Version 12 Launches Today! (And It’s a Big Jump for Wolfram Language and Mathematica)
April 16, 2019 — Stephen Wolfram
Today we’re releasing Version 12 of Wolfram Language (and Mathematica) on desktop platforms, and in the Wolfram Cloud. We released Version 11.0 in August 2016, 11.1 in March 2017, 11.2 in September 2017 and 11.3 in March 2018. It’s a big jump from Version 11.3 to Version 12.0. Altogether there are 278 completely new functions, in perhaps 103 areas, together with thousands of different updates across the system:
In an “integer release” like 12, our goal is to provide fully-filled-out new areas of functionality. But in every release we also want to deliver the latest results of our R&D efforts. In 12.0, perhaps half of our new functions can be thought of as finishing areas that were started in previous “.1” releases—while half begin new areas. I’ll discuss both types of functions in this piece, but I’ll be particularly emphasizing the specifics of what’s new in going from 11.3 to 12.0.
I must say that now that 12.0 is finished, I’m amazed at how much is in it, and how much we’ve added since 11.3. In my keynote at our Wolfram Technology Conference last October I summarized what we had up to that point—and even that took nearly 4 hours. Now there’s even more.
What we’ve been able to do is a testament both to the strength of our R&D effort, and to the effectiveness of the Wolfram Language as a development environment. Both these things have of course been building for three decades. But one thing that’s new with 12.0 is that we’ve been letting people watch our behind-the-scenes design process—livestreaming more than 300 hours of my internal design meetings. So in addition to everything else, I suspect this makes Version 12.0 the very first major software release in history that’s been open in this way.
OK, so what’s new in 12.0? There are some big and surprising things—notably in chemistry, geometry, numerical uncertainty and database integration. But overall, there are lots of things in lots of areas—and in fact even the basic summary of them in the Documentation Center is already 19 pages long:
So now we have a thing like this that runs our Butterworth filter, that we can use anywhere:
What’s the relation between the Wolfram Language and video games? Over the years, the Wolfram Language has been used behind the scenes in many aspects of game development (simulating strategies, creating geometries, analyzing outcomes, etc.). But for some time now we’ve been working on a closer link between Wolfram Language and the Unity game environment, and in Version 12.0 we’re releasing a first version of this link.
Software Engineering & Platform Updates
I’ve talked about lots of new functions and new functionality in the Wolfram Language. But what about the underlying infrastructure of the Wolfram Language? Well, we’ve been working hard on that too. For example, between Version 11.3 and Version 12.0 we’ve managed to fix nearly 8000 reported bugs. We’ve also made lots of things faster and more robust. And in general we’ve been tightening the software engineering of the system, for example reducing the initial download size by nearly 10% (despite all the functionality that’s been added). (We’ve also done things like improve the predictive prefetching of knowledgebase elements from the cloud—so when you need similar data it’s more likely to be already cached on your computer.)
It’s a longstanding feature of the computing landscape that operating systems are continually getting updated—and to take advantage of their latest features, applications have to get updated too. We’ve been working for several years on a major update to our Mac notebook interface—which is finally ready in Version 12.0. As part of the update, we’ve rewritten and restructured large amounts of code that have been developed and polished over more than 20 years, but the result is that in Version 12.0, everything about our system on the Mac is fully 64-bit, and makes use of the latest Cocoa APIs. This means that the notebook front end is significantly faster—and can also go beyond the previous 2 GB memory limit.
There’s also a platform update on Linux, where now the notebook interface fully supports Qt 5, which allows all rendering operations to take place “headlessly”, without any X server—greatly streamlining deployment of the Wolfram Engine in the cloud. (Version 12.0 doesn’t yet have high-dpi support for Windows, but that’s coming very soon.)
The development of the Wolfram Cloud is in some ways separate from the development of the Wolfram Language, and Wolfram Desktop applications (though for internal compatibility we’re releasing Version 12.0 at the same time in both environments). But in the past year since Version 11.3 was released, there’s been dramatic progress in the Wolfram Cloud.
Especially notable are the advances in cloud notebooks—supporting more interface elements (including some, like embedded websites and videos, that aren’t even yet available in desktop notebooks), as well as greatly increased robustness and speed. (Making our whole notebook interface work in a web browser is no small feat of software engineering, and in Version 12.0 there are some pretty sophisticated strategies for things like maintaining consistent fast-to-load caches, along with full symbolic DOM representations.)
In Version 12.0 there’s now just a simple menu item (File > Publish to Cloud …) to publish any notebook to the cloud. And once the notebook is published, anyone in the world can interact with it—as well as make their own copy so they can edit it.
It’s interesting to see how broadly the cloud has entered what can be done in the Wolfram Language. In addition to all the seamless integration of the cloud knowledgebase, and the ability to reach out to things like blockchains, there are also conveniences like Send To… sending any notebook through email, using the cloud if there’s no direct email server connection available.
And a Lot Else…
Even though this has been a long piece, it’s not even close to telling the whole story of what’s new in Version 12.0. Along with the rest of our team, I’ve been working very hard on Version 12.0 for a long time now—but it’s still exciting to see just how much is actually in it.
But what’s critical (and a lot of work to achieve!) is that everything we’ve added is carefully designed to fit coherently with what’s already there. From the very first version more than 30 years ago of what’s now the Wolfram Language, we’ve been following the same core principles—and this is part of what’s allowed us to so dramatically grow the system while maintaining long-term compatibility.
It’s always difficult to decide exactly what to prioritize developing for each new version, but I’m very pleased with the choices we made for Version 12.0. I’ve given many talks over the past year, and I’ve been very struck with how often I’ve been able to say about things that come up: “Well, it so happens that that’s going to be part of Version 12.0!”
I’ve personally been using internal preliminary builds of Version 12.0 for nearly a year, and I’ve come to take for granted many of its new capabilities—and to use and enjoy them a lot. So it’s a great pleasure that today we have the final Version 12.0—with all these new capabilities officially in it, ready to be used by anyone and everyone…