d***@axiom-developer.org

2007-11-18 20:59:03 UTC

David Joyner and William Stein published an opinion piece in the

AMS Notices raising (yet again) the issue of mathematical results

that depend on closed source symbolic mathematics. They would like

to see open source efforts funded.

<http://www.ams.org/notices/200710/tx071001279.pdf>

They raise the issue (raised here many times in the past) about

funding open source mathematical software. SAGE is a university

based project and has a funding model that NSF recognizes. Axiom

and other projects don't fit any model and neither the NSF nor

INRIA is able (as far as I know from direct discussions) to

consider funding open source projects like Axiom, which are not

supported by standard institutions, such as Universities.

My direct discussions with the NSF, on several occasions, raises the

point that the NSF claims that it does not fund projects which compete

with commercial software. This position is frustrating on several points.

First, the NSF funds the purchase of commercial software at universities.

Thus they explicity fund software that competes with open source.

Second, (as I understand it) SAGE is an effort to create an open source

competitor to the current closed source systems. I applaud their efforts

and think this is very valuable. However, I'm not sure how much funding

they can get from the NSF with such commercially-competitive goals.

Third, even if the NSF funded SAGE, how would those funds benefit the

various subprojects like Axiom? Open source is mostly volunteer work

done in "spare time". While it is amusing to daydream of being paid to

develop open source computational mathematics on a full time basis, it

seems unlikely that this could lead to more than just small

grants. The expertise and continuity needed to do research work

requires longer term funding.

Fourth, most of the work on open source projects like Axiom is

multi-national. I don't see that INRIA and NSF have a joint-funding

model. How could a project like Axiom give grants to people in France

out of NSF funds (or INRIA-funded U.S. workers)? In my experience,

this usually involved "visiting scientist" arrangements but open

source has no place to visit besides a website.

Fifth, Axiom is NOT intended to compete with software like Mathematica

or Maple. Axiom's goals are long term scientific research ideas, such

as proving the algorithms correct, documenting the algorithms, following

a strong mathematical basis for the structure of the algebra hierarchy,

etc. None of these goals compete with MMA or Maple. The NSF is intended

to fund this kinds of scientific research but apparently cannot.

Sixth, computational mathematics, which currently rests on closed

source commercial efforts, will eventually suffer from a massive

"black hole" once the current software dies. Suppose Wolfram Research

and Maplesoft go out of business. That might seem unlikely but there

are very few companies that last more than 50 years. Since software is

now considered an asset it cannot be simply given away. (Even if the

software was opened-sourced it is poorly documented according to

people who know the source). We could have the situation like

Macsyma, where the company folded and the source code is never

released. Is this what the NSF sees as the correct long term basis for

a fundamental science like computational mathematics?

Seventh, if not funding the work directly, isn't it possible to at least

fund things like an 'Axiom workshop' so that open source developers could

have their travel and lodging paid for by grants? Face-to-face meetings

would greatly help the development work.

I could go on but I will stop here.

Axiom is basic science and has long term plans to be the foundation

of open, provably correct, computational mathematics. Sadly, I feel

that funding is only likely after the fact. Oh well. The work continues.

Tim Daly

***@axiom-developer.org

AMS Notices raising (yet again) the issue of mathematical results

that depend on closed source symbolic mathematics. They would like

to see open source efforts funded.

<http://www.ams.org/notices/200710/tx071001279.pdf>

They raise the issue (raised here many times in the past) about

funding open source mathematical software. SAGE is a university

based project and has a funding model that NSF recognizes. Axiom

and other projects don't fit any model and neither the NSF nor

INRIA is able (as far as I know from direct discussions) to

consider funding open source projects like Axiom, which are not

supported by standard institutions, such as Universities.

My direct discussions with the NSF, on several occasions, raises the

point that the NSF claims that it does not fund projects which compete

with commercial software. This position is frustrating on several points.

First, the NSF funds the purchase of commercial software at universities.

Thus they explicity fund software that competes with open source.

Second, (as I understand it) SAGE is an effort to create an open source

competitor to the current closed source systems. I applaud their efforts

and think this is very valuable. However, I'm not sure how much funding

they can get from the NSF with such commercially-competitive goals.

Third, even if the NSF funded SAGE, how would those funds benefit the

various subprojects like Axiom? Open source is mostly volunteer work

done in "spare time". While it is amusing to daydream of being paid to

develop open source computational mathematics on a full time basis, it

seems unlikely that this could lead to more than just small

grants. The expertise and continuity needed to do research work

requires longer term funding.

Fourth, most of the work on open source projects like Axiom is

multi-national. I don't see that INRIA and NSF have a joint-funding

model. How could a project like Axiom give grants to people in France

out of NSF funds (or INRIA-funded U.S. workers)? In my experience,

this usually involved "visiting scientist" arrangements but open

source has no place to visit besides a website.

Fifth, Axiom is NOT intended to compete with software like Mathematica

or Maple. Axiom's goals are long term scientific research ideas, such

as proving the algorithms correct, documenting the algorithms, following

a strong mathematical basis for the structure of the algebra hierarchy,

etc. None of these goals compete with MMA or Maple. The NSF is intended

to fund this kinds of scientific research but apparently cannot.

Sixth, computational mathematics, which currently rests on closed

source commercial efforts, will eventually suffer from a massive

"black hole" once the current software dies. Suppose Wolfram Research

and Maplesoft go out of business. That might seem unlikely but there

are very few companies that last more than 50 years. Since software is

now considered an asset it cannot be simply given away. (Even if the

software was opened-sourced it is poorly documented according to

people who know the source). We could have the situation like

Macsyma, where the company folded and the source code is never

released. Is this what the NSF sees as the correct long term basis for

a fundamental science like computational mathematics?

Seventh, if not funding the work directly, isn't it possible to at least

fund things like an 'Axiom workshop' so that open source developers could

have their travel and lodging paid for by grants? Face-to-face meetings

would greatly help the development work.

I could go on but I will stop here.

Axiom is basic science and has long term plans to be the foundation

of open, provably correct, computational mathematics. Sadly, I feel

that funding is only likely after the fact. Oh well. The work continues.

Tim Daly

***@axiom-developer.org