FlexPro 8 Professional
8 January 2009
Reviewed by Felix Grant
There are several ways in which a data analysis package can win the hearts of statisticians. One, of course, is to provide tools that aid the particular field in which the user is interested; another is to contain and manage information in a flexible database manner rather than forcing it into a spreadsheet. FlexPro has always done both. The database is its longitudinal loyalty feature, evolving subtly with time, but there is always a crop of tools not to be found everywhere else. The recent release 8 is no exception, offering a particularly strong portfolio of developments in both areas and others besides.
Taking the tool set first, FlexPro continues and extends its detailed attention to signal and other oscillation related engineering applications. Digital filters, counting and order tracking, event isolation, all see significant enhancement while new additions include a power spectral density spectrum type plus analysis objects for signal scaling, loudness and human body vibration effects (whole body and/or transmitted).
As always in FlexPro, facilities provided are meticulously documented against relevant ISO and other standards where appropriate. Moving on to the database, improvements are broadly in usage and security management. Handling of large sets has become more responsive, interlinked object network replication more intelligent, and property management optionally more centralised, all of which produce noticeable productivity benefits in use. Post-hoc extension of a data entity has also been made easier by new commands for appending new series. Managing the integrity of the database is facilitated by new controls for the behaviour of recalculation (calculated results from formulæ and analyses can be stored within the database), updating, write protection, and object by object locking.
Automation continues to develop, with new entities and extension or refinement of old ones. There are changes in the Visual Basic automation model and FlexPro's inboard programming language FPScript, already very capable, has acquired a substantial collection of new or extended functions. Performance gains are again noticeable here, over a number of areas, but particularly from parallelisation, the new 64 bit integer data type, and optimised handling of external data sources. Multiprocessor support (an increasingly important issue, and an indicator for the future awareness of numeric software) produces particularly noticeable advantages in suitably structured tasks, though for many users the other aspects may offer greater gains across a typical data analytic workload. New functions include several that further expand the traditional strength in oscillatory data sets, with detailed analysis of peak and trough anatomies particularly well served – especially in conjunction with improvements in the main tool set. At a user level, the FPScript code editor gets pop up function argument and property prompting and keyword colour coding.
The interface, already a model of ergonomic clarity in its layout, continues to evolve. Documents and worksheets benefit from added flexibility and quick click formatting features, including panes and simultaneous drag and drop. Cursor control and function have gained more sophistication than I can begin to detail here, and link well to upgraded coordinate systems. Housekeeping happens more transparently, removing distraction from the task in hand.
There's plenty more, but in essence: an already good product has added a spread of function and productivity developments as both new content and refinement of existing facility.