With Matlab’s latest release yesterday (R2011b, a.k.a. 7.13), once again I came across a few undocumented hickups. I have a plain-ol’ Win XP machine and hate to think what users of Macs/Linux (esp. Ubunto) need to go through in each installation. Perhaps the items below might alleviate some of the pain.
Note that on your system you may be unaffected by some or all of the issues below. All these issues have occurred for the past several Matlab installations, and are NOT unique to the new R2001b:
Matlab uses a simple download_agent.jnlp file as its installer bootstrap loader. This is a very small (2KB) XML file that tells your Operating System’s Java runtime engine, which automatically runs JNLP files, which JAR files to download (yes, the basic loader is Java-based).
The hickup I encounter four times a year (two pre-releases and two production releases) is that at least on my system, FireFox downloads the file not as download_agent.jnlp but as download_agent. I cannot then run this file, since it has no file extension. Adding the .jnlp extension manually solves this issue.
Double-clicking the JNLP file then runs the JNLP using the OS’s JRE. After downloading the specified JARs,
com.mathworks.agent.AgentGUI is invoked with a specified URL of another XML file. This second XML file actually contains the list of installer application file URL and some zip files that contain the actually installable files.
The hickup here is that the installer automatically downloads dozens of MB of Japanese-related materials (documentation, translation files etc.) that are irrelevant to me (as well as for most Matlab users). I have nothing against Japanese in general, I just hate my time, bandwidth and disk space being wasted in vain. I can’t do much regarding the first two, but at least I can delete the Japanese installer files after they have been downloaded: install_guide_ja_JP.pdf, archives/MATLAB713_doc_ja.zip, help/ja_JP etc.
Matlab’s installer is smart enough to automatically detect an existing pre-release installation of Matlab, and polite enough to ask me whether to overwrite that location or to install Matlab into a new folder. I often choose the later since I make changes to system files and I do not want them to be overwritten automatically. Unfortunately, the Matlab installer may be too smart: It installs Matlab onto the new folder but prevents running the old pre-release in parallel. In effect, it uninstalled my pre-release without physically removing the files. So while I can still see my modified files in the pre-release folders, I can no longer see them in action. This is a real shame.
A more pressing problem is that the new installation keeps the old Matlab path (which points to the pre-release folders), rather than to the new production folders. This can easily be fixed using pathtool or the main menu’s File / Set path…, but I am guessing that most users would not have easily noticed this issue.
Matlab’s installer copies many user-generated preference files, but unfortunately not some files that are critical to using Java in Matlab, namely librarypath.txt and classpath.txt. I needed to manually copy my changes from the previous version onto the new version’s files.
You could say that this proves (yet again) the need to place librarypath.txt and classpath.txt in a user folder rather than modifying the system files. However, in some cases, particularly when, as in my case, there are numerous start-up folders for different projects, it is often easier and simpler to modify the central system files rather than using and maintaining numerous user copies.
A related issue is the installer’s failure to generate (and copy the contents) of the %matlabroot%/java/patch folder. This is a very important folder for java users in Matlab, since it is automatically included in Matlab’s static classpath (the aforementioned classpath.txt) and any class file placed in this folder will therefore be automatically recognized and available in all Matlab sessions without the need for calling javaaddpath (which has some serious drawbacks). I have a set of Java classes that I always use and the path folder is the perfect place for them. I just need to remember to copy this folder after each installation…
These minor woes behind us, we can start enjoying the new Matlab release. Here’s a candy from the new version: It is a built-in demo of what may be Matlab’s upcoming GUI capabilities, in this case a
Toolstrip. I will explore it in detail in some later post: