Forgot your password?
typodupeerror
News

Wolfram Launches Computational Document Format 167

Posted by Soulskill
from the kinder-gentler-document-format dept.
Barence writes "Wolfram Research has launched its own document format, which it claims is 'as everyday as a document, but as interactive as an app.' The Computational Document Format (CDF) allows authors to embed interactive charts, diagrams and graphics into their documents, allowing readers to adjust variables to see how increasing a price affects profits, for example, or display different segments of a brain scan. Wolfram aims to make the format easy enough for non-programmers to use, based on the linguistic commands used in its search engine. '[Currently] anyone who can make an Excel macro should easily be able to make interactivity for CDF,' said Conrad Wolfram. 'Where I'd like to get is that anyone who can make an Excel chart can make interactivity in CDFs.'"
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

Wolfram Launches Computational Document Format

Comments Filter:
  • by malraid (592373) on Thursday July 21, 2011 @12:54PM (#36835948)

    but... does it have a blink tag?

  • by tsa (15680) on Thursday July 21, 2011 @12:55PM (#36835958) Homepage

    From the website: Wolfram currently provides the CDF specification as a public format, meaning it is publicly available, openly documented, and natively unencrypted.

    Let's hope it stays open.

    • Re:Open format (Score:4, Insightful)

      by iluvcapra (782887) on Thursday July 21, 2011 @01:14PM (#36836154)

      Don't touch it without an assignment of copyright to a community body and a patent indemnification.

      • by Weezul (52464)

        Not sure how many Mathematica cluster exist, but Sage has started eating their server side market. Sage's various backends are just way better designed for really intensive computational work, while Sage & Cython reduce the learning curve for each.

        I hear that Wolfram's salaries kinda suck too, btw.

      • In most of the world "dataformats" can neither be copyrighted nor patented ...

    • by wjousts (1529427)
      Funny thing. I've been poking around their website and I can't find this publicly available open documentation anywhere...
  • I think he greatly overestimates them.

    But I've also made some pretty cool Excel charts, so this will probably be a neat tool for people who can actually use it to its full potential.

    • It is? Is there another (open) document standard that has this same functionality?
      • Sure, it's called HTML (with a little help from CSS and Javascript).

        • That's a bit harder to craft than what they are aiming for... an interactive chart in an html document?
          • Uh, yes, just use one of the libraries designed for that, like gRaphael or Highcharts.

            Sure, the editor may be nice for non-programmers, but they could've just exported to HTML/JS instead of creating yet another format that requires yet another viewer, which probably won't be available for many platforms.

            • I suppose they could have exported to HTML and JS, yes. But isn't that getting to, basically, a PDF vs. word-processor-format (whether open or MS's or word perfect....) issue? Perhaps thise format allows you to control better what it looks like on the other side, without constantly monitoring what browsers and HTML standards are doing...

              I don't know. Is it totally useful, the best thing since UNIX? No. But I don't think it's "just another standard" that does what everything else does. It seems like it

          • by tsa (15680)

            HTML5 can do it, no?

            • That's like saying that you don't need RTF, you should use C instead.
              • by lennier (44736)

                That's like saying that you don't need RTF, you should use C instead.

                (and (should (instead (you (use lisp)))) (true that))

            • by lennier (44736)

              HTML5 can do it, no?

              Oh yes. I'm sure, much like string theory, that one of the billions of possible HTML5s out there in the "HTML 5 landscape" might one day be proven to possibly be able to do anything you might want to be able to do. However the odds of that particular HTML 5 variant existing in our parallel universe are vanishingly small.

              • by tsa (15680)

                HTML5 can do it, no?

                Oh yes. I'm sure, much like string theory, that one of the billions of possible HTML5s out there in the "HTML 5 landscape" might one day be proven to possibly be able to do anything you might want to be able to do. However the odds of that particular HTML 5 variant existing in our parallel universe are vanishingly small.

                Such a pity that it went that way. It could have been so beautiful.

  • Was there any thought whatsoever in terms of security when they developed this format? A document that can embed other objects sounds like an excellent method for distributing malware, etc.

    • Of course, it depends greatly on what kind of operations the format allows. If the operations are limited and well-defined, then it may be able to be done with relative safety. If you're embedding a full programming language and allowing the document to execute arbitrary code without sandboxing the whole thing, then you're right, it's a disaster waiting to happen.
  • My God, there's a brother? Can you imagine Xmas in that family?
  • For the same Reason Excel and Powerpoint aren't real analysis tools I expect many people to abuse this tool to prove the wrong things.

    Or like the Powerpoint Space Shuttle Foam issue, inadvertantly give the wrong message because they don't know how to convey what they mean to get across.

