A Brief History

A first version of the tool (mandtool) used to generate the images presented here on this web site was developed in the late 80s at the University of Karlsruhe, Germany. At this time the faculty for operating systems got a brand new workstation model, a Sun 4 with a high resolution color display. All regular work was done on older Sun 3 workstations, so this new model was just used as a file server.

As an evening project I just wanted to play with the graphics library (SunView) to explore the color capabilities. And what else can be better used to work with colors than visualizations of the mandelbrot set. As an evolution of those experiments the first version of the mandelbrot browsing and coloring tool (mandtool) came into life. It was a C program following some limitations present those days. The hardware only supported 256 concurrent colors. The iteration depth was limited to 65535 and the calculation precision was limited by the traditional 32 bit double floating point values, which allows a magnification of 1e13.

Nevertheless there was a much more relevant limitation: the processing power. Although only 16 bit integers where used, some images took about 4 weeks to be calculated. Regardless of those restrictions, or better, just because of those hardware limitations a colleague (Heinz Wolf) and me invested in dedicated algorithms to map the naked iteration values to colors observing the limit of 256 different colors. The results were very appealing and hit all the images we had seen so far.

I was very surprised to find my old software and parts of the images still be available in the web at a mirror of the former spanky web site. But I think nobody knows anymore what SunView is. And once again it is proven: the web never forgets.

After leaving the university I always wanted to port this program to Linux and the X window system, but one year passed after the other, and nothing was done. In the meantime Java arised and got popular and I found new images of the mandelbrot set in the web, which were still quite boring. So I decided to learn Swing by porting the tool to Java. In winter 2008/09 a Java version of the old processing and browsing framework has been built, using the features of todays hardware, but sharing the coloring methods and diving areas from the past.

The result are over 25,000 new images, that feature surprising views into the border of the mandelbrot set. Just to summarize some key points, to compare against the possibilities of the 80s: Iteration depth up to 400,000,000 and an unlimited magnification, thanks to the GNU Multiple Precision Arithmetic Library. So far the deepest image areas feature a magnification of 1e90. Surely, not both, high magnification and high maximum iteration depths, at the same time. And again, calculation times of a month and more have been reached as before.

Basically the browsing tool is a standalone Java program, but I've done some adaptations, so it can also be run as a Java applet in the web browser.

Latest news and updates can be found on the Mandelbrot Explorer page on facebook.

But enough said, enjoy browsing unexplored depths and views of the mandelbrot set.

Have fun
Uwe Krüger