The last couple of days, I have been learning to use Maxima, a computer algebra system. I haven't really used a symbolic computer algebra system for years. I used Maple the first two years when I studied math, but after that, I never really felt that I needed it. When getting my computer science degree, that was true, but now that I am doing bioinformatics I do a lot more math than I used to.
A couple of colleagues use Mathematica, but I am too cheap for that, so I went looking for an open source alternative. I did that a few years ago, but didn't find anything I like (I even tried Maxima back then, but wasn't impressed at the time). Then, earlier this week, one of the post docs at BiRC was using wxMaxima, a GUI wrapping the Maxima system, and it looked really nice, so I decided to give it another try. This time, I'm more impressed. I'm not really sure if it is because my maths skills have improved, or just that the GUI makes it much nicer to work with, though.
Now, I don't know Mathematica and it has been ages since I used Maple, so I don't know how it compares with those. I would imagine that its feature set is limited compared to those, but I do not really need that complicated mathematics, so I doubt it is something that will be a problem for me.
I don't imagine that I will ever do any serious programming in Maxima, though. I will probably only use it to solve a few equations here and there and leave the serious data analysis to R and my numerical computation tasks to Octave or C++ with GSL.