Evaluation of Graphics Packages for PCs
Candidates for Evaluation
The recent evaluation by Edinburgh for AGOCG (Technical Report 34) looked at the following products for PCs:
Microsoft Office (Excel and Powerpoint combined)
We immediately rejected the first three packages since they obviously did not cover the range of facilities required in a technical graphics package, according to the AGOCG report.
We decided to add a package, not previously considered, to our list. This is Grapher, which has been developed by Golden Software who are the makers of Surfer and MapViewer. Surfer has excellent facilities for creating 3D surfaces and contour maps - we purchased 10 copies of this package for running on the PCMNS in 1996. We have also been involved with MapViewer at the request of the Geography Department and we have established a good relationship with Geomem who are the UK agents for Golden Software.
We obtained Deltagraph for less than a month on a sale or return basis from Clecom. We were sent the manual as well, which was very helpful for the purpose of evaluating the software. The software was stored on 7 floppy disks.
Deltagraph has an impressive range of chart types. There is a Chart Advisor which, when the datasets that are to be plotted have been selected, suggests suitable chart types. The package has comprehensive facilities for the editing of a graph or chart and it allows the effects of any change to be previewed before they are applied - this was seen as a useful feature. There is a wide range of file formats for import/export.
Deltagraph also has slide-show facilities but these are limited and we think that users would continue to use Powerpoint for presentations.
Deltagraph does not have a very impressive range of curve fitters or mathematical functions and does not include the ability to make statistical comparisons, easily.
We noticed that Deltagraph allows a double y and double x axis but it does not have the facility to add more axes. Also, it is not possible to add more than one graph type to the original graph.
We are rejecting Deltagraph outright for three good reasons. Firstly, there are no tooltips, when running on Windows NT and this is an acknowledged feature of their NT version. Secondly, we found that various parts of the picture changed colour, for no obvious reason, and it was a cumbersome procedure to rebuild the picture. Thirdly, there seemed to be no consistency in the way the package chose colours, line thicknesses etc for different graph types. The initial picture, with default values selected for the chart items was frequently disappointing. We also found it difficult sometimes to pick items on a graph. All of these features would immediately alienate a large proportion of our graphics users.
A demo version of Sigmaplot was downloaded from the SPSS web site - this prevented us from creating any print outs, export files, graph templates so we were not able to test the package completely.
Sigmaplot has been a popular package for a number of years and it was easy to see why. It is a simple, intuitive, friendly package, with excellent help facilities and tutorial, but, at the same time, it does not take long to find out there are many features to satisfy most of our requirements. The fact that its interface is not dissimilar to Stanford Graphics, when creating a graph or chart, is in its favour.
Sigmaplot has a good range of statistical features, curve fitters and mathematical functions. It also has good facilities for editing a graph. It has an algorithm to generate a 3D mesh from a set of random (X,Y,Z) points and so it would be possible to quickly generate a contour map from such data, if necessary. We already possess Surfer which has more sophisticated meshing algorithms so this feature in Sigmaplot is not considered to be very important.
Sigmaplot does not have the full range of chart types that some of the other packages have but most of the ones that are missing are the more esoteric types.
When starting Sigmaplot, a notebook consisting of a worksheet and a graph page is opened. This structure can be inflexible - for instance, it is not possible to associate two worksheets with the same graph. Another poor feature of Sigmaplot is that there are no facilities for importing images.
A demo version of Origin was downloaded from the Microcal web site. All the features of Origin were present in the demo version but it expired after 7 days which meant it had to be recreated for further testing.
Origin has an excellent range of graphs and charts and has by far the best range of curve fitters, statistical reporting and mathematical functions. It has two algorithms for creating 3D meshes.
Origin has no slide show facilities and there are few formats for importing images.
The main drawback of Origin is that it is expensive. Also, it is not as easy to use as some of the other packages. The Help pages often give unnecessary details and consequently are difficult to follow.
On contacting Geomem, we were sent two floppy disks which contained a demo version of Grapher. Although it appeared to cover most of the functions required and it was fairly easy to use and had good help facilities, it was reluctantly decided not to consider this package for a proper evaluation since it had a very limited range of chart types.