21 April 2011
Reviewed by Felix Grant
Every scientist has to be a statistician these days, but not every scientist wants to be. The ideal data analysis tool, for many, is one that does what is required whilst demanding the least possible diversion of mental energy from core concerns, the fewest possible changes to working habits and the least possible investment in reskilling. Unistat is a well-established occupant of this market segment with a proven track record, particularly in the life sciences.
As with previous releases, installation of 6.0 provides two short cut icons: one to start up Unistat as a free standing window with its own worksheet, the other to open Excel with an additional ribbon toolbar accessing Unistat’s tool set (other spreadsheet and database files can also be opened, and Unistat offers developer tools allowing add-in facility to virtually any other suitable product if required). There is remarkably little to choose, operationally, between the two options. The most demanding user will always find that the freestanding option has the edge, but those more comfortable within Excel are unlikely to notice any significant disadvantage.
A wide range of additions and improvements have been implemented since the last version, and with a good balance between the two. The comprehensiveness of the upgrade is too great to be usefully addressed in a short review, but can be explored (along with the full 1,100 page documentation for the package) either on the company’s web site or through a demo download. Suffice to say that it covers all the territory likely to be required, and represents a comprehensive upgrade for existing users.
There are three versions of the product: light, standard and bioassay. The standard edition, upon which this review is based, has no dataset size limits beyond system memory, whereas the light version is capped at fifty variables and 1,500 cases. The light version lacks the recorded macro facilities, log file, some more advanced regression options, multivariate and time series analyses; all of which are available in the standard edition. The bioassay edition is the standard with an additional specialist module. Choosing the edition or editions to be purchased will involve matching the exact feature sets to required tasks within a particular setting ecology.
The dual modes (stand alone and Excel add in) make feasible a strategy of providing the same analysis interface across several different classes of work; the light edition is likely to suffice where Unistat is deployed as an extension of a basic office environment, the standard or bioassay being more appropriate where it is applied as a component of more sophisticated data investigation. On the other hand, the flexible combination of editions and operating modes can equally be seen as a good way to broaden analytic access in an organisation that already uses language based statistical tools.
In use, the program is impressively spry with a very modest footprint both on disk and in RAM. With a menu-driven package, as this is, subjective responsiveness is more important than absolute speed measures. On my netbook, despite a fairly heavy overhead layer of utilities running in its 1Gb of RAM, response with the default 700,000 data point sheet was, subjectively, instantaneous. Unistat also supports every version of Excel back to release 9 and many operational aspects of performance can be fine-tuned over a wide range through dialogues or INI file editing.
Users who tried out the review copy, in half a dozen academic- and commercial science-oriented office environments, commented very positively on the program’s approach of applying batches of appropriate tests to data rather than forcing initial selection of one. The range of procedures, the variety of plotting options, and the intuitive precision of option setting controls, were widely praised. Also popular was the provision of output options readily usable for print or web reporting.
If your data analytic needs are exploratory, or call for a menu driven environment rather than a programming language, Unistat 6.0 is a strong contender for your short list – if you or your organisation regard MS Office integration as a priority, but do not want to be confined within its limitations, even more so. If you already use a previous version of Unistat, the advantages of upgrade are well worth examining.