Top 10 Open Source Tools for Math

Thanks to Heather Johnson for contributing this post during a week that was, well, a bit busy!

The open source movement has been gaining steady momentum in the past few years. More people are now using open source tools than ever before, from Firefox to The GIMP. Included with this movement are niche programs that are dedicated to specific disciplines, including mathematics.

There are many commercial programs and applications for mathematics. However, they can be very expensive, as you well know. Open source tools, however, are completely free of charge and foster a learning community between both amateur and professional mathematicians. Below are 10 open source tools for math that are becoming very popular.

SAGE – SAGE can be used for studying a wide variety of mathematics, including algebra, calculus, number theory, graph theory and more. It is used as an open source alternative to many commercial mathematics programs, including Magma, Maple, Mathematica and MATLAB.

Maxima – This popular computer algebra system puts an emphasis on symbolic computation. It can be used for advanced algebraic calculations and will plot functions and data in both two and three dimensions.

Octave – Octave is a high-level program that performs numerical computations. It is often used in conjunction with MATLAB. Octave is written in C++ and features its own interpreter that translates the Octave language.

Scilab – This advanced numerical computation package hails from France. Similar to MATLAB, this free program is a high-level programming language that can make large computations with just a few lines of code.

GAP – GAP is short for Groups, Algorithms, Programming. An algebraic computation system, its main focus is on computational group theory. GAP includes its own programming language, as well as large data libraries of algebraic objects.

OpenMath – This open source markup language is quickly becoming a standard for representing mathematical objects with their semantics. By using OpenMath, mathematical information can be easily stored, published and passed between computer programs.

OMDoc – Short for Open Mathematical Documents, OMDoc is a semantic markup language used for mathematic documents. OMDoc encompasses the entire range of written mathematic documents, unlike the aforementioned OpenMath.

Axiom – This general-purpose computer algebra system has been in development since 1971. Formerly known as Scratchpad, it was originally developed by IBM and has slowly evolved into a popular open source tool.

Macaulay 2 – This computer algebra system has a specific focus on polynomial computations. It was designed to support research in geometry and commutative algebra.

YACAS – YACAS, also known as Yet Another Computer Algebra System, is a general-purpose program for symbolic manipulation of mathematical computations. The purpose of this program is to make computer calculations easy for all.

This post was contributed by Heather Johnson, who is an industry critic on the subject of university reviews. She invites your feedback at

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2 Responses to “Top 10 Open Source Tools for Math”

  • Prof Martin Weissman says:

    Not exactly open source, yet free to students of Introductory Statistics is the new version of my math911 tutorial software. The 1st 11 chapters on the opening menu contain tutorials from Pre Algebra through Pre Calculus. Chapter 12 is all Statistics and includes a section of Enter Your Own Data. Here the student can see, for example, the associated histogram, but not before he steps through how it was created. I’m looking for input from both faculty and students on how this chapter can be improved.

  • gonzalo says:

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