In a retro mood...

Without a doubt a lot of great new functionality has been added in the latest versions of Mathematica (multiple undo anyone:-)!). Some are covered here.

While searching in Standard Package Compatibility Guide, it came into my mind to make a post about old functionality that it is missing from the current versions.

For instance I understand that the amount of information now contained in the Documentation Center is enormous, but I really miss the good old Mathematica book and the Help Browser of 5.2.

So are there any features, commands, packages and the like which are missing in latest versions of Mathematica? Also is there any functionality that, despite all this evolution, has worsened over the years?

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    $\begingroup$ I don't know if Windows does this still, but I made the switch to Linux a while back and I really miss the menu "Tile Windows Tall" - because I'm the type of guy to open up 12 untitled notebooks when working out a problem and then condense back down when I have it figured out. $\endgroup$
    – Jason B.
    Commented Oct 14, 2015 at 8:19
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    $\begingroup$ "I really miss the good old Mathematica book and the Help Browser of 5.2." - so do I. The tree structure of the docs was quite nice. $\endgroup$ Commented Oct 14, 2015 at 8:30
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    $\begingroup$ The functionality of Mathematica now covers such a wide range that I´m in doubt whether there would be a (single?) Mathematica book to cover this area. At the IMS conference in Prague this January I talked with some people form WRI and was told that there would be a printed documentation of some (key-functions) of Mathematica, e.g. Plot, to figure out the potential of these functions with an enormous number of options. $\endgroup$
    – mgamer
    Commented Oct 14, 2015 at 10:00
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    $\begingroup$ @mgamer I think that what most people miss is not a paper book but the easily navigable tree structure where everything has a fixed place. We do have this (sort of) in version 10 as well, but the UI to access it is not as nice as it was in v5. Overall, however, this is really a very minor "problem" for me, I've gotten quite used to the new documentation. And the search feature was sorely needed for v5 ... $\endgroup$
    – Szabolcs
    Commented Oct 14, 2015 at 10:59
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    $\begingroup$ I really think this sort of question, while interesting and useful, should be a community wiki. $\endgroup$
    – m_goldberg
    Commented Oct 14, 2015 at 12:06

1 Answer 1


Many old p standard packages have been removed, when their functionality was superseded by new built-in functions. As far as I know, all of these packages are still available for download. You can find the download location through the Standard Package Compatibility Guide. For example, the recently discussed Graphics`Colors` package is available here. The link is mention on this documentation page.

I remember when the new Documentation Center was introduced, many people (including myself) really missed the old, well-structured Help Browser. It was easier to navigate, and every page had a dependable, fixed location. That sort of clear-cut hierarchy doesn't seem exist anymore. The Documentation Center follows the new (well, in 2015 maybe not so new) trend of using search instead of table of contents. Each page is accessible through multiple (an in my probably wrong impression, sometimes zero) routes ... I'm no longer confident that there is a dependable fixed location for every page ...

You can see all the different ways to get to a documentation page at the top (sometimes this seems to be missing ...)

enter image description here

In response to all the complaints, WRI included the Virtual Book in one of the 6.0.x point releases, if I remember well. It was simple a table of contents. There was also the Function Navigator. Even though I missed the old v5 Help Browser, I only used he Virtual Book rarely. I did find it useful for finding certain advanced tutorials though, or at least remembering their precise location without having to remember fickle search terms to get to them:

enter image description here

In version 10, the button for the Virtual Book and Function Navigator were removed. The Virtual Book is now converted into a standard page in the Documentation Center, but the full hierarchical table of context is no longer visible on a single page, which is slightly frustrating. See this post for details:

The first location displayed on top of most function pages refers to the location within this table of contents.

The old Help Browser is still included as a function component to support old packages that use the old help system. It does not include the main documentation. You can bring it up using e.g. HelpBrowserLookup["AddOns", "foo"] or by opening the documentation old packages: go to Documentation Center, at the bottom click Add-Ons to bring up the list of installed add-ons, and click an add-on to get to its documentation.

enter image description here

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    $\begingroup$ I don't miss the old help browser at all. I live in the new help system. But I know my way around. My main gripe is that there is currently no real, easily accessible way for new learners to start learning Mathematica like the first 100 pages or so of the old paper manual did. And there are plenty of 'manual bugs' like '@' in search referring to the nearly useless Prefix page, and the very misleading description of the *Form functions as 'only influencing printing, but not calculation'. Both of these errors (and others) have existed for ages, are well known, but still exist. $\endgroup$ Commented Oct 14, 2015 at 14:45
  • $\begingroup$ @Sjoerd At the bottom of the front page there's a Common How-tos link. It looks like it's good for new users. But it's not very noticeable. I think Mathematica might give some hints on what to read when newly installed, but that wouldn't be shown in a school computer lab where many people use it ... $\endgroup$
    – Szabolcs
    Commented Oct 14, 2015 at 15:44
  • $\begingroup$ Thanks for the comments and the very helpful reply. As a small example of worse functionality over the years compare the results in the comment of Oleksandr R. here mathematica.stackexchange.com/questions/97073/… and the post mathematica.stackexchange.com/questions/96985/… and here mathematica.stackexchange.com/questions/96740/… $\endgroup$
    – Dimitris
    Commented Oct 15, 2015 at 13:47
  • $\begingroup$ It seems HelpBrowserLookup and HelpBrowserNotebook are defunct in V13, maybe earlier. $\endgroup$
    – Michael E2
    Commented Feb 10, 2022 at 20:37
  • $\begingroup$ @MichaelE2 Much earlier, but I forgot which version. I'd guess 12, when they added 64-bit support on Mac. $\endgroup$
    – Szabolcs
    Commented Feb 11, 2022 at 8:49

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