When the sixth annual Scientific Computing and Automation Conference and Exposition begins in Philadelphia tomorrow, conferees will be hearing about hundreds of scientific software packages that are now on the market. By contrast, in 1985, when the first conference was held, only a few applications were available for technical users of microcomputers, mostly in the area of data management and statistics.

There were no more than a handful of software packages at the dawn of the so-called microcomputer revolution: primarily spreadsheets, word processors, and database managers, with a smattering of communications packages mixed in. Few scientists used microcomputers in their research, because existing software was too limited in both power and functionality. As the general market for microcomputers expanded, though, more specialized software began to appear.

Specialized scientific software development has taken two forms. Existing general applications have been extended and customized, and completely new applications have been developed, usually...

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