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Friday, February 10, 2012
Wolfram Releases Paid version Of Computational Engine

Stephen Wolfram has announced the release of Wolfram|Alpha Pro, which adds a whole new model for interacting with Wolfram|Alpha and does complete computations for almost every query.

Wolfram|Alpha Pro is available at on a subscription basis ($4.99/month, or $2.99/month for students). Currently, a free trial subscription is available.

What's new for the PRO version? At the level of the Wolfram|Alpha Pro interface, the new features are summarized by little icons.

Regarding output, once you've logged in, you have access to your history, and you can define favorites. You can also set preferences, like what location Wolfram|Alpha should assume, or what unit system you want to use. And you can do things like change the overall size of Wolfram|Alpha output. You can customize output from Wolfram|Alpha, and get it in various formats. Another capability, accessed with Data download, is being able to download the raw data behind a Wolfram|Alpha output - say as a spreadsheet or the like. Of course, preadsheets can't faithfully represent the full breadth of data, units, etc. that Wolfram|Alpha generates, so Wolfram|Alpha Pro uses tricks like having separate sheets for "Raw Data" and "Formatted Data".

When one says "downloading data", one might think just of data behind tables and plots. But Wolfram|Alpha Pro can download all sorts of other data too: 3D geometry data (say to use for a modeling program or a 3D printer), sound data, graph connectivity data, molecular specification data, etc. - in altogether more than 60 formats.

In addition to handling material in individual pods, Wolfram|Alpha also lets you download a complete output page as PDF?or CDF. CDF (Computable Document Format) is the format that Wolfram introduced last year to let people create documents containing computations. In all sorts of output pods, there'll be a button labeled "Enable interactivity". Click it and the pod will turn into CDF, that you can immediately interact with.

At a basic level, you'll be able to resize any graphic, and rotate 3D graphics. But many kinds of graphics and other outputs will also sprout controls that let you directly modify and interact with them. And because CDF computation is done locally on your computer, the interaction is typically very zippy.

An interesting feature of CDF in Wolfram|Alpha Pro is that it effectively lets you create interactive programs directly from free-form linguistic input. You can tell Wolfram|Alpha to animate with respect to some variable, or somesuch, and it'll generate a CDF that does that.

Regarding input, a special character keyboard is available, modeled after the soft keyboards that exist in Wolfram|Alpha mobile apps.

Wolfram|Alpha Pro is also smart enough to identify images as input. Once you've got the image in and hit Enter, Wolfram|Alpha Pro will do an automatic analysis of your image. There's some general analysis that always gets done, but a lot of the analysis depends on your image. If there's text in the image, it?ll get OCR?d. If there are separate components, they'll be identified.

But in addition to purely automatic analysis, you can tell Wolfram|Alpha Pro what to do with your image, just using standard free-form linguistics. In a sense, Wolfram|Alpha Pro is a direct beneficiary of the very powerful image handling capabilities that were added in recent versions of Mathematica. But the end result is that it's able to do a very large range of image processing and image analysis - both "Photoshop-style", and of a type usually seen only in specialized, expensive, image processing systems.

Particularly powerful is combining image upload with CDF?and getting interactive interfaces for image processing.

In total, Wolfram|Alpha Pro can handle about 60 types. In each case, it can do general automatic analysis of what's in the file. And you can specifically tell it what you want to do. For different types of files, the results are very different. For example by uploading a sound file, Wolfram|Alpha Pro will return a general analysis:

Things get more exciting with uploaded files that contain data - data doesn't need to be laid out in a spreadsheet or CSV or whatever. Data input lets you just copy a block of data from anywhere, and feed it to Wolfram|Alpha Pro. Wolfram|Alpha Pro will automatically analyze the data, and generate a report about it.

The report is completely tailored to the particular data you give - and it can look very different for different kinds of data. Usually, though, it'll contain some mixture of visualizations and analyses. It'll have all kinds of charts and graphs and tables - often together with explicit conclusions generated by statistical and other methods.

And of course, it's not just a static report. There are always all sorts of buttons and pull-downs that allow you to drill down, select different options, and so on.

Wolfram's team has build on all the sophisticated data and statistics-related capabilities that are now built in to Mathematica. And it also helps that they can make use of all the other parts of Wolfram|Alpha. For example, if you read in data with dates, or units, or place names, or whatever, Wolfram|Alpha Pro is able to call on Wolfram|Alpha's linguistic capabilities to understand whatever forms were entered. And when it comes to output, Wolfram|Alpha Pro can freely use the built-in knowledge in Wolfram|Alpha. So, for example, it can immediately place on a map cities or countries or whatever given in the data. But what is more, it can use its built-in knowledge to let you do things like automatically normalizing by population.

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