Do you think that MATLAB is expensive?

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Paulo Silva
Paulo Silva on 14 Aug 2011
Commented: Samuel Gray on 5 May 2022 at 6:14
We all know that MATLAB is probably the best software for engineering purposes, I think it's a little expensive unless you have it for free on your school or place you work, please share your opinion about MATLAB cost, including toolboxes, student versions... is it that expensive?
  19 Comments
Samuel Gray
Samuel Gray on 3 May 2022 at 17:55
The only way that Student and Home licenses will not be used to earn income would be to cripple them to the point that they could not be used to earn income, at which point they would be nearly worthless.
The fact that Mathworks has continued to make money from Matlab for many decades speaks to the value of its current business-model as well as its management over time. That doesn't mean that the Matlab market operates the way that Mathworks wants it to. But it is working.
The only question is whether or not that will continue in the face of the OS movement.
And tht is a question for every company that develops software with restrictive license terms, even for OS re the GPL.
So here's the thing. Bugatti develops, makes and sells vehicles which are based on high prices and a market of owners who are happy to buy their products. Bugatti is the "boutique" label for Volkswagen. It's not like there is not a market for "expensive" software products. Even Microsoft knows the wisdom of giving-away products at the low end to generate revenue at the high end. The question is where does Matlab sit in the Mathworks software lineup and why even entertain the interests of users (who may or may not be legitimate) to make Matlab more compatible with OS tools. That's like the directors at Bugatti saying "hm, maybe we should sell a $5k version of the Chiron, or at the very least find some maker of cheap aftermarket parts for expensive cars and collaborate with them". This is why I love the current Matlab model of toolkits and add-ons for an additional price. Customers pay to leverage their investment in the basic Matlab product, those toolkits have a real-world market value that should fluctuate together with their price. Those toolkits are worthless, supposedly, without Matlab. That's exactly how it should be, in my opinion. I don't see the wisdom in trying to control or even influence the Matlab market through the licensing of product versions that are technically the same, that's like asking the market to violate those licenses. But by the same token so is adding value to the product that is commensurate with the price. This is a problem with the entire software market: it is crucial for developers to be able to control who runs their software but by the same token they need information to decide who should be able to run their software. That information might be as valuable as the software itself. Of course a market will develop to disable that control, but that's par for the course. At some level it's also a battle between Matlabs license security and integrity and hackers who want to free Matlab code to be run at will.

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Answers (17)

Jan
Jan on 14 Aug 2011
MATLAB is not cheap. If you need 4 toolboxes and a commercial license, you have to pay some thousands dollars. Using Matlab for scientific purposes costs about the half. (For my argument a factor of 2 or 4 does not matter...)
In a real business case, a customer can invest X dollars to solve a specific problem. If X is smaller than the costs of MATLAB, MATLAB is expensive.
If X is about 10 times the costs of MATLAB, MATLAB is getting very cheap, because its very powerful and well tested toolboxes allows a rapid prototyping, implementation and testing of the program.
So cheap or expensive is a simple balance between the total costs for development and the utility value of the program measured in dollars. If I compare MATLAB with a low level langauge as C, it is cheap, even when a free C-compiler is used: The previous question I've answered here concerned POLYFIT. I suggested to create the Vandermonde matrix manually and calculate R\(Q*y) directly - imagine the effort, if I want to explain this based on C99 and BLAS/LAPACK, including checks of inputs and an automatic usage for DOUBLEs and FLOATs...
A comparison with SciLab, Octave and SciPy is more reasonable. The student version of MATLAB (about 100 Euro) is expensive, because I do not see anything a student can learn with MATLAB, which cannot be learned with Octave. In opposite to this, 5000 Euro for a scientific license for MATLAB and some toolboxes is cheap for the development of a large program (>100.000 lines of code) for clinical decision making.
  7 Comments
Samuel Gray
Samuel Gray on 3 May 2022 at 19:00
"MATLAB is not cheap. If you need 4 toolboxes and a commercial license, you have to pay some thousands dollars. Using Matlab for scientific purposes costs about the half. (For my argument a factor of 2 or 4 does not matter...)"
At $1k per license and 4 licenses, that's 1 month salary for someone earning $80k/ year before taxes.
is it...the price of an Android game? No. But that game could have billions of people spending hundres of billions of hours per year using it. We live in a world where hundreds of millions of people spend billions of hours each year playing video games and surfing the Internet as well as real money on stupid crap like buying and building expensive cars and houses and drugs INSTEAD OF developing real value using Matlab.
Don't care so much about the cosft of the software while ignoring your opportunity to make money with it and the way that you waste money and time in so many other ways.