    • by tehcyder (746570)

      For the same Reason Excel and Powerpoint aren't real analysis tools I expect many people to abuse this tool to prove the wrong things.

      If you think any "real analysis tool" that is used by a human being magically provides you with totally impartial and entirely accurate information you're dreaming.

  • Most people have no clue how to create a chart that accurately and cleanly shows what they want it to show (Edward Tufte excepted, of course). Frankly, Excel misleads people and directs them into terrible designs or, even worse, into false designs (think of using a "line chart" when what's needed is lines in a "scatterplot."
    I sure hope Wolfram can come up with a much *better* way to generate proper charts than Microsoft ever has.

  • Which leaves out, by my estimate, 99.99% of all the users I have ever supported.
    • by wjousts (1529427)
      That struck me too. Most user have no clue what a macro is, let alone how to make one.
      • by tehcyder (746570)

        That struck me too. Most user have no clue what a macro is, let alone how to make one.

        That's OK, it's just more work for smug programmers to take control of in case the plebs dare to use their computers without getting a computer science degree first.

  • by wjousts (1529427) on Thursday July 21, 2011 @01:03PM (#36836046)

    From TFA:

    Users will require Wolfram's Mathematica 8 software to create CDFs, while end users will require the free Wolfram CDF Player to view the documents.

    • by Animats (122034) on Thursday July 21, 2011 @01:15PM (#36836164) Homepage

      It gets worse. From the EULA:

      Certain functionality in the Product may require the Software to access collections of data available through external servers. WRI makes no warranty that access to such data will be uninterrupted or that the data itself will be error free. WRI reserves the right to restrict access to, add, update, modify, or remove collections of data based on availability, Your service subscription, or otherwise at WRI's discretion.

      So once they get enough suckers signed up, they can make it a pay service.

      • by wjousts (1529427) on Thursday July 21, 2011 @01:26PM (#36836292)

        Yeah, they seem to be abusing the term "free" and "public" in a manner that I don't think most people would expect. From the licensing page:

        Computable Document Format (CDF) is a free public format, and under the Wolfram FreeCDF terms of use, your CDF documents along with their content are freely redistributable to anyone using the Wolfram CDF Player.*

        And that asterisk?

        *FreeCDF terms automatically apply to CDF files created by Wolfram products, but do not allow:

        • Charging others for using your CDFs
        • Preventing others from republishing or redistributing CDFs that you give them
        • Removing our logo or other displayed branding

        Which looks suspiciously like their "free public format" is, in fact, closed and proprietary.

        • Good lord. "Your CDFs" - really? Or do they actually belong to Wolfram?

        • Which looks suspiciously like their "free public format" is, in fact, closed and proprietary.

          I think "open and encumbered" is the description you're looking for.

          I actually read about a quarter of "A New Kind of Science" and still can't believe that Wolfram doesn't get non-zero-sum games after all that.

  • My initial thought was 'but what would CDF provide that a spreadsheet can't?"
    As it turns out the Wolfram website has some interesting examples. For example the user can drag a slider to change an input value and see the result in graphs, or use the same method to change a photo (using filters).
    I see some potential applications in my field (user manuals for complex machines).

    • A couple of lines of framework enhanced Javascript can do the same. Why wouldn't they write an editor that exports to HTML/JS? Oh right, that would make it actually open, and not locked in to their viewer. Nevermind.

      • To be fair, Mathematica is a hugely complex computer algebra system and numerical solver. That functionality could not be replicated in HTML/JS reasonably. The article isn't clear if there are restrictions on the complexity of the backend in the format--for instance, can you type in different initial conditions and numerically (heck, symbolically!) solve a system of PDE's, graphing the result? That would be a nightmare to implement in HTML/JS.
        • can you type in different initial conditions and numerically (heck, symbolically!) solve a system of PDE's

          Nope, at least for the 'type in' part:

          All interactive content must be generated with the Manipulate command and may only use mouse-driven elements, such as Slider, Locator, Checkbox, PopupMenu, etc.

  • CDF? Really? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by oneiros27 (46144) on Thursday July 21, 2011 @01:08PM (#36836086) Homepage

    They have to take the same acronym as a 20+ year old file format for storing numbers [nasa.gov]?

    It's almost like they didn't bother putting the term 'CDF file [google.com]' into a search engine to see if anyone [microsoft.com] else [w3.org] was using that acronym already for a file extension [filext.com]. (of course, w3 even used it twice [w3.org])

    • by Lazareth (1756336)

      Have you considered that pretty much every basic three letter file extension that makes any sense has already been used at some point in time somewhere? There is no real authority as to who "owns" an extension, only a general consensus.

