despite having the same syntax, a question "how to improve my sorting algorithm" may have a different answer for a mathics user. I think it would be a shame to classify such a question as off-topic since an answer of the form "in mathematica [...] is the best way to go but in mathics I think you might be better off doing [...]" would IMO benefit both mathics and mathematica users. Having said that I can see why, if mathics follows in octave's footsteps, explicitly stating mathics is on-topic might be troublesome. – gpap Oct 30 '13 at 9:50
  • I completely agree with rm's second comment. What I'd add to it: let's wait until this becomes a practical problem (at the moment there are no questions about mathics), even with creating the tag. Creating the mathics tag would pretty much officially endorse those questions, so I wouldn't create it just yet. Let's see how things go first and what kind of questions people ask. – Szabolcs Nov 2 '13 at 19:35
  • Personally I wouldn't favour questions that have zero relation to Mathematica, such as "I installed mathics on Windows XP, but it won't start!", but I wouldn't rule out a question that has a mathics solution that also works in Mathematica. – Szabolcs Nov 2 '13 at 19:37
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    From my point of view, this seems to be a question of other implementations of the Mathematica language in general, motivated though it may be by the existence of this particular one. Since WRI apparently plans to produce other implementations as well, including possibly one based on JavaScript, this might become a rather important issue in future. Personally, I would welcome questions and answers about other implementations, provided that the core language is the same or very similar to what we have in Mathematica itself. – Oleksandr R. Nov 2 '13 at 20:45
  • Regarding your last edit, is that really open source, or just free of charge? I thought the latter. – Szabolcs Nov 21 '13 at 20:00
  • hmmmm, you just burst my bubble. I was under the impression that Stephen Wolfram had made a statement that the "wolfram language" was gonna come with its own lightweight kernel, together with its source. You are completely right however: the license is really restrictive. – gpap Nov 21 '13 at 22:07
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Wow! This appears to be an impressive project. So much so , in fact, that the main developer has been hired by WRI as a kernel developer (according to his own blog). A very smart move on WRI's part, I think. So the project will continue in other hands.

I think we should not discriminate against Mathics users or questions, but rather support and encourage them as much as possible, as long as Mathics language keeps emulating the Mathematica language.

We should see Mathics users as people very interested in Mathematica who will potentially later upgrade to the real WRI product.

For those of us who enjoy producing code for others, it will be interesting to see whether their code runs in Mathics with limitations if at all.

With Home/Student editions, WolframAlpha and now Mathics, the Mathematica language and ecosystem is reaching a wider and wider audience.

This is something that will benefit all current users of WRI products and WRI itself.

I think a Mathics tag will soon be necessary, as I have a Mathics-related question coming right now :-)

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