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Math Software Linux

7 of the Best Free Linux Calculators 289

An anonymous reader writes "One of the basic utilities supplied with any operating system is a desktop calculator. These are often simple utilities that are perfectly adequate for basic use. They typically include trigonometric functions, logarithms, factorials, parentheses and a memory function. However, the calculators featured in this article are significantly more sophisticated with the ability to process difficult mathematical functions, to plot graphs in 2D and 3D, and much more. Occasionally, the calculator tool provided with an operating system did not engender any confidence. The classic example being the calculator shipped with Windows 3.1 which could not even reliably subtract two numbers. Rest assured, the calculators listed below are of precision quality."
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7 of the Best Free Linux Calculators

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  • Useless. (Score:4, Informative)

    by SanityInAnarchy ( 655584 ) <> on Saturday January 30, 2010 @08:38PM (#30966900) Journal

    No maxima? How about kmplot?

    • Re:Useless. (Score:4, Funny)

      by Yvan256 ( 722131 ) on Saturday January 30, 2010 @08:48PM (#30966974) Homepage Journal

      No maxima, but it can do altima and sentra.

    • No dc? What kind of Linux is this guy smoking?

  • They left out RPL/2 (Score:5, Interesting)

    by jdb2 ( 800046 ) * on Saturday January 30, 2010 @08:38PM (#30966904) Journal
    While technically not a "calculator", unless you run it in interactive mode, RPL/2 [] is one of the oldest and most mature of any HP28/48/49/50 style UserRPL [] interpreters.

    What makes it so awesome is its ability to interface with the OS via POSIX compliant commands -- it's almost like using your HP48 as a scripting tool for Unix.Too bad they didn't mention it.

    • I've heard that RPN calculators save keystrokes, but my precalculus book listed RPN and algebraic keystrokes for various problems, and it seemed that the savings was only due to unnecessary keystrokes with the algebraic version. Looking at several examples in that book, I couldn't find one where an efficient user of an algebraic order calculator couldn't do the problems in just as few keystrokes. Could someone give an example of a problem where RPN uses fewer strokes than an algebraic order calculator (incl

      • by jdb2 ( 800046 ) * on Saturday January 30, 2010 @11:04PM (#30967716) Journal

        Could someone give an example of a problem where RPN uses fewer strokes than an algebraic order calculator (including what strokes are needed on the RPN)?

        One big example is continued fractions. For example : 2 INV 2 + INV 2 + INV 2 + INV 2 +...... approximates the square root of 2.

        The algebraic method would involve this unweidly and ugly expression : 1 + 1/(2+1/(2+1/(2+1/(2+1/(......)))))


      • by adonoman ( 624929 ) on Saturday January 30, 2010 @11:10PM (#30967740)
        Any time where the order of operations that you want doesn't coincide with the "natural" algebraic order:

        Algebraic: (2 + 4) * (5 + 6)
        11 keystrokes

        RPN: 2 4 + 5 6 + *
        7 keystrokes

        • by mrcaseyj ( 902945 ) on Sunday January 31, 2010 @12:14AM (#30968010)

          Algebraic: (2 + 4) * (5 + 6)
          11 keystrokes

          RPN: 2 4 + 5 6 + *
          7 keystrokes

          By my count:
          Algebraic: 2 + 4 = * ( 5 + 6 =
          10 keystrokes

          RPN: 2 Enter 4 + 5 Enter 6 + *
          9 keystrokes

          Although it is only a single stroke on this problem, there does seem to be an advantage in keystrokes. I think there would be an additional keystroke saved on each additional sum in parenthesis that you tacked on to the product.

      • For me, it's not so much saving keystrokes as it is minimizing errors and not having to count parentheses. Also, RPN maps better to how I think about a problem than algebraic entry does.
      • by Rich0 ( 548339 ) on Sunday January 31, 2010 @06:38AM (#30969200) Homepage

        One or two others have hinted at this, but I find that RPN just seems much more natural. The fact that you have a stack means that you can attack a problem in almost any order, without really any sacrifice of keystrokes or hacks like the "Ans->" key or memories or whatever.

        Want to start on the outside of a big equation and work your way in? No problem - although you'll have to keep track of a few values on the stack (usually not a big deal unless the expression is very unwieldy). Want to start on the inside and work your way out? That is trivial.