    • by crush (19364)

      You're assuming malice. But the most likely thing is that they used Wolfram Alpha [wolframalpha.com] to search for "CDF" instead of using Google or Ixquick. ;)

      Similar cluelessness abounds in their comparison chart which claims e.g. that HTML5 is incapable of a "dynamic document hierarchy" while "Readers can dynamically open and close chapters and sections in CDF documents. CDF also supports hierarchical, tab, slide, flip, opener, and other document organizations."

  • Sounds good but... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by TheRecklessWanderer (929556) on Thursday July 21, 2011 @01:12PM (#36836128) Journal
    It sounds good but look at all the problems adobe has with PDF. People embedding viruses and trojans. If this format were to be used, would it really be all that different?
  • As far as I know, MathCAD can do all this already. It's not an open source format, I guess, but the trick is not as much in encoding the formulas but in solving them in real time.

  • It sounds like something between Excel and OpenDoc (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/OpenDoc, http://c2.com/cgi/wiki?OpenDoc [c2.com]).

  • by reverseengineer (580922) on Thursday July 21, 2011 @01:24PM (#36836270)
    I see that Mathematica will be required to create documents, but the target audience for this document format (repeatedly described by Wolfram and simple and easy) seem that they would have little use for a powerful and quite expensive piece of technical software. The format looks convenient if you already happen to be a Mathematica user, but it's a little strange to aim at a wider audience who are unlikely to have use for most of Mathematica's functionality.
    • But if it's an open format, then anyone can create their own system for creating the documents, can't they?

      • by tehcyder (746570)

        But if it's an open format, then anyone can create their own system for creating the documents, can't they?

        And in the same way, there's nothing to prevent you from writing an open source equivalent to Mathematica anyway.

  • And virus, bot, and trojan makers the world over rejoice at the new opportunities for exploits! This looks like it will be a bitch to make secure. On the other hand, it also does look like it could be pretty cool.

    Also, oblig xkcd [xkcd.com].

  • arggh... (Score:4, Informative)

    by Tei (520358) on Thursday July 21, 2011 @01:35PM (#36836374) Journal

    I don't like how Wolfram use existing formats. How hyperlinking graphics from Wolfram break, and so on. Don't seems fair players on the internet.

    Creating a new file format? cool. Where is the extensive documentation site online? ... what is this, a formulary to enter my data? WTF?, This smell like a propietery format to solve his problem: Wolfram don't want to play by the internet rules, don't want people from hotlinking his graphics, and stuff, so don't want to use GIF and PNG. Want internet to change to adapt to thenselves.

    I think I say here DO NOT WANT.

  • Not when they cannot perform simple geometrical calculations.

    http://www.wolframalpha.com/input/?i=triangle+with+sides+0.4592+meters%2C+0.6+meters%2C+0.6+meters [wolframalpha.com]

    180 degrees, not 181, should be the sum of all internal angles.

    • by jfengel (409917)

      Are you sure your screen is flat?

    • The output rounds the interior angles to an integer, so it displays 68deg instead of 67.5deg. Below the individual interior angles it states the sum of the interior angles is 180deg.
    • I don't use Wolfram, but, come on. The interior angle sum is listed correctly directly beneath the very numbers you totaled.

      Also: Each degree is displayed using only 2 significant digits. 181 has 3 significant digits (1.81e2). thus when you added you forgot to round the the solution to the proper number of significant digits (two), giving 1.8e2 or 180 degrees.

      • by tehcyder (746570)
        It even puts an "approximately equal to" symbol next to the degree figures. OP is either a troll or a retard, and I'm guessing its the latter.
    • How did you get through school without learning about significant digits?

      • When I was in school the term "significant digits" certainly was not taught ...

        Does it really make sense in non computer science at all?

        • by Hatta (162192)

          Um, yes, absolutely. In fact, significant digits are more applicable in physical science than computer science. Sig figs exist to help us estimate the precision of a measurement, and carry that precision through a calculation. Students should be familiar with sig figs around the time they're asked to calculate simple quantities like density. That's around middle school.

          In comp sci, I'm not sure when you'd want to use sig figs. Digital data is usually absolutely precise. There's no error when measurin

          • Well, after your post and my answer to some further answer, it seems I dont really get what significant figures are.

            Can you explain it in 3 sentences?

            Right now it seems to me it is a nonsense american invention, lol.

            How can a 0.00003 and 0.07000 have different significant digits if they are not represented in a computer memory?

            Digital data is usually absolutely precise. That depends on the way how it is represented. Just look at jpgs ... no I don't want to go into the real issues with floats and doubles as

            • by Hatta (162192)

              How can a 0.00003 and 0.07000 have different significant digits if they are not represented in a computer memory?

