AGOCG Technical Report
Evaluation of Graphics Packages
University of Edinburgh
Whilst every care has been taken to ensure accuracy the author can take no responsibility for decisions taken based upon this reports contents.
|Graphics & Multimedia Group||Phone: +44 (0) 131 650 4980|
|Edinburgh University Computing Service||Fax: +44 (0) 131 650 6552|
|James Clerk Maxwell Building||URL: http://graphics.ed.ac.uk|
|The Kings Buildings|
|Edinburgh, EH9 3JZ|
Copyright © Computing Services, University of Edinburgh 1993,1994,1997
This document is made available subject to the condition that it shall not, by way of trade or otherwise, be lent, resold, hired out or otherwise circulated without the permission of AGOCG and the University of Edinburgh except and in so far as it may be copied for use within UK higher education for the normal business of the organisation. Where any part of this document is included in another document due acknowledgement is required.
The use of registered names, trademarks etc. in this material does not imply, even in the absence of a specific statement, that such names are exempt from the relevant protective laws and regulations and therefore free for general use.
Introduction and Background
During 1996 it became apparent that Computer Associates were no longer supporting Cricket Graph which had for some time been the recommended technical graphics package for Apple Macintosh users in the UK Higher Education sector. Clearly this was a most unsatisfactory situation; a support-less Cricket Graph could no longer be recommended. A re-evaluation of todays suitable Apple Macintosh compatible graphics packages was imperative, with the ultimate aim of securing a CHEST site licence deal for whichever package(s) would be chosen as replacement(s) for Cricket Graph. This evaluation has been performed by the Graphics & Multimedia Group at Edinburgh University Computing Service on behalf of the Advisory Group on Computer Graphics (AGOCG).
The selection of packages to be evaluated was influenced by the perceived multiplicity of Apple Macintosh computers available to Staff and Students in the UK Higher Education community. Packages requiring a very high hardware specification could not be included since such computers were deemed to be few and far between. Also, to be included a package had to exist in a version capable of being mounted on a Network Server and being run from client machines of differing specifications, as well as being mounted and run from standalone machines. The Macintosh machine allocated for the evaluation exercise was obtained on loan from a Computing Services student laboratory - an LC III with 12Mb of memory , 80MB hard disk and 14" Colour Display, running Apple System 7.5.3 - and is thus typical of machines expected to run the selected software in the UK Higher Education community. The evaluation was delayed initially owing to a hardware fault, and further delays were caused by difficulties in obtaining evaluation copies of some of the packages. Even so the evaluation has been completed within the timescale originally agreed.
Package Requirements and Functionality
A comparative Information and Facilities Matrix was created to demonstrate the hardware, system and user environment demands of any package to be included in the evaluation ( Appendix Ia). The matrix was based on the General Information Matrix included in (Ref. 1), the relevant parts of which publication are included as Appendix II of this document. Extra sub-sections were included in the matrix in order to comment on the level of "user friendliness", the quality of accompanying documentation, the level of support offered by the publisher during the evaluation period, and the packages estimated cost to Educational Institutions.
A companion matrix was created to demonstrate the data-driven functionality of any package to be included in the evaluation (Appendix Ib). The matrix was based on the Data Driven Graphics Facilities Matrix included in (Ref. 1), the relevant parts of which publication are included as Appendix II of this document.
The areas of functionality within which the evaluation sought positive responses were
Data Handling Facilities
2-Dimensional Data Display
3-Dimensional Data Display
Other Display Options
Other Chart Facilities
Chart Object Attributes
Since the purpose of the evaluation was to recommend a successor to Cricket Graph the aim was obviously to identify packages which surpass what Cricket Graph provides in these areas of functionality. As a consequence Cricket Graph was included in the Information and Facilities matrices for comparison purposes.
Package Selection and Procurement
The UK_Mac_ademic and Mac_Supporters electronic mailbase lists were used to conduct a poll of a number of UK Higher Education sites where Apple Macintoshes are available to Staff and Students. The following packages emerged as being most commonly supported by a number of these sites:
Microsoft Office (Excel 5.0 & PowerPoint 4.0)
Microsoft Works 4.0b
Claris Works 4.0
KaleidaGraph 3.0.8 - from Synergy Software
DeltaGraph 4.0 - from Delta Point
SigmaPlot 5.0 - from Jandel Scientific Software
Further perusal of the mailbase lists indicated that another package could also be a candidate, so
was added to the list.