        When I see people working with normal calculators and they need to capture intermediate values I often see lots of rounding and re-entry. With an RPN calculator I can see the intermediate values, and yet keep them at full precision without any need for memories/etc.

        Seeing all the intermediate values often is useful in real-world situations, as well. For example, often you'll run into equations in real life where some value of interest is a sum or product of lots of components (each of which is the result of a short calc). With an RPN calc you just perform each short calc and end up with a stack full of values, and then you hit + or * 10 times or whatever to sum/product the whole list. However, before you do that you can easily look at the list (or just watch the stack collapse and see the values as you use them). This gives you a quick idea of how the various values contribute to the whole.

        When I use infix calculators I find myself having to plan ahead a lot more to do a calculation, or writing out big long strings of math. RPN just fits how I think better.

  • Missing (Score:4, Informative)

    by bcmm ( 768152 ) on Saturday January 30, 2010 @08:40PM (#30966928)

    $ dc

  • 'dc' is the only calculator you'll ever need!

    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by ascari ( 1400977 )

      Desktop calculators are for losers, and here's why:

      Everybody knows that all real engineers use a slide rule.

      In those rare cases where a slide rule doesn't quite cut it you have a perfectly good excuse to go and ask the hot intern three cubicles down for help. Chicks dig guys who can admit a shortcoming, and who dare ask for help when they can't quite figure it out. It's an almost idiot proof way to score, second only to having pictures of nephews/nieces/puppies on your desk. So get yourself a slide rule and

      • Bah, real engineers use an abacus. Quite a bit quicker once you get the hang of it too.
        • Slide rule thanks. I have two. A good one which my dad saved from days past; and a cheap one from (believe it or not) a gift shop, about 10cm long.

    • we all know expr is infinitely faster once you learn how to use it.
  • anything more complicated than adding a few numbers, it's easier to open a spreadsheet than to learn how any particular calculator functions.
    • by bcmm ( 768152 ) on Saturday January 30, 2010 @08:44PM (#30966946)

      anything more complicated than adding a few numbers, it's easier to open a spreadsheet than to learn how any particular calculator functions.

      Or "anything more complicated than adding a few numbers, it's easier to open a calculator than to learn how any particular spreadsheet functions".

      That's really just a fancy way of saying that you are familiar with a spreadsheet, and not with a calculator program.

      • no, it's saying that the interface to most of the calculators is a royal pain in the ass, and most people won't be sure that they've gotten the right answer, because they ARE a royal PITA to use - no two are alike beyond the basics.

        This is a problem in the "real world" as well - nobody uses most of the functions on their fancy non-virtual calculators because it's a real PITA to figure them out.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by drinkypoo ( 153816 )

        That's really just a fancy way of saying that you are familiar with a spreadsheet, and not with a calculator program.

        Maybe it's just a way of saying that he thinks visually instead of mathematically, and finds it more useful to see an entire spreadsheet with notes and information, where he can look at parts of the formula at once.

        I'm math-challenged, and find the spreadsheet easier to use, too. It's not because I know Excel better than bc. I don't really know either worth a shit. It's because I think visually, and not numerically. My hat's off to you if you can think numerically, but I haven't learned how yet.

        Don't be so

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by crazybit ( 918023 )

          My hat's off to you if you can think numerically, but I haven't learned how yet.

          My hat's off if you can write an spreadsheet formula without thinking numerically. As fas as I know you can't define functions geometrically in any of the available spreadsheets.
          Having a spreadsheet implies a graphic way of organizing/presenting the information, but reasonably numerical skills are always necessary for writing functions.

          Also, there is a widely used (some people consider is somewhat of a standard) calculator language called RPL [], supported by many handheld calculators and computer software (i

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        Perhaps at first blush, your reaction might seems right. But it only takes the a slight bit of thought to realize that most calculator interfaces, regardless of OS, mimic those of a physical world calculator - that is to say they don't take advantage of the extended output options of a desktop display and require you interact with numbers in the same archaic way as the physical models. A spreadsheet, on the other hand, allows you to keep all kinds of numbers all over the place for quick reference in addit
    • Or for those who already use the R package, that's also nice. When dc doesn't cut it, I fire up R.

