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Evaluation of Graphics Packages for PCs

Background to Evaluation

The University of Liverpool has been running Stanford Graphics on the PC Managed Network Service since 1994. This package had been recommended by the IUSC Graphics Working Party in the AGOCG Technical Report 22. Unfortunately, the suppliers of Stanford Graphics, Visual Numerics, decided in 1996 that it would no longer support or develop the package. Therefore, there will be no 32-bit version of Stanford Graphics for our NT service. [Note that Stanford Graphics does run on the current NT service in 16 bit mode but there is no guarantee that it will continue to run on future versions of NT.]

An evaluation of Graphics Packages for PCs and the Apple Macintosh was undertaken by the Graphics and Multimedia Group at Edinburgh Computing Services on behalf of AGOCG. Their findings were published in AGOCG Technical Report 34 in August 1997. It was recommended in this report that Deltagraph should be adopted as the approved graphics package, with the rider that Origin would be a contender if a suitably competitive pricing agreement could be reached.

A favourable CHEST deal for Deltagraph has been made available [£500 to join the SPSS Academic Partners Scheme and thereafter £40 a copy] but, in spite of that, we decided it was necessary to perform an evaluation even though the AGOCG report was only published last August. We had some misgivings about the technical capabilities of Deltagraph, its integration in the NT environment and especially its long term future after the recent takeover by SPSS. We also noted that a new version of Origin has been released since the report was published.

After a close examination of the tables of features in each package, given by the Edinburgh report, we still did not feel absolutely confident that the technical capabilities of Deltagraph would satisfy the scientists and engineers in our community. We therefore decided we would extend the tables so that they were more comprehensive and had more technical entries, thus giving us a better basis for making our decision.

Although the products under evaluation at Edinburgh were all tested using Windows 3.1, Windows 95 and Windows NT, we were specifically interested in seeing how they performed in the Windows NT 4.0 environment.

Deltagraph was recommended by Edinburgh as a suitable solution for both the PC and the Apple Macintosh. Since we were not necessarily interested in a cross platform solution, we needed to assess how this factor may have influenced their evaluation.

We were very concerned about the intentions of SPSS, regarding future support of Deltagraph for several reasons. We have now had two previous experiences where a well-established technical graphics package (Cricket Graph and Stanford Graphics) has been taken over by a large company and there has been no further development of the product. Also, SPSS own Sigmaplot which is another candidate in our evaluation. This fact has led to some speculation in the HE community that the two products may be merged.

After some correspondence in the Chest-Uniras list on the intentions of SPSS, the Educational Sales consultant at SPSS, in a recent mailing on the future of Deltagraph, forwarded to the list, said "We would like to reassure you that SPSS will be continuing to support this product. However there are no immediate plans to develop Deltagraph and I cannot give you any guaranteed answer as to whether it will eventually be incorporated into another product."

On one SPSS web page, http://www./ (March 1998), it is claimed that "Sigmaplot for Windows and Deltagraph for the Macintosh are the premier graphing tools on the market today". This seems to indicate that SPSS considers Deltagraph to be more of a Macintosh product than a Windows product. It is therefore possible that SPSS will develop Sigmaplot for Windows in preference to Deltagraph for Windows. Thus, bearing in mind both statements from SPSS, we are uncertain about the long-term future of Deltagraph on the Windows NT platform.

One of the main contenders in the evaluation, Origin, has just been released in a new version which is specifically written for and is only available for Windows 95 and Windows NT. Origin has a well-established reputation amongst the scientific community and was chosen in preference to Stanford Graphics in 1994 by some academic institutions, despite an existing CHEST deal for Stanford Graphics

Due to the aforementioned uncertainties regarding Deltagraph and the new version of Origin which has appeared only recently, we felt it would be worthwhile carrying out an evaluation focussed on our specific needs. Clearly, there will be many other HE sites with similar problems to ours and therefore we have offered our report to the community via AGOCG.

Note that, since no further development is planned for our Windows 3.1 service, we have decided to continue with Stanford Graphics on that service and not to replace it.