3 Best Free Matlab Alternatives

In the world of tech devices, the Apple brand is the Holy Grail and wherever it is mentioned other tech brands usually bow their heads in shame. And same goes for Matlab the undisputed king of the numerical computations niche. This software is loved by both experienced engineers and students alike, saddled with the responsibility of computing numbers, processing images, and data acquisition. Therefore, it’s widespread fame, features and abilities are well known but little do we talk about the cost of purchasing the original software as well as its add-ons and the effect they have on our pockets.

For anyone who does not have the resources to purchase Matlab’s software or the corresponding add-ons you need to handle certain projects, here is some god news for you. There are a couple of matrix language software applications out there on the market that you can easily purchase without punching a hole in your pockets and we will be reviewing three of such alternatives in the coming paragraphs. And here is our list of criteria to consider for the alternatives provided in the list below.

It runs on Windows: the popularity of Windows OS means that most students or people in general will have to run the software on a Windows powered PC sooner or later. So our alternative must run on Windows.

It should be Compatible with Matlab: since Matlab has the first-mover advantage over its competitors, it is important for others to ensure imported and exported files can be used on Matlab and vice versa.
It should have a good User Interface: A seamless interface which is easy to use coupled with a basic command line and other simplistic features will also be considered.

Matlab alternatives


Octave is a free matrix language software application built by GNU engineers with the aim of simplifying computations as well as to provide students with a non-commercial software option to work with. This software is spectacular in many ways because it was basically developed by engineers to be used by engineers; therefore, it cuts out unnecessary fluff and procedures during its use. Using our criteria to review Octave we have:


Octave was built to run on both Windows and Linux OS’s seamlessly and to top this off, the software is totally free on both platforms and can be downloaded from the GNU website or at some engineering online forums.

Also important to this discussion is the fact that Octave is 95% compatible with MATLAB which makes it a great resource for students. Octave functions are declared in the same way as MATLABs’ and it has simple commands for saving and loading matrices and commands that were built for MATLAB. On an unrelated note, Octave works simultaneously with other GNU software applications such as Gnuplot and plplot which makes it capable of plotting diverse graphs and also display images.

Octave’s fast matrix routines, syntax, inclusion of an iterative history, numerous mathematical solutions utilities and its soft learning curve makes it a great alternative to MATLAB


Another contender to the MATLAB throne, known for its high-level computation abilities is Scilab. Scilab is an open source software for numerical computation and provides a solid computing ecosystem for engineering and other scientific computation.

Some long time users of this software application claim that it is quite better than both Octave and MATLAB due to the advanced math operations and engineering analysis it can handle but whether this is true or not, it stands as a testament to its computational abilities as a good alternative to MATLAB both students and working professionals should consider. Reviewing Scilab using our criteria we get:

Scilab takes the compatibility issue a step further for it is compatible on more platform operating systems than the Octave Scilab runs on all Windows operating systems, Linux as well as OS X. The software application can be found and downloaded online from Scilab Enterprise’s official website.

Unlike the Octave which is closely modelled after MATLAB in terms of syntax, Scilab is a little bit different and its functions and commands are declared by using different but simple formats which anyone can easily learn. Scilab takes simulation, design and analysis a step further by including a ‘hybrid dynamic systems modeller and simulator’ for modelling mechanical systems, control systems and other high-level mathematical operations.

Scilab may have some differences from MATLAB but any active user of the software application can quickly learn how to use it as a powerful tool for numerical computation and otherwise which makes it a powerful alternative to MATLAB. Do not forget that it’s also free.


This is another open source environment for rapid engineering and scientific processing that is quite similar to MATLAB in terms of syntax which makes it a perfect alternative to MATLAB. The FreeMat platform was built in MIT as a cheaper alternative to the more commercial numerical computation languages out there and it’s completely free package ensures it comes cheap to students.


Like Scilab, FreeMat works on multiple operating systems which include Windows, OS X, and Linux. As stated earlier, the application is totally free and can be downloaded from the FreeMat official website and other student design and simulation forums.

In terms of compatibility, FreeMat can easily be called the closest clone to MATLAB as it supports approximately 97% of the features in MATLAB which is quite good for anyone looking for something close to MATLAB but cheaper. Its cloned features include support for; all the integer types Matlab supports, dynamic array types, N-dimensional array manipulation , built in arithmetic manipulation of data types, command lines etc. A good knowledge of MATLAB is all you need to start using FreeMat.

The multiple similarities between FreeMat and MATLAB may make it the best alternative software on this list. But there is no denying that it is one of the favourites anyone looking for something really similar should consider using.

Final thought

In conclusion, despite the differences between the above-listed languages and MATLAB, each and every one of these applications has its own merit which makes them viable options for your numerical computations at no cost whatsoever. Students and hobbyists should consider them as perfect alternatives.

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