      Also, this never clicked for me, but it seems like a good idea: []

    • They said the same thing about the abacus.

  • Where's DC/BC? (Score:5, Informative)

    by Bananatree3 ( 872975 ) on Saturday January 30, 2010 @08:43PM (#30966942)
    DC [] or BC [] are more than adequate, are already in 99% of the distros out there and are chock full of features!
    • Re:Where's DC/BC? (Score:4, Insightful)

      by drinkypoo ( 153816 ) <> on Saturday January 30, 2010 @08:54PM (#30967020) Homepage Journal

      bc is crippled by the past in classic Unix style. Why does scale default to 0? Because otherwise you break things.

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by Cow Jones ( 615566 )

        bc is crippled by the past in classic Unix style. Why does scale default to 0? Because otherwise you break things.

        alias bc='bc -ql'

      • hoc, the successor to bc, does not have this particular annoyance
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by amRadioHed ( 463061 )

        What does it matter what the default is? Put your preferred scale in your .bcrc file and be done with it.

      • by arth1 ( 260657 )

        The scale defaults to 0 because it's the sensible thing to do, considering that bc is usually called (as part of a pipe) in a shell script that only groks integers.

        If you need a different scale, it's not that hard to set it. Even permanently for your user, or the entire system.

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by John Hasler ( 414242 )

      > DC or BC are more than adequate...

      But they (shudder, moan, recoil in fear) involve the *COMMAND* *LINE*!!!

  • hp48 (Score:5, Interesting)

    by tantrum ( 261762 ) on Saturday January 30, 2010 @08:53PM (#30967002)

    I'm amazed they left out the hp48 emulator. It was an amazing calculator, and the emulator does exactly what it it is supposed to do - everything.

    It did everything a calculator is supposed to do, and it was _almost_ able to boil my coffee.

    After my 10 years working with programming, this is still the environment i love the most. Actually it is probably the only thing i still know the exact location of at all times.

    I love beeing a geek :)

    • Re:hp48 (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Overzeetop ( 214511 ) on Saturday January 30, 2010 @09:40PM (#30967326) Journal

      There was a disturbance in the force when Carly the Horrible 86'd the calculator line at HP, and collective sigh when they came back. I keep a sheet of 1/8" aluminum in the front of my HP48Gx soft case to protect the LCD when it's in there. I can't imagine engineering without it. I fully expect to have it buried with me when I die.

      RPN FTW!

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        I have the 48G. Got it in middle school and still use it. And it spent 10 years being beat to death in my backpack. I remember in high school and college everyone had Ti, pretty much everyone. I remember people would ask to borrow it, couldn't figure out how to add 1+1, then give it back and never ask to borrow it again! It got me through every class in college except for finance (couldn't do Modified Internal rate of return and I went out and bought a HP business calculator that is in a box somewhere

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by dasqua ( 57144 )

      My hp48gx has been my calculator of choice ever since I first got it. Still works fine.

      The benefit of this:
          quicker to use, 1 second startup
          portable, its a physical device
          easily upload results to the PC when needed

      I also use python/SAGE...

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by cruff ( 171569 )

      Here is the X48 emulator home page []. I fire this up when I don't have my real 48SX with me.

  • by Garble Snarky ( 715674 ) on Saturday January 30, 2010 @08:58PM (#30967040)
    I still use the TI89 that I've had for almost 10 years, because to this day I have yet to find a desktop symbolic calculator that satisfies me.

    I use matlab for work, and its command line interface to maple is decent. What I really want, though, is to somehow combine a command line interface with a nice typeset display - visually parsing the results is so much faster that way. Does such a thing exist?
    • Try using actual Maple instead of using it through Matlab. It has a pretty awesome GUI interface that allows you to enter equations either visually (like put down an integral symbol and fill out the fields) or using the command syntax...

        But either way it beautifully renders your math so it looks just like it does on paper. This is the reason I always reach for Maple over any other calculator.

  • Yep, it's "bc". If bc isn't sufficient, it's "bc -l". If even that won't do it, I move to sage.

    And if you're younger than Windows 3.1... GET OFF MY LAWN.

