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Our Linux man calculates some of the best open-source number-crunching tools.

Linux has often been considered an operating system only for techies. While this may have been true ten years ago, it certainly isn’t now. Companies like Systemax now offer low-end systems with Linux pre-installed . Whether you’re a newcomer to Linux or one of the stereotypical techies, Linux provides a number of handy programs for working with numbers.

Spreadsheet users can choose from Gnumeric , part of the GNOME desktop, use the OpenOffice.org spreadsheet , or manage your finances with Divifund .

For the less financially-inclined, you can turn to a number of scientific and mathematics applications, such as the GNOME gcalctool calculator, the KDE calculator, and Qalculate .

While billed as a calculator, Qalculate isn’t technically a calculator program. Instead, it acts as an expression solver. Sure, you can enter simple arithmetic expressions, but Qalculate really shines when it comes to entering more complex expressions. For example, you can enter a simple equation such as x^2 = 4. (This uses ^ to indicate the value x is squared.) Qalculate will respond with x = (-2, 2).

But Qalculate goes far beyond simple equations such as this one. The program comes with a large number of built-in functions, including inverse hyperbolic tangents, derivations, binomial coefficients, and pareto distributions. Qalculate even supports a function for calculating the body mass index.

There seems to be something for everyone, including functions for statistics, geometry, calculus, and combinatorics. To help enter equations, Qalculate includes definitions of the most commonly-used mathematical constants as well. The program includes Euler’s constant, the characteristic impedance of vacuum, as well as the Faraday constant among others. You can also use built-in variables for huge numbers like octillions.

For financial calculations, Qalculate supports 29 separate functions, including payment of an annuity going towards interest, and straight-line depreciation. The program downloads current exchange rates to allow for currency conversions from more currencies than you’d likely ever need. For example, 5.5 Slovenian Tolars come to about 1.8 Icelandic Krona.

I like how the program starts with a small unobtrusive window, a window you can make even smaller by hiding the calculator keypad. The small window also helps Qalculate avoid intimidating those of us, like me, who did not get a doctorate in mathematics. Basically, you just start and enter an equation. You need to use computer programming keys for math symbols that are not available on the keyboard. For example, * is used for multiplication and ^ is for squaring numbers..

Written by Niklas Knutsson, the program can plot the results of an equation in a graph, and you can view a history of the equations and results you’ve entered.

You can download the sources for Qalclulate. You can also download RPMs for Qalculate. You will also need CLN , the Class Library for Numbers. In a neat effort at bridging the major desktop environments, you can download versions for the GNOME or the KDE desktops.

In addition to providing a great program, Qalculate comes with two manuals: one for the GTK (GNOME) version and one for the KDE version. With many free applications, you’re lucky to get any documentation. The fact that Qalculate includes manuals for both the main Linux desktop environments is a great sign and increased my confidence in the program.

Qalculate is not the only Linux program that can help you solve equations, but I found it provides a good, non-intimidating means to get started with mathematics software. –Eric Foster-Johnson

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