MATLAB is a computer program for people doing numerical computation, especially linear algebra (matrices). It began as a "MATrix LABoratory" program, intended to provide interactive access to the libraries Linpack and Eispack. It has since grown well beyond these libraries, to become a powerful tool for visualization, programming, research, engineering, and communication.
Matlab's strengths include cutting-edge algorithms, enormous data handling abilities, and powerful programming tools. Matlab is not designed for symbolic computation, but it makes up for this weakness by allowing the user to directly link to Maple. The interface is mostly text-based, which may be disconcerting for some users.
Matlab is packaged as a core program with several "toolboxes", sold separately. We will only cover the core package. The current version is Matlab 2012a.
The reader of this document should have at least a passing familiarity with linear algebra and be comfortable using computers. In order to be more broadly understood, we will not cover any engineering topics (e.g. signal processing, spectral analysis), though Matlab is commonly used for these tasks. No previous math software experience is necessary, though we will point out important differences between the various packages along the way.
MATLAB is available for many different kinds of computer platforms. A student edition is available from local bookstores for your personal Windows, Macintosh, and Linux systems.