For simple addition or knowing the square root of a number, the Calculator within Windows has always sufficed. Once you want to do something more complex requiring a surface plot or the use of vectors, you need something a bit more specialised. Some may attempt using Excel, or pull out their graphing calculator. Alternatively there’s Mathcad.
Mathcad isn’t really for the average user; those with a background in science, statistics or engineering are more likely to find it useful. It’s a long running application that started out on DOS in 1986 developed by Massachusetts-based software company, MathSoft Incorporated. The software still exists to this day, however is now known as PTC Mathcad after Parametric Technology Corporation acquired Mathsoft in 2006.
The one shown today is Mathcad PLUS 6.0 Professional Edition. The PLUS edition allows function packs to be bolted on to target specialist areas, as well as provide more comprehensive features in symbolic mathematics.
A 386-based PC ideally with a math co-processor, 8 MB RAM, and 20 MB of available disk space were minimum requirements. An additional 12 MB from virtual memory was specified. As expected given the nature of the software, a 486 processor was recommended. Version 6.0 was the last for Windows 3.1, in addition needing Microsoft’s Win32s and Video for Windows add-ins. Video for Windows was for the purpose of playing the AVI clips as part of the tutorials, and allowing to export your worksheets as animations. Windows NT 3.5 and Windows 95 were officially supported, and a separate release for System 7.x on the Macintosh was also made available.
At the commencement of installation, an option is provided to add the path location of Lotus Notes. Requiring at least Notes 3.0 client and a Notes server, this was to store your work into a database. Doing so was to allow version control of worksheets.
I’m not one to typically use software such as Mathcad, but fortunately the included tutorials are rather comprehensive to guide me through it. Shown below I created a simple x-y plot based on a provided formula and made adjustments to the figures. Without the tutorial, I wasn’t sure how to correlate a formula to a blank plot expecting the need to specify the formula somewhere, as you would linking the cells in a spreadsheet to a bar graph. It was as simple as typing the algebraic letters ‘x’ and ‘f(x)’ against the axis as per the formula.
An application such as this I was expecting a way to work more closely with Excel 5.0, such as the ability to plot data from an XLS or CSV file. It will read structured data in an ASCII-formatted PRN file however. Worksheets from Mathcad can easily be inserted as an object in Microsoft Office 4.x applications.
Reading the release notes, error messages may come about if your 386 PC is equipped with an 80287 or early 80387 co-processor especially if it was manufactured by IIT. Given Mathcad attempts to take full advantage of these chips, it’s more likely to expose any idiosyncrasies.
Despite the age of the application, for casual users it still holds its own for functionality. Mathematics doesn’t just become obsolete.
Download Mathcad PLUS 6.0 Professional for Macintosh, System 7.x (10 MB)
Download Mathcad PLUS 6.0 Update for Macintosh (4 MB)