How to reduce MatLab license costs

MatLab is by far the most widespread tool for numerical computations. It is used in academics and industry all around the world. A multitude of extensions and tool boxes help you to apply your computations to various domains and to use them for simulation and code generation purposes. In this case, you may well use the Simulink and Stateflow extensions.

However, there is a big obstacle: Licenses are very expensive! Especially if you need to buy several extensions in addition to the base tool, e.g. Simulink, Stateflow and several tool boxes. Since it is not very likely that you can change the pricing strategy of MathWorks, what alternatives are there to paying high license fee costs?

Use cheaper or free alternatives

Yes, there are alternative solutions you can use. Even free ones. Here are the most popular free alternatives mainly for the MatLab core product:



GNU Octave is a high-level interpreted language, primarily intended for numerical computations. It provides capabilities for the numerical solution of linear and nonlinear problems, and for performing other numerical experiments. It also provides extensive graphics capabilities for data visualization and manipulation. Octave is normally used through its interactive command line interface, but it can also be used to write non-interactive programs. Octave has been around since about 1998, or even 1992, depending on how you measure it, and was conceived and initially developed by John Eaton at the University of Wisconsin–Madison to support a course in chemical reactor design.


Screenshot of Freemat

FreeMat is a free environment for rapid engineering and scientific prototyping and data processing. It is open source, available under the GPL license. Freemat has been in development since about 2004, mainly by one person, Samit Basu, with help from other contributors. It is available for Windows, Linux and OS X.



Scilab is a free and open source software for numerical computation providing a powerful computing environment for engineering and scientific applications. Scilab is released under the CeCILL license (GPL compatible), and is available for download free of charge. It is available for GNU/Linux, OS X and Windows XP/Vista/7/8. Scilab is in some ways the worthiest alternative, in terms of raw power, development (mostly at INRIA, France), and add-on packages. It also has a Simulink like extension called Xcos.

You can find a more detailed discussion in this blog post.

Can't use alternatives?

Unfortunately, in practice, there are often reasons why you can’t use alternative solutions: 

  • You have to use MatLab, because it is a company standard or because it is used by customers or partners you are collaborating with.
  • You are using features that are not available in these alternative solutions e.g. features of Simulink or Stateflow.

Limit access to licenses

You can try to reduce costs by limiting access to licenses to a dedicated group of people, allowing only specific people to work with the models.

This solution may be feasible in a few cases, but in most situations it will lead to a certain degree of inefficiency.

Buy used licenses

There are places online like Softcorner where you can buy used licenses for a reduced price. Unfortunately availability varies and often there is a fairly limited amount of licenses available, so you may not be able to find the required amount of licenses when you need them. However, it is worth a try at least.

Use floating licenses

MathWorks also supports floating licenses. In general this seems like a good idea, if you have many users that don't need a license all day. In practice, you often run into the problem, that users can’t get a floating license when they need one, because all of them are already in use. Especially when you have expensive software, you try to keep the number of floating licenses you need to buy as small as possible. The problem is that your users know this. Once they successfully manage to get a license during the day, they tend to not release it back, ensuring that they do not have to wait for a license later. In the end, you risk paying even a higher price compared to named user licenses due to that behaviour.

Use specific tools for specific use cases

MatLab, Simulink and Stateflow are used by people with different roles and different use cases. Testers for example may only be interested in understanding and reading Simulink or Stateflow models or finding differences between them. In such a case a Model Viewer supporting you to visualize, browse and analyse Simulink and Stateflow models in a read-only mode would be sufficient. Only if the user really needs to edit models, would they have to use the expensive MatLab license. Such a Model Viewer has to provide only a small subset of the overall features. Hence you can expect to pay a lower price.

If you want to find out more, click on below picture to check our YAKINDU Model Viewer and our blogpost View Simulink® and Stateflow® models without Simulink®.

YAKINDU Model Viewer

Have anything to add? We would love to hear from you about your experiences with handling licence costs and alternative software solutions – leave a comment and start the discussion!

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Wolfgang Neuhaus ist Vorstandsmitglied der itemis AG.