  • by ls671 ( 1122017 ) * on Saturday January 30, 2010 @09:02PM (#30967060) Homepage

    I use bc and I like better than any GUI based calculator. Compiled with readline functionality, it just rocks in my humble opinion:

    ~$ bc
    bc 1.06
    Copyright 1991-1994, 1997, 1998, 2000 Free Software Foundation, Inc.
    This is free software with ABSOLUTELY NO WARRANTY.
    For details type `warranty'.

    man bc for details

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by ls671 ( 1122017 ) *

      I forgot to mention that I use it in scripts too:

      ~$ (echo scale=5 ; echo 22/7) | bc

  • Calculators are useful as handheld devices, but you may as well use an interpreted programming language if you're on a computer. That is particularly true if you consider yourself a Unix user. So my favourites are:

    bc: fast to use, arbitrary precision, and it seems to be universally available
    awk: faster to use when you are performing the same calculation many times over
    python: has a richer library of mathematics functions

  • Emacs Calc (Score:5, Informative)

    by macshit ( 157376 ) <snogglethorpe AT gmail DOT com> on Saturday January 30, 2010 @09:04PM (#30967086) Homepage

    Emacs Calc, i.e. "M-x calc" in Emacs is by far the best calculator I've ever seen.

    Here's the blurb from the manual:

    "Calc" is an advanced calculator and mathematical tool that runs as part of the GNU Emacs environment. Very roughly based on the HP-28/48 series of calculators, its many features include:

    • Choice of algebraic or RPN (stack-based) entry of calculations.
    • Arbitrary precision integers and floating-point numbers.
    • Arithmetic on rational numbers, complex numbers (rectangular and polar), error forms with standard deviations, open and closed intervals, vectors and matrices, dates and times, infinities, sets, quantities with units, and algebraic formulas.
    • Mathematical operations such as logarithms and trigonometric functions.
    • Programmer's features (bitwise operations, non-decimal numbers).
    • Financial functions such as future value and internal rate of return.
    • Number theoretical features such as prime factorization and arithmetic modulo M for any M.
    • Algebraic manipulation features, including symbolic calculus.
    • Moving data to and from regular editing buffers.
    • Embedded mode for manipulating Calc formulas and data directly inside any editing buffer.
    • Graphics using GNUPLOT, a versatile (and free) plotting program.
    • Easy programming using keyboard macros, algebraic formulas, algebraic rewrite rules, or extended Emacs Lisp.

    That list gives you a bit of an idea, but doesn't really capture how just darn cool Calc is; it just seems to do everything.... (The things I particularly value are the vector/matrix operations and the symbolic manipulation operators.)

    It's (default) model is HP-style RPN, except of course with a much larger visible stack, and multi-level undo.

    [You have to be careful tho because recent releases of Emacs come with two calculators -- a "simple" one, which you get with "M-x calculator", and the super incredible one you get with "M-x calc"... (yes it's kind of silly, but as usual with Emacs, there are historical reasons...]

  • the calculators listed below are of precision quality

    To how many significant digits? We need to know what level of precision we're working with.

  • Slightly OT, but if you're a Mac user, I highly recommend the PEMDAS Widget [], which is just that tiny bit more powerful than a typical desktop calculator to make it 100x as useful.

  • SpeedCrunch (Score:5, Informative)

    by Cow Jones ( 615566 ) on Saturday January 30, 2010 @09:15PM (#30967168)

    I've really come to like the SpeedCrunch calculator, which is available as a Debian package, and (according to their website []) also runs on Windows and Mac. It's probably not inteded for scientific calculations, and it can't display graphs, but it has a very simple interface ideal for quick calculations. The tooltip with the current result of unfinished expressions is a nice touch, as is the history of past calculations (session).


  • Great ones (Score:2, Interesting)

    I don't know about those in the article (never heard of any of them), but here's what I use: Emacs M-x calc, maxima and QtOctave. Gnuplot for graphs. Often Google or python shell for quick things, if I'm too lazy to open emacs calc. I'm surprised none of those were mentioned in article.
  • octave in an xterm (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Jeremy Erwin ( 2054 ) on Saturday January 30, 2010 @09:30PM (#30967272) Journal

    what more could you possibly want?