              It's a convention that roughly estimates precision. If you measure a quantity, say 0.00003 grams, how precise is that? The actual value could be anywhere from .000025 to .0000349999, or .00003 +/- 16%

              Consider .07000 on the other hand. You know that the actual value is between .069995 and .0700049999. That's .07000 +/- .007%. Much more precise.

              This is counter intuitive because they are both e

              • In fact I did not get what you are about.

                For me that is "statistical errors" and rounding.

                What do multiply math examples have to do with significant digits? Well, looking at the other threads discussing with me about it ;D

                In fact you described pretty trivial rounding problems, still no idea what the term "significant digits, figures" is meaning in this context. Perhaps you only mean "rounding" and misnome it as "significant digits"?

        • by tbird81 (946205)

          When I was in school the term "significant digits" certainly was not taught ...

          I think you might have just missed it.

    • by Zemplar (764598)

      Not when they cannot perform simple geometrical calculations.

      http://www.wolframalpha.com/input/?i=triangle+with+sides+0.4592+meters%2C+0.6+meters%2C+0.6+meters [wolframalpha.com]

      180 degrees, not 181, should be the sum of all internal angles.

      Just turn in your geek card.

      Please show us how you get any triangle with either more or less than 180 degrees as the sum of all internal angles.

      • by Khyber (864651)

        68+68+45=??

        Despite it saying 180, the math of the numbers it initially gives works out to 181.

        This thing, plain and simple, is not giving a 100% correct answer on what it displays.

        • by tehcyder (746570)

          68+68+45=??

          Despite it saying 180, the math of the numbers it initially gives works out to 181.

          This thing, plain and simple, is not giving a 100% correct answer on what it displays.

          If you look at that page there is am "approximately equal sign" next to the 68, 68 and 45. Obviously the figures are rounded. If you genuinely don't understand this, you should sue whatever school you went to for failing to educate you properly.

    • by inKubus (199753)

      It says 180 when I clicked the link.

    • by tbird81 (946205)

      Not when they cannot perform simple geometrical calculations.

      http://www.wolframalpha.com/input/?i=triangle+with+sides+0.4592+meters%2C+0.6+meters%2C+0.6+meters [wolframalpha.com]

      180 degrees, not 181, should be the sum of all internal angles.

      Heard of rounding?!?!

  • What's new here? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by saforrest (184929) on Thursday July 21, 2011 @02:05PM (#36836684) Homepage Journal

    All of Matematica, Maple, and MathCAD have had their own worksheet/document formats since the mid-90s at least. They have gone through many incarnations but I believe all of them now support embedding code, graphics, marked-up text, etc. Maple's Document format certainly does.

    Exactly what is new about this, other than a new name and, well, further grist for Stephen Wolfram's publicity mill?

    Is the idea simply to have a thin-client reader and offload most of the computation to remote servers? Because if so then that is the innovation, not some new document format.

  • by FunkyELF (609131) on Thursday July 21, 2011 @02:22PM (#36836882)

    I can't stand the monstrosities they try to create using Word and Excel today... don't give them even more power... please

    • by rubycodez (864176)
      the only people I know who used or are using Wolfram's products are/were scientists, students, and engineers. You know, the people who build things, discover things, or are in training to build or discover things. Enabling them isn't the worst we can do. Of course, I'm glad some of their needs can be met with open source now, but there's still some things that aren't yet possible with oss
  • The Computational Document Format (CDF) allows authors to embed interactive charts, diagrams and graphics into their documents, allowing readers to adjust variables to see how increasing a price affects profits, for example, or display different segments of a brain scan. Wolfram aims to make the format easy enough for non-programmers to use, based on the linguistic commands used in its search engine. '[Currently] anyone who can make an Excel macro should easily be able to make interactivity for CDF,'

    HTML+J

  • I'm a huge fan of Mathematica, and use it all the time for mathematical work. The manipulate command they're leveraging for the CDF is incredibly elegant and simple, as advertised. However, from the Wolfram CDF faq:

    Can I remove the welcome screen, toolbar, or watermark logo I see when opening CDFs in CDF Player or viewing CDFs online with the web browser plugin?
    The presence of Wolfram branding is part of the FreeCDF licensing terms...

    They've got to be kidding if they expect anyone to make serious use of an 'open' format that requires a proprietary player with advertising all over it. Compare with PDF, which is not 'free' but at least seamlessly operates with, say LaTeX.

  • i tried to find mathreader today, but i endend up on a broken page. I downloaded the CDF viewer and it did not work (ubuntu 11.04)

  • It requires Mathematica 8 (very expensive for non-students) to create such a document. So I doubt it is going to be real popular.

  • Wolfram and Heart... providing all of your demonic document format needs.

"It's curtains for you, Mighty Mouse! This gun is so futuristic that even *I* don't know how it works!" -- from Ralph Bakshi's Mighty Mouse

Working...