VISUALISATION / GRAPHICS
4 January 2011
Reviewed by Felix Grant
With the latest incremental version update (8.1 to 8.5, now at service release 1), OriginLab’s increasingly versatile data graphics package sees useful improvements and new developments in a number of areas. Most of them are common to both Origin and OriginPro, though the 2D FFT Filter is restricted to the Pro version.
One, perhaps apparently peripheral to the core function at first sight, but valuable to scientific users as part of a thorough documentary regime quite apart from straightforward communication, is embedding of external OLE dynamic objects. This is primarily aimed at MS Office users bringing over their material from Word or Excel, but when explored works well for every supply application I tried – from graphics programs through PDFs to live material being processed in other data analysis packages.
Particularly beguiling is having live, editable equations in the same page as plots – Design Science’s MathType, and a couple of other third-party equation editors with equal simplicity; OpenOffice’s formula tool with a bit of fiddling, but it can be done. A single button on the Tools toolbar can be clicked and held to open a choice of Equation, Word, Excel or generic Object pick list insertion; when simply clicked once it defaults to the most recent selection.
On the analysis front, OriginPro’s ‘gadgets’ (themselves introduced at the last upgrade) acquire new facilities including statistics extraction within or without an arbitrarily selectable region of interest. The region can be rectangular or (particularly valuable) elliptical, or even flipped back and forth between the two. Results can be exported on the fly to worksheets for presentation, examination or further analysis. Also new in the line up is a gadget to display derivatives (to various orders) of a fitted curve over a chosen independent variable range.
Curve fitting itself, at any level of real exploratory complexity, benefits enormously from the Fitting Function Builder. This is a new productivity wizard (additional to the Fitting Function Organizer) which takes in hand and structures the process of designing, editing and organising bespoke data fits through a simple dialogue interface. It includes both freedom to generate from scratch and calls on Origin C, LabTalk scripts or external DLLs.
Visualisation, Origin’s central mission, a real time and irritation saver is the option to plot a three-dimensional surface directly from the worksheet without the chore of first ‘gridding’ it through transform to a true matrix of regularly spaced x and y coordinates. Quick and easy application of transparency and gradient fills to a plot enhance the modality and communicative vocabulary available, as does the arrival of colour mapping in waterfall plots for values on the y and (also new) z axes. Multiple intersecting surfaces, with structure and colour assigned from separate matrices, continue this theme. So does multicolumnar access to worksheet data for 2D plot labelling.
Usability has always been an important factor in graphics-oriented tools, particularly those in the exploratory mode on which OriginLab are increasingly focusing their attention. I’m glad to report that version 8.5 remains very pleasurably fleet footed, even on an Atom processor web book. Strong rumours suggest that a full 64 bit build is on the horizon but, in the mean time, the current 32 bit implementation also makes good use of a large RAM 64 bit Windows 7 environment.
There’s a lot more, particularly in small detail improvements which can make a big difference in some areas of use, such as metadata and data information or the new pan and zoom arrangements.