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Derek O'Connor
Derek O'Connor on 8 Feb 2012
The academic version of Matlab at about €500 is too expensive for me, a retired lecturer. Cleve Moler in his SIAM oral history interview said that Mathworks makes most of its money from industrial clients who pay the full price, so I don't think they are too concerned about indigent academics.
I believe R is a very good free alternative to Matlab, especially now that the R 2.14.xx 64-bit version gives the correct answer to sin(1e22)[= -0.8522008497671888], among other things. The 32-bit version does not give the correct answer. It has a Matlab mode (e.g., x = y instead of x <- y, etc.), and has many packages (= toolboxes) that may be loaded on-the-fly. It is slower than Matlab because it does not use the Intel or AMD Math kernels. I'm not sure if it has a JIT compiler. However it is being constantly improved.
R has become so popular that even economists and doctors are using it. Imagine! Also, R has a huge user community which is growing daily, so that help is always available, especially on StackOverflow:
Revolution Analytics has a very professional version of R that has an excellent GUI and it uses the Intel math kernel(s). Academics can get the full version free.
  1 Comment
Malcolm Lidierth
Malcolm Lidierth on 5 Jul 2012
@Derek
Thanks for this link. I had tried and been impressed by R , but did not know the Revolution incarnation. Downloaded after reading your post. For those, like me, who want a proper GUI, it puts R in a new league. Only problem: Windows+Linux but not Mac.

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Walter Roberson
Walter Roberson on 14 Aug 2011
I am of mixed opinion on this.
If you have professional work to do, you use professional-quality tools, and it is normal to expect them to be higher priced, as they generally pay for themselves in generality or durability or in being designed for what you as a specialist need. Those traits cost money to make and people are willing to pay appropriately.
From that perspective, perhaps some particular toolboxes might not be worth the value, but overall I do not think MATLAB is unreasonably priced.
However, there are people in the MATLAB community who donate a lot of time and effort to helping others, and those people often get little or no pay for those efforts. To those people (especially the retirees), there is little realistic hope of earning back the cost of toolboxes or of keeping MATLAB reasonably up to date: to those people, MATLAB is expensive.
I do not have a solution to offer to this difficulty at this time.
  6 Comments
Walter Roberson
Walter Roberson on 8 Feb 2012
Benjamin, where would you get the MVP's sufficient that all questions were dealt with "way quicker than here" and with high quality answers? Have you estimated how many MVP would be required?
If the MVP principle is used that independent (non-employees) only are to be considered, then that would eliminate a number of the people who often answer questions here and in the newsgroup. Please keep that in mind when you think about individuals who might be nominated.
I have it in mind that any structure like that would rely on _individuals_. I do not think it appropriate to name names in public, but I ask myself, "Okay, whom?". I know of some people who would probably decline for various reasons.
I also suspect, Benjamin, that you are significantly underestimating the portion of the questions here that are not really programming questions, but are instead science or mathematics or technology. MATLAB is "The language of technical computing", and MathWorks is "Accelerating the pace of engineering and science". If it has to do with engineering, science, mathematics, or technology, then the question might be posed here.
It is not uncommon for questions here to be about some focused aspect of a topic that has literally been researched for decades. Those questions are often posed by someone who has no background in the topic and has not done research in the topic nor read the relevant papers that focus on that specific aspect. "Complete code" is an oft-expressed desire. Where are you going to find the stable of volunteer scientists and engineers ready to promptly handle whatever question comes up ?