Procuring the Microsoft and Claris products was a simple matter of upgrading software already available at Edinburgh to their latest published versions. Cherwell supplied pro Fit within two days of the initial request. Grateful thanks are due to Chris Whitaker of CHEST for his diligent pursuit of Synergy, Delta Point and Jandel who were each, for some time, somewhat reluctant to respond to requests for an evaluation copy of the latest Macintosh version of their products.
Appendices Ia and Ib present an easy to view comparison of the requirements and capabilities of the selected packages as derived from running them and from perusal of their accompanying documentation. Where applicable all matrix entries were tested to verify claims in the documentation. Every effort has been taken to present correct information as at end-December 1996, although comments on "ease of use" and "documentation" are necessarily subjective.
All of the selected packages offer a spreadsheet-like data input facility, and will also accept text files containing space-separated, comma-separated and tab-separated lines of data. All except pro Fit will also accept data in an external proprietary format such as Excel. The data can be sorted or transformed by applying in-built or user-defined transformation functions. Selected data can then be displayed by choosing from a menu of scientific and/or business graph types or possibly by applying a curve fitting algorithm. All of the packages offer a "tools palette" so that you can add extra drawing features, change colours and/or line styles, add annotation, etc. You can save a template copy of the format and style of a graph display for future use thus avoiding having to rebuild it each time it is required.
This package offers a comprehensive spreadsheet and slide presentation facility including good graphics displays. Excel offers almost as wide a range of 2-dimensional displays as Cricket Graph and surpasses it in enabling 3-dimensional bar, column and surface displays, but contouring facilities are not available. PowerPoint adds a powerful slide presentation capability. The amount of data Microsoft Office is capable of handling is limited compared with the more dedicated graphing packages. Despite being generally easy to use the package exhibits somewhat inflexible graph editing capabilities, especially those concerned with axis format and labelling. Microsoft Office is cheap to purchase, but relatively expensive to run in terms of memory occupancy and disk space consumption. One comprehensive manual covers both Macintosh and Windows versions of the package.
This package is a composite featuring word processing, database management, graphical display and slide presentation. It is similar in functionality to Microsoft Office but offers less in the variety of possible 2-dimensional display formats, specifically there is no contouring, nor is there any 3-dimensional display capability at all. Again the amount of data Microsoft Works is capable of handling is limited compared with the more dedicated graphing packages. Its ease of use is detracted from by these limitations in functionality. Microsoft Works is cheap to purchase, but relatively expensive to run in terms of memory occupancy and disk space consumption. The manual is specific to the Apple Macintosh implementation.
Like Microsoft Works, this package is a composite featuring word processing, database management, graphical display and slide presentation. Its functionality is so similar to Microsoft Works there is little to choose between them, and again there is no contouring nor 3-dimensional display capability at all. Again the amount of data Claris Works is capable of handling is limited compared with the more dedicated graphing packages, and its ease of use is detracted from by its limitations in functionality. Claris Works is cheap to purchase, but relatively expensive to run in terms of memory occupancy and disk space consumption. A very slim manual covers both Macintosh and Windows versions of the package.
Surprisingly for a such an otherwise competitive package in the area of graphical display of scientific data KaleidaGraph offer only 2-dimensional display options, and even these are limited. A disturbing feature on data entry is that the default data sheet is only 3 columns wide and 128 rows deep, and it is not obvious how to expand that without recourse to the manual. Once that problem is overcome, however, the data entry capabilities and capacity are extensive, and the package is quite easy to use. Display editing facilities are very good, although the ability to add labels to data points is limited to line, scatter, pie and bar charts. Re-drawing after picture modification is quite fast. The manual is comprehensive and covers both Macintosh and Windows versions of the package.
KaleidaGraph could not be assessed by running it from a client Apple Macintosh because it refused to be mounted on a Novell server.
This is the most comprehensive graphics display package; there are very few negative entries under DeltaGraph in the information and facilities matrices. Only 3-dimensional histogram and combined surface/contour are missing from a huge list of supplied options in the Chart Menu (which can be displayed by name or by icon), and there is even a Chart Advisor to suggest an appropriate scientific or business chart option given the data selection you have already made. Functions used to create Data columns are associated with those columns, consequently their contents can be recalculated at the touch of a button if there are any dependent source data alterations. A data entry sheet may have many pages, but only one of them can be "in view" at a time, although its capacity is large at up to 256 data sets each of up to 32000 points. Display editing facilities are excellent, and re-drawing after modifications is fast. There is also a full slide show production facility. The package comes with a large on-line folder of sample files which can be used to demonstrate technical and business chart displays and curve fitting. One comprehensive manual covers both Macintosh and Windows versions of the package.
