Copyright 1994, IEEE SPECTRUM

IEEE SPECTRUM August 1994. Software Reviews.

For some, a data-modeling dream

Kenneth R. Foster

MLAB. Civilized Software Inc. Requires an Intel 80386 or higher microprocessor with 640 kB RAM (an extended memory version is available), math coprocessor, and hard disk with at least 3 MB free space. Other workstations and Mac versions available. Prices from US $1500 to $3000, depending on the version

MLAB was originally developed for mainframe computers at the National-Institutes of Health, in Washington, D.C, where it was used by scientists intent on analyzing biomedical data. Now its vendors have updated the program and also ported it to PCs and workstations.

Combining more than 400 high-level mathematical functions with excellent graphics and programming capabilities, MLAB doubles as a user-friendly calculator and a powerful programming environment far developing applications. The program has a strong generic resemblance to Matlab, Xmath, O-Matrix, and other matrix-based mathematical packages [see "`Abstract' Math Made Practical," IEEE Spectrum, November 1993, pp. 42-59].

MLAB's special strengths reflect its origins in the scientific community. Its built-in statistical, equation-solving, and curve-fitting functions are to my knowledge unprecedented in scope and sophistication in commercial math packages. The documentation includes lengthy application, reference, and graphics manuals, as well as a tutorial manual. While these publications are clearly written, they focus on scientific applications and presume considerable mathematical sophistication on the part of the user.

Where MLAB really shines is in the support it gives scientists and engineers in analyzing data and fitting it to equations, which may include sets of coupled differential equations. This allows the user to develop models of physical systems in terms of differential equations. MLAB can calculate derivatives of functions symbolically, a feature that increases the speed and reliability of its curve-fitting routines.

Some limitations detract from MLAB's appeal to the general engineering user. Conspicuously lacking are the many application programs that accompany Matlab and other competing products. This means that such common engineering tasks as designing a digital filter would require a greater programming effort than the competitors do.

MLAB is expensive compared to other, products. It also lacks the nice graphical, user-interface that others have. But for a scientist or engineer who needs its specialized capabilities, MLAB is a dream come true. Contact: Civilized Software Inc., 12109 Heritage Park Circle, Silver Spring, MD 20906; 301-962-3711; or circle 100.

Kenneth R. Foster (F) is associate professor in the Department of Bioengineering at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. His e-mail address is

Copyright 1994, IEEE SPECTRUM, All rights reserved. Reprinted without permission.

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