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This document is aimed at people who are reasonably at home using a computer, and who want to solve a particular graphics problem. It should also be useful for advisors and consultants who have to help other people solve graphics problems.

The Graphics Revolution

The last decade has seen the microcomputer move from a games machine to an essential tool for analysing data and presenting reports. For the same reasons - increasing power, lower cost, more software - the scientific workstation has become ever more widespread, and the advent of X Windows, the availability of relatively cheap graphics terminals, and the widespread availability of graphics terminal emulators for PCs, have also extended the range of functionality of mainframe graphics software.

In fact, there is now an embarrassment of riches in both hardware and software: things are changing so fast, particularly on microcomputers, that today's top-of-the-range offering is tomorrow's museum piece. The task of matching function and capability to requirement, however, changes little - and the purpose of this overview document is to aid both user and adviser in achieving a satisfactory balance of hardware and software on one hand with the desired result and available resources on the other.

Rising Standards

Our expectations have changed with the improvements in microcomputers, workstations and graphics software: we expect lectures and presentations to have machine-produced OHP material and handouts, and the production of colourful 35mm slides is not only simple, it is a growth industry.

The essential elements of good design do not change much, however. The presence of a feature in a package does not mean that the feature must be used in every slide or overhead. Nor does good design imply good content - beautifully presented rubbish is still rubbish!

Increasing Cholce

It is increasingly common to find that graphics packages will read the formats of other packages, even those running on completely different machines. There are also conversion packages which allow common file formats to be exchanged between different machines. Word processing (WP) packages and Desk Top Publishing (DTP) packages are becoming more versatile in the graphics formats they accept, which may lead to a situation in which there are actually very few differences between packages in terms of their functions and the final choice comes down to personal preference. Such differences between individual preferences should not be ignored!

The choice of output device is also growing, particularly for producing colour. 35mm slide production from computer packages is not now a luxury. Colour PostScript printers are now used for producing coloured OHP material, rather than plotters which are almost exclusively used in scientific and structural design and analysis applications. The interaction of computers and video film is becoming increasingly common, but we deliberately exclude video production in this edition.

The methods of bringing data into charts have also widened, from the simple import of plain text files, through reading database formats, to the 'hot links' of, for example, 'Dynamic Data Exchange' (DDE) in Windows 3 or integral spreadsheets - in which a change in one document is automatically passed through to another. For some applications, an active link between data and graphics package is vital, especially where the same sort of chart will be drawn regularly.

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