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Mark Whirdy
Mark Whirdy on 5 Jul 2012
Personnally no, I think its fairly priced. Mathworks developers need to be paid after all, and a reduction in fees will have an impact on the quality of the product - its not a listed company and there are no shareholders to pay dividends to. In 2010 The Mathworks Ltd had Sales of £22.69m and after costs had a Net Income of £290k only.
One of the advantages of matlab is its easy interfacing ability, so rather than say buy the datafeed toolbox, you can write your own Bloomberg API C# code and use it via matlab dotNet Interface, same with database toolbox - its pretty easy and quick in C#. Only buy a toolbox if really necessary!
R is extremely unreliable as the code coming from the user community is very prone to errors (without being rigourously checked for bugs) and not reliably supported (you may get a reply from author in 1day or quite possibly never), its a black box. And if you have to take the time to run through it yourself to check everything, then you may as well be writting it yourself. C++ of course is faster in execution but takes many many more man-hours to develop anything - this time is curcial for us.
These days people seem to more and more expect everything to be for free, I guess music and movie downloads have something to do with it.
  6 Comments
Malcolm Lidierth
Malcolm Lidierth on 19 Jun 2016
@Mark Whirly
Reproducibility seems often to be a bigger issue in financial modelling. I've been in "Meetups" where none of the participants were too bothered about the precision, but were concerned to reproduce their results exactly in the event of a law suit. The same rule applies in other fields and is the reason MATLAB Version 2.01 can still be found running of a steam-powered 80286 PC in the corner of some offices.
For my own work, IEEE double precision is typically more than adequate, but it can be too easy to dismiss innacuracies as due to rounding errors when, in fact, there is a bug that should be addressed.

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Paul Metcalf
Paul Metcalf on 6 Jul 2012
Edited: Paul Metcalf on 6 Jul 2012
Whichever way you look at it, MATLAB is expensive. But that's not to say it isn't good value. The value of MATLAB of course depends entirely on its use/user, and many users including myself would argue that MATLAB does offer very good value. As a total package, it is the best software available.
MATLAB is not the only expensive software out there, look at AUTODESK or ANSYS for example. Unlike AUTOCAD which has MICROSTATION, MATLAB is essentially free from direct competition. MATLAB's main competitors in the control sectors are National Instruments and Esterel Technologies, the latter of which just got bought out by ANSYS. Of these, in my oppinion MATLAB offers the best and most complete product and should therefore demand the highest price.
But I do wish there were more flexible licensing options available. For example, sometimes you may only require MATLAB for a short duration, for a fixed specified project.
I feel for those who want to buy additional toolboxes for old versions. This should be allowed, because some people may want to standardise on a specific release. Especially if clients or colleagues are working from the same version.
I also think it should be easier to patch MATLAB. For example, you can go to the bug reports page and download patches for many fixed issues, but this is an entirely manual, time consuming and sometimes complex process. IMHO there should be an automatic software update mechanism.
Lastly, I agree that there are too many toolboxes that are too much alike. I think Mathworks should continue to merge very simuliar toolboxes to simplify the product portfolio. Take the Signal Processing Toolbox and DSP System Toolbox for example... Or the MATLAB and Simulink Report Generators... Personally I don't think that's justified and only serves to complicate their portfolio.
I am glad that MATLAB is a commercial product, developers need to get paid and for those that rely on quality, there is simply no comparison to the free 'alternatives'. Just my 2 cents...
Paul
  2 Comments
Steven Lord
Steven Lord on 2 May 2022 at 23:26
I also think it should be easier to patch MATLAB. For example, you can go to the bug reports page and download patches for many fixed issues, but this is an entirely manual, time consuming and sometimes complex process. IMHO there should be an automatic software update mechanism.
FYI, since this answer was posted MathWorks has begun offering Update releases that include fixes for a collection of bugs reported against each release. As an example, as of the time I write this there have been 7 Update releases for general release R2020b that have included hundreds of bugs fixes.