Like KaleidaGraph this scientific graphing package is surprisingly short on the availability of 2-dimensional display options compared with Cricket Graph - histograms are included but area and polar graphs are not - and in the 3-dimensional display list only scatter and surface plots are offered. Other functionality is very good as in most other packages. In general the package is quite easy to use, and there is an excellent all-in-one window where modifications to the various attributes of the graphic display can be specified. However, after display editing re-drawing is painfully slow since the whole screen appears to be redrawn, the package even traverses the entire tool palette window. No means was found to add a frame around a picture and modify the "background" colour/texture.
This package for the analysis and display of scientific data will delight the serious technical user who enjoys reading technical documentation with few examples, and writing special functions to display graphically. Pro Fits window menus are relatively easy to understand, however in default use the screen is cluttered with windows - data, graph, results, preview, tools palette - or so it appears on a 14" screen.
The normal user will be irritated at the dearth of options available by default at the top level of the standard display menu. To obtain pie and bar charts, histograms, contour plots and 3-dimensional plots requires compilation of the relevant external module, linking the compiled module into a library, thus making it available in a sub-menu list. The manual has a full explanation about external modules but nowhere does it mention the availability of the source code for these, and other, extra chart types in a supplied on-line folder. In any case you must have a Power Macintosh to obtain any sort of 3-dimensional plot. Data handling capacity is immense, graphic display editing facilities are good and re-drawing after modification is fairly fast.
Conclusions and Recommendations
The purpose of this evaluation exercise was to find a graphics package for Macintosh systems which surpassed Cricket Graph in its provision of facilities. Principally this meant seeking packages offering enhanced data handling., more diversity in the range of 2-dimensional graph types, inclusion of contouring facilities and 3-dimensional graph types, and enhanced freedom in determining the appearance and presentation of the graphics images produced.
Whilst Microsoft Office, Microsoft Works and Claris Works are all easy to use and are relatively cheap to purchase they are each essentially Spreadsheet packages with charting facilities added, rather than data driven graphics display packages as such. Overall they do not offer much, if any, enhancement in the range of facilities offered. Especially they lack contouring capability.
KaleidaGraph appears to offer little or no advance over the functionality Cricket Graph offered. Especially there is no contouring or 3-dimensional display capability. A network version could not be loaded on our Novell server.
SigmaPlot is very expensive, both in price and in memory requirements at run-time. Despite having an excellent single window for graph attributes modification, consequent re-drawing of the display is very slow. Also the limited range of graph menu types is disappointing; again contouring is absent and the 3-dimensional display options are few.
Pro Fit is for the serious technical user who enjoys programming to provide an extended range of graph types. The "average" user will miss the provision of some of the usual graph types in the standard menu and will not appreciate having to compile functions and add them to a library in order to make available those graph types other packages provide as standard menu options. The requirement to have a Power Macintosh for any 3-dimensional display is also a possible deterrent. Pro Fit's purchase price is expensive.
DeltaGraph offers a huge list of graphic display options, only 3-dimensional histogram and combined surface and contour drawing are missing. It also provides slide show facilities. Its display editing is simple to use and consequent re-drawing is very fast. Given the tremendous range of functionality it offers it is easily the best and most cost-effective of the packages surveyed.
It is recommended, therefore, that DeltaGraph should be adopted by CHEST as the approved graphics package for use on Apple Macintosh computers in the UK Higher Education community.
Thanks are due to:
AGOCG for funding this evaluation;
Chris Whitaker (CHEST) for acquiring the packages not already available in Edinburgh;
Roy Middleton for general guidance;
Alex Nolan, Francis van Millingen and Richard Bacon for their previous work on which the matrices in this report are based;
Roy Middleton and Francis van Millingen for their assistance, proof reading and comment in the compilation of this report.
(Second edition, November 1994).
Richard Bacon, Alex Nolan, Francis van Millingen
University of Edinburgh
Ia. General Information Matrix
Ib. Data Driven Graphics Facilities Matrix
Extracts from (Ref. 1) including explanations of the matrices of Appendices Ia and Ib