MATLAB is a numerical computing environment and programming language. Created by The MathWorks, MATLAB allows easy matrix manipulation, plotting of functions and data, implementation of algorithms, creation of user interfaces, and interfacing with programs in other languages. Although it specializes in numerical computing, an optional toolbox interfaces with the Maple symbolic engine, allowing it to be part of a full computer algebra system.
Short for "matrix laboratory", MATLAB was invented in the late 1970s by Cleve Moler, then chairman of the computer science department at the University of New Mexico. He designed it to give his students access to LINPACK and EISPACK without having to learn Fortran. It soon spread to other universities and found a strong audience within the applied mathematics community. Jack Little, an engineer, was exposed to it during a visit Moler made to Stanford University in 1983. Recognizing its commercial potential, he joined with Moler and Steve Bangert. They rewrote MATLAB in C and founded The MathWorks in 1984 to continue its development. These rewritten libraries were known as JACKPAC.
MATLAB was first adopted by control design engineers, Little's specialty, but quickly spread to many other domains. It is now also used in education, in particular the teaching of linear algebra and numerical analysis, and is popular amongst scientists involved with image processing.