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Darrell Thomas
Darrell Thomas on 13 Aug 2017

Hobby user here... If you think it is expensive, try out an open-source version... GNU Octave . It's free. It's very similar, albeit not as supported, and you get the source code to compile and use as your heart desires. I was using Octave for a while-- and it's pretty good. However the business case for Matlab got me to finally fork over the $$$ even though it does the same basic functionality. Here's how: I was intent on developing my own home-grown toolbox(es) to do a specific task (neural network functions with specific interfaces to play around with...) It would have taken me a month to do this on my own on Octave given my schedule. The home grown may have been tailor-made and "better" in some respects.. However, for the $150 home license (glad they finally added this option!), and the $50 for the NN toolbox.. (and a few more fifties for some other toolboxes I found helpful) I can't justify NOT spending $200+ to save many weeks work. The guys at Matlab are awesome. They do a great job and the support is fantastic. If you are hell-bent on saving every nickel-- use Octave. If you can rub a couple hundred bucks together for a home license, I'd do that (and I did). --And if I ever had a business case where I required it for business, I'd pay for the full license if it were using it in that capacity. There are lots of options.

  2 Comments
Samuel Gray
Samuel Gray on 2 May 2022 at 15:18
...still waiting on you guys to sort out the issues with the IP stack on Win10 machines (a growing issue with security concerns) so I don't have to use a pcap stack to do network i/o at the packet level.
Not that this is a major complaint, I assume that the Communications Toolbox will work with the pcap stack if I try to use it that way instead of writing an interface between it and Matlab. Or SSH if necessary so I don't have to write something like scp.

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Matt Slezak
Matt Slezak on 31 Jul 2018
MATLAB is probably expensive for a small company. For a large company, I think it is relatively inexpensive. If I ever need to contact MATLAB support to figure out a function call (e.g. once I had to interface with C# before), usually a reply with example code would be in my email the next morning. Compare that to having say Python and Google searching, StackExchange questions, etc. and waiting for a reply. So if you value productivity the benefits are great. I also am a regular Python user and despite liking the language, MATLAB is far easier to get work done in. The syntax is cleaner than other languages for mathematical work. The data structures tend to be easier to work with and make more sense. Compare to Pandas, NumPy - sometimes I play around for 10m trying to figure out proper indexing for a complicated call. In MATLAB usually the help menu has an answer. It's just a good commercial product.
  2 Comments
Steven Lord
Steven Lord on 2 May 2022 at 23:30
Company size could matter, if you're a startup company you may be eligible for the MATLAB and Simulink for Startups program.

