Origin Pro 8 SR4 update
28 April 2009
Reviewed by Felix Grant
Although Origin Pro 8 was reviewed shortly before release, there have been four substantial service releases since and a fifth is on its way. Use across an extended period also reveals aspects which may have been overlooked in the initial fly through. So, 18 months in, a return look seemed in order.
No review covers everything, and several aspects that I sacrificed to headline coverage have since moved up my scale of priorities. One such feature that I ignored as trivial in my original review, but have come to value since it was drawn to my attention, is the provision of 'sparklines'. A sparkline is a small illustrative graphic, designed for use as a character within text, adapted slightly in OriginPro as a minute line graph that adjusts itself to the size of a single holding cell. The cell can be anywhere, but the most immediately accessible value is from placement in a variable header row. Remembering that, while OriginPro has a significant analytic capability its prime function is visual presentation and exploration, these little glyphs can short cut a great deal of alternative work. Briefly, they show the broad pattern of the data (either serially by row number or in relation to values of a designated x variable) in pictorial form without having to specifically set up a graph window. Possible relationships for investigation, gross normality issues, similarity or difference between variables and data sets, changes with time or growth of data set size, can all be spotted in many cases with a quick scan across the top of the worksheet without having to venture into specifics. Double clicking a sparkline opens it out into a separate and editable graph window, which drops back into the single cell (with any changes intact) afterwards. Though I don't have space for detailing them here, a number of facilities (including X-functions) support their use in various ways.
Sparklines are the most intriguing, because dynamic, example of various in cell options, graphic and otherwise. Sample workbooks show, for example, wireframe representations of chemical structure and other reference information atop variables concerning incidence of different compounds. Visual exploration of data relies on maximum modality, which is usefully served by these ancillary descriptor types.Most of the service release improvements, as would be expected, relate to extension, expansion and refinement of existing facilities, but there are useful additions too. A new spectroscopy wizard, for instance, makes baseline/peak analysis more fluent by bringing existing tools under a single convenient umbrella, and LabTalk scripts have acquired (amongst other things) access to ActiveX Data Objects.
LabTalk is also beneficiary of a dramatic execution speed increase. The effect of this varies, of course, with exact usage but is impressive enough to be instantly noticeable even by a casual observer when script control is the dominant component of a run on large data sets with repeated calls to small OriginPro (or Origin C) functions. Among related developments is the inclusion of onboard COM client programming.
Extended integration of OriginPro into the larger habitat is another factor. New file format import filters, including Igor Pro, are accompanied by various enabler enhancements. Data held in Excel has always been easy to reach, but gains subtlety in handling and (where the Excel 2007 is installed) COM access to version 2007 workbooks. All of which should offers most users at least one good reason to update, and may be a tipping factor in decisions to adopt.Advance specifications for the upcoming SR5 promise further development along the same lines, with additions to include quick exploratory FFT and extended mathematical tools.