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November 11, 2006

Scilab - Free, Open Source Alternative to Matlab

Wouldn't it be nice if you had a high level scientific language like Matlab, plus all the gizmos from the package, free? Wouldn't it be even nicer if this magic software could load Matlab programs? You know where I'm getting with this, right? Meet Scilab (www.scilab.org).

It's an open-source alternative to Matlab. It's syntax is similar, and it has tons of toolboxes developed by users around the world, royalty free. Why pay when you can have it for free?

This review will focus on the programming aspects of Scilab. I confess never having used the Simulink package in Matlab, and thus I am not qualified to compare it to Scilab's corresponding features.

One of the things that first jumped at me upon installing Scilab ( the Windows download is only 13.6 Mb), was the option of importing Matlab code. I selected the lifting line program, found in the Code Library. Scilab loaded it and converted the code to its own format automatically. I ran the program without problems. I expect open-source software to be rather buggy, but this feature seems to be working fine.

For further testing, I wrote a simple program in Scilab’s native editor. It calculates moments of inertia and is now hosted by solvengineer.com here. I used Matlab syntax which was recognized by the compiler. It also accepted the C function ‘printf’, thus allowing better control of text output.

There were no major issues here either. I was warned a couple of times about ‘instability’ and got a few run-time errors that would disappear after re-compilation. All in all, I found the experience similar to writing a program in Matlab.

I heartily recommend giving Scilab a try. It offers the quality and stability of a professional piece of software, at an unbeatable price: free.


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