*Mathematica* 8 is released today! It’s a huge and important release. With dramatic breakthroughs—and major broadening of the whole scope of *Mathematica*.

After 8 versions and 22 years most software systems have decayed to slow and lumbering development. But not *Mathematica*. In fact, with *Mathematica *it’s quite the opposite. As the years go by, *Mathematica *development is actually speeding up.

What has made that happen? Partly it’s our tenacious and broadening pursuit of ambitious long-term goals. But partly, it’s a remarkable reflection—and validation—of the core principles on which *Mathematica *has always been built.

Principles like coherent design—which let all parts of the system work together, and make it progressively easier to build new parts. And automation—which allows new layers of functionality to be added without having to worry about the operation of layers underneath.

And as one indication of the success of our development process, the picture below shows the growth in the number of built-in functions in *Mathematica *over the course of its history.

There was a kind of “Cambrian explosion” when *Mathematica* 6 was released, most notably associated with our invention of new ways to structure such a large system. And now, with *Mathematica* 8, the rapid growth has continued. In fact, never before have there been so many new functions added so quickly—and altogether almost as many new functions as there were functions at all in the original version of *Mathematica* back in 1988.

But the point is not just to add new functions—it’s to add whole new areas, and to qualitatively change what’s possible. Some fraction of the new functions in *Mathematica* 8 are in a sense incremental extensions and improvements to areas that *Mathematica* already covers. And these things are important in smoothing and polishing the use of *Mathematica*.

But the most exciting thing about* Mathematica* 8 is that once again it’s able to build on the paradigm and principles of *Mathematica*, and on the existing tower of *Mathematica* capabilities, and reach new areas where nothing as systematic as *Mathematica* could ever be done before.

There are many examples, most listed on New in *Mathematica *8.

One example is the new probability and probability distribution capabilities. Where what we have effectively done is to invent a new computable language for talking about probabilities and probability distributions.

None of this would have been possible without a great many existing capabilities of* Mathematica*, and the whole structure they define. But the result is a breakthrough, and a whole new area where computation and automation can now routinely be applied.

As *Mathematica* has developed over the years, we are always asking “What’s now possible?” And it’s exciting to be able to see that once one has built a tall tower of capabilities, suddenly others come into sight—often capabilities that one never imagined would be possible. And so it is with many of the code compilation and other capabilities of *Mathematica* 8.

When we originally released* Mathematica* it was clear that its formal symbolic structure had great strength in core areas of computation and mathematics. But what about other areas? Graphics? Documents? Data? Subject-specific applications?

Over the years it has gradually become clear that *Mathematica*‘s symbolic paradigm can tackle all of these, and much more. And perhaps a decade ago we realized that in *Mathematica *it was realistic in a sense just to “implement everything”. To take every method and algorithm that is fundamental enough to be generally applicable, and implement it in a way that fits together with everything else in *Mathematica*.

In *Mathematica* 8 we see some dramatic fruits from that idea. Very broad built-in image processing. Broad and remarkably general coverage of charting and visualization. Convenient and powerful graph theory and network manipulation. And areas like finance and control theory as well.

There is a certain clarity that comes when something is implemented in the *Mathematica *system. And the result tends to be that an area which was formerly accessible only to experts—and even then with some effort—now immediately becomes an area that anyone can use, anytime.

And so it will be with many areas in *Mathematica* 8. From probability distributions, to networks, to control systems.

In a sense, every new version of *Mathematica* brings new conquests—new areas that are brought into the *Mathematica* paradigm, and into the domain where systematic computation is now routinely possible.

But probably the single greatest—and most surprising—new capability of *Mathematica* 8 is one that cuts across all areas: the integration of Wolfram|Alpha into *Mathematica*, and the notion of free-form linguistic input.

I will talk about this in another post, but here suffice it to say that this new capability is a dramatic example of the automation principle of *Mathematica*. For now, in addition to automating, for example, the selection of algorithms, or the way of presenting a result, one is automating the whole process of communicating with *Mathematic*a.

During the years that we have been developing *Mathematica* 8, I have gradually been able to get used to the new capabilities it provides. But looking at the finished product today, it is startling how dramatic the advances from *Mathematica *7 have been.

*Mathematica* 7 is great. And everything in it remains important, strong, and compatible. But *Mathematica* 8 adds so much more. Building on* Mathematica* 7 and the 24-year history of *Mathematica* before it. But introducing a remarkable collection of new ideas and capabilities.

I’ve been having a great time using *Mathematica* 8 during its development. But for me—and our R&D team—the greatest fulfillment comes from actually releasing a new version of *Mathematica*, and letting all our users begin to absorb what it now makes possible.

So I am excited today to be able to announce the 8th step in the long journey of *Mathematica—*the fruit of so much R&D, and the foundation, I expect, for so many important achievements for users of *Mathematica*: *Mathematica* 8.