  • On a related note, does anyone know of a good arbitrary precision decimal math library, preferably for Mono/.NET? Everything I've tried seems to crap out on division of numbers in the range of 10^100000. So far I've had to use arbitrary precision integer libraries, then use the old fixed point math hacks that used to be common before CPUs had floating point support.
  • by Enleth ( 947766 ) <> on Saturday January 30, 2010 @09:32PM (#30967286) Homepage

    I prefer the Python interactive shell and GNU Octave [] (or any other Matlab-compatible environment, including Matlab itself) for numerical calculations, Asymptote [] for plots and other methods of data visualisation, Maxima [] when a CAS is in order and LaTeX to turn all the stuff generated by those packages into something readable and publishable.

    Throw in some scripted links between all those tools, a few functions from Peter Acklam's Matlab Utilities [], your favourite function for converting a matrix to a LaTeX table and saving it into a file in a single call, a few exec()-equivalents here and there, and you'll get a rig that auto-regenerates your report/publication/thesis/shopping list/whatever else you might have been doing, in a single run of a single program, should you spot a mistake somewhere deep in the calculations, or a typo in the input.

    For one, I don't think I'll ever understand people who use spreadsheets. And copy their results to the word processor. And then spot a mistake in a formula, fix it and proceed to copy the new, correct results from scratch. And then spot a typo in the data.

    Why biased? Well, I'm studying control systems and robotics. It's all about task automation. Besides, everything in this field involves using Matlab for something, and just about everyone in the academia (the technical side of it, at least) is using LaTeX, so you just kind of get used to using those two for just about anything after a while, and automating everything with scripts.

    Of course, the above assumes somtheing more complicated than a few basic operations in a single line. We're talking about sophisticated calculators here. For simple tasks I'm just using Google []...

  • Exercise (Score:2, Interesting)

    by zogger ( 617870 )

    OK linux calculator and math geeks, here's a question I have wondered about before. This is just for fun, show off your leet skillz. Start with the first released linux kernel, get the size, look at some major releases, etc, do your magic as of today's sized kernel, and give us the best guess in your graph or projection when the kernel will reach or exceed one gigabyte in size, the release date as close as possible.

  • Sage? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by selven ( 1556643 ) on Saturday January 30, 2010 @09:39PM (#30967322)

    Why hasn't anyone mentioned sage yet? It is quite bloated for a calculator (it's intended to rival Mathematica, not MS Calc), but it does plain old arithmetic, calculus, equation solving, factoring and plotting (2d, 3d, 2d/3d implicit, complex, complex implicit) quite well.

  • Anyone know of such a thing on linux?

  • by markdavis ( 642305 ) on Saturday January 30, 2010 @09:46PM (#30967374)

    The Linux calculator we use at work is gtapecalc: []

    It is oldler, but a great business calculator. The best feature it has is the ability to emulate a calculator WITH A PRINTOUT TAPE! So you can see everything you did, edit those numbers, add comments, even print the "tape".

  • And if i want a reverse polish calculator, i would have installed FORTH. I would guess from the text, that extcalc was the best. They could have spared more than one line for each of 7 programs.


    Linux [] Feed @ Feed Distiller []

  • What more could you need? (Acceptable answer: Sage? [])
  • Nothing. I repeat: Nothing beats Qalculate!! (It’s so hot, Firefox’s spell checker suggests “Ejaculate”!)
    If you go any bigger, you “explode” into a math suite, and not a calculator anymore.

    Ignore the silly screenshot with the “button” view. Most calculator software tries to imitate a physical calculator, with buttons and LED displays. Which is just an EPIC FAILure in UI design. This screenshot shows a real usage example of Qalculate!:
    http://navid.radiantempire []

  • octave???
  • for the nerdiest linux topic on slashdot for 2010.

  • Wolfram Alpha [] is not a Linux calculator per se, but it's a calculator you can use while on Linux! :)
  • Seriously. OK, sometimes the expression becomes a few lines long and at some point I'll write it to a file and fire up vim, but that happens rarely.

  • ERm.. (Score:3, Funny)

    by MobileTatsu-NJG ( 946591 ) on Sunday January 31, 2010 @12:45AM (#30968132)

    Uh.. the seven best Linux calculators...? Okay, I take it back, can we go back to the Apple news please?

Reality must take precedence over public relations, for Mother Nature cannot be fooled. -- R.P. Feynman