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Daniel Shub
Daniel Shub on 15 Aug 2011
I work at a university, but I have to pay for MATLAB out of my grants. MATLAB is one of two non-free (both as in beer and speech) pieces of software I use. The other is a sip/voip phone which I just haven't gotten around to replacing with a FOSS alternative. I do not think SciLab and Octave are viable alternatives to MATLAB for me. I think Python is a viable alternative for me. There is not much that I can do in MATLAB that I cannot do in Python. There is no question that if I was just starting out I would use Python instead of MATLAB. MATLAB, however, is cheap for me compared to the cost of porting my existing code to Python.
I really wish Mathworks would separate the MATLAB IDE from the MATLAB language and then make the MATLAB language free, as in speech, while keeping the IDE proprietary. I would be more likely to continue to pay software maintenance and software support in this case and not switch to Python.
  12 Comments
Samuel Gray
Samuel Gray on 5 May 2022 at 6:14
Well, if you want to use Matlab, someone needs to maintain the system on which it is to be used, so there's a fair point in this discussion. And the degree to which the system is locked-down affects the various toolkits that are sold to run on top of the base Matlab. So to be brief, I think that everyone who runs Matlab needs some real knowledge of how to secure and maintain their system, if that is to be done for a remote system then they need to learn how do it remotely. If an owner/user cannot and will not take the time to learn and to keep up on effective system-administration they need to at least find someone to do it for them. This is a huge issue that certainly drives the Windows-to-Linux migration. Arguably both can be installed, the installation secured and then the secured installation maintained, and cloned along the way. The question is one of quality and robustness. I have a new Asus PN50, it takes 64GB of ram, any of the late-model Ryzen processors, has a variety of USB and HDMI ports, takes a mix of different SSDs internally and has a micro-SDXC card-reader on the front all in a case the size of a stack of 5 CD-rom cases. Swapping storage on and off it is not the problem. You still need to know what you're doing in terms of system administration unless you want to find and pay for software or an online service that can administer your system properly for you. And that has to be done, and well-maintained, before users can focus on software-development using that system. It's an argument for Azure or Matlab Online or some similar platform, accessed through a VM or Chromebook style front-end, and a completely secure local boot device.
It's nice to be able to ignore all that and just have users click on the Matlab icon and be happy.
Just as it is nice to ignore the question of why someone wants to run Matlab code without buying a Matlab license. Well it's not just running the code, but running it on the proper platform. Gotta draw the line somewhere. That's why Google came out with the whole Chromebook platform and Google online apps. Mathworks could do something similar that runs on Chrome or Firefox, then develop their own Linux distro to support that, or their own version of Azure...the question still comes down to how to secure the platform and who will assume responsibiity for that. Who really wants to take on that responsibility?

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Susan
Susan on 15 Aug 2011
I think is too expensive. I am a student and I bought the student version and I was expecting to get everything I need after paying for it then I realized I have only few toolboxes and when I need other toolbox have to go all the way to my uni to get it. Even in my university each department have only selected toolboxes and dont have the others that they expect students wouldn't need it. Like Computer Science they don't have the communication toolbox while Electrical department have it, and Electrical department dont have Image processing while Computer Science have it.. I think its even too expensive that universities can't afford to buy the whole package !!!
  3 Comments
Walter Roberson
Walter Roberson on 6 Jan 2021
If you do not make money from it you might be eligible for Home license starting at $US 150

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Benjamin Schwabe
Benjamin Schwabe on 7 Feb 2012
The two levers for price are: Demand and Offers. I guess we all agree on a demand for professional computing/programming solutions like MatLab. So what other offers do we see? There are many FEM tools doing what some ToolBoxes do. There is R, MathCad, Mathematica, Maple (basically the symbolic toolbox) etc. But all of them have a different approach and their short commings and advantadges when compared to MatLab. Finally, you might also compare it to Visual Studio and other programming suites. If you take into account, how long dynamic memory appraoch and accordingly programmed matri-vector operations will take you, e.g. in C, and in MatLab it is just writing the math you might conclude: The price is fair.
  1 Comment
Samuel Gray
Samuel Gray on 4 May 2022 at 6:08
...yes, you really need to have a functional equivalent to compare it with.
Otherwise you could compare it to a bare Linux install, a fast Internet connction, a seat with a comfortable cushion and a gallon of fresh coffee.
So evaluating the price is somewhere between those two extremes.

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K E
K E on 27 Feb 2012
Because I switched from university to corporate pricing, Matlab seems expensive, especially if you rack up several toolboxes, but it is indispensible. The file exchange and Answers help soothe the burn, however. Other software packages are similarly costly so I don't single out Matlab.

