It seems that we’re facing a trend at the moment: scientific computing, math and visualization software for web browsers. With our interactive web examples we have taken a step into that direction, too: Visitors of our website can change the C# code of our plotting and visualization demos in order to create a new SVG, PNG, JPG or EXE output. This allows people to easily try out the ILNumerics syntax and our powerful 2d and 3d visualization features for .NET. In addition to that, ILView allows a convenient way to interactively explore scenes that are created with ILNumerics.
There are two other web applications that cause a lot of excitement in the scientific community at the moment: The IPython Notebook and Shiny, a tool for creating web applications in R. Let’s have a closer look…
IPython Notebook: “Interactive Computational Environment”
The IPython Notebook adresses the huge amount of Python users in the scientific community. It basically offers a new way for writing papers: It’s a web based editor for code execution, math, text and visualization. Because the IPython Notebook combines all parts you normally need to write a scientific paper, you won’t have to import / export different elements from several domain specific software applications: “Everything related to my analysis is located in one unified place”, explains Philip J. Guo in his blog (http://www.pgbovine.net/ipython-notebook-first-impressions.htm). Once you have finished your paper, you can share your IPython Notebook as HTML and PDF with your colleagues, your professor etc.
Shiny: “Easy web applications in R”
Shiny stands for a different approach: It allows you to implement own analysis into web applications. While IPython obviously adresses Python users, Shiny is based on R, a still very popular programming language among statisticians. What makes Shiny interesting are its interactivity features: Most demos on the Shiny website offer the opportunity to choose input parameters from text fields or drop-downs to dynamically change the output visualization. The code seems to be quite similar to R, so users who are familiar with that language will easily be able to create interactive data visualization applications for their websites using Shiny.
Disadvantages: Performance does matter
Both approaches make web browsers accesable for specific needs of scientific visualization: The IPython Notebook offers a convenient tool to share the results of analytics related research; Shiny allows R developers to publish particular interactive plots on the web.
However, both projects are limited – namely because of technological issues. The level of performance that can be realized with both platforms is restricted: You’ll face that at the latest when you start creating complex 3d scenes with either Python or R. This holds true for the platforms’ web applications, too…
Outlook: Scientific Computing online
For certain purposes web based scientific computing software offers new convenient solutions. But if you want to realize complex interactive 3d visualizations, you still won’t use any of them but an application on your local machine instead.
Our interactive web examples point the direction we want to go. In order to make scientific computing more powerful, we’re working on the next step of our approach: a full WebGL support for ILNumerics. Stay tuned…