Raymond
Raymond on 1 Jul 2012
Edited: Wendy Fullam on 12 Nov 2014
Matlab is indeed expensive, but it is not the initial price that irritates me per se. What is inexcusable is that Mathworks do not permit the purchase of additional toolboxes unless you have an up-to-date maintenance subscription (20% of total cost per annum). Should I decide that in 2 years I want to purchase the statistics toolbox, for example, I must start again from scratch if I haven't paid maintenance. I understand that any company needs money to develop their existing software, but I see no reason why they cannot allow me to purchase the older version of a toolbox, appropriate for my licence (e.g. 2010a Stats for 2010a Matlab).
In addition, the extreme parsing of smaller and smaller toolbox functions seems unjustified. For example, why are the Wavelet and DSP toolboxes not simply part of Signal Processing?
I have recently purchased Labview to help with the data acquisition side of things and, while not perfect, NI seem to have a more fair approach to academic licensing compared to Mathworks. The software also seems less buggy. For just over £1000 I can perform real-time operations and employ stand-alone embedded controllers. To do the same in Matlab is at least twice the price.
Dont get me wrong, I think Matlab is an excellent product and I will continue using it, but they seem overly keen to bleed their customers dry. Unfortunately they can get away with this due to lack of direct competitors. It is no surprise that they are currently under investigation for anti-competitive behaviour: http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2012-03-01/mathworks-software-licenses-probed-by-eu-antitrust-regulators.html
  1 Comment
Jan
Jan on 1 Jul 2012
In addition the policy to fix most of the bugs only in following releases forces users to pay the maintenance costs. There is no way to buy a stable version.

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Sean de Wolski
Sean de Wolski on 15 Aug 2011
I think the US$90 that I paid for the student edition was a steal, though I never used it. Within three months I became a research assistant and given the University site license that comes with most of the toolboxes. It's excellent. I believe there was discussion of canceling the site license due to budgetary issues (But hey, We can blow a few million dollars annually on our losing football team !!</rant>). Now that I'm pretty much through with the University and looking for a real job, I don't know if I'll bother to purchase the professional version or not. I think it would probably be worthwhile to my future employer to have me on it since automation is so easy, but who knows.
  1 Comment
Image Analyst
Image Analyst on 8 Feb 2012
"...it would probably be worthwhile to my future employer to have me on it ..." - well that's a moot point now, since you now work at The Mathworks.

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Geoff
Geoff on 5 Jul 2012
Yes, I think it is expensive.
In New Zealand, it's about $2000 per toolbox. The compiler is over $8000. The work I was doing was going to rack up $20k in licensing. I had to make some sacrifices and squeeze that down to about $10k. And this is for a single user only.
If I was to do this all again, I would learn R or Python or just do it in C++. But being a developer, that's probably easier for me than for those without much foundation in programming. Personally, I think MatLab toolboxes should ship without all the fancy GUI crap, and be cheaper for it. I just want the functions. Bells And Whistles Toolbox should be sold separately. =)
At the end of the day, I see MatLab as being useful for research work or prototyping. Once an application grows to a certain size, using MatLab becomes impractical and counter-productive.
  1 Comment
Jan
Jan on 5 Jul 2012
@Geoff: US $?
Why does Matlab get counter-productive from which certain size on?

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John
John on 8 Aug 2014
We also use MATLAB in my old company. We use it along with other expensive programs like CATIA and ANSYS. But we were able to cut back on the license cost by using software asset management tools. My former colleague uses OpenIT ( www.openit.com )for monitoring license usage.He's an IT guy there, he's mainly using it for reporting and facilitating IT chargeback. They say the software also has license harvesting feature. I'm not sure if they have a free program, but i think they have free demo. Anyways the good thing about it is that, it works even without the license manager. Haven’t tried it yet, but i maybe evaluating the Open iT software soon. Will let you know if it works for me.

Christa Elrod
Christa Elrod on 17 Feb 2021
Yes, it is expensive. But the quality of support you will get from this software will justify the cost.

Mary Williams
Mary Williams on 8 Nov 2021
Edited: Mary Williams on 8 Nov 2021
Expensive but very good software support.

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