17 May 2013
Reviewed by Felix Grant
Any new arrival on the technical graphics scene is going to have its initial successes with those who are not already committed to investment in existing tools so, while I would recommend MagicPlot to many established users, I will concentrate here on its particular strengths for those who fall into the ‘first buyer market’. For that reason, I’ve done a lot of testing with non-statisticians and non-mathematicians doing analytic work in their own specialisms, particularly students at various levels.
The first point of appeal for this group is financial affordability: the full commercial version costs just over €100 and there is a free student version (with constrained feature set – all descriptions here are of the full product) as well. Then there is the appeal of a very clean, straightforward, easy to learn graphical interface, with little to confuse. The program itself is quick, responsive and light on its feet. Installation has a simplicity which reminded me of the best side of MS-DOS days when all one had to do was put a disk in a drive and start work – you can run MagicPlot from a USB flash drive, taking it and its data files with you from machine to machine. Both full and student versions can be installed on the same machine (though not simultaneously).
The freedom to move is not limited to a single operating system, either; there are versions available for recent releases of Windows, Mac OS and flavours of UNIX, so long as a current (32- or 64-bit) Java installation is present.
Data plotting, the primary purpose of MagicPlot, is confined to 2D but is well supported with single click plot generation, but full control over lines, markers, axes, backgrounds, gridlines, labels, titles, and typography. There are numerous nice touches such as the ability to switch antialiasing on or off on-the-fly, or temporarily viewing a plot without adding it to the project.
Plotting and visualisation are conceptually different activities, and shape the software designed to serve them, but division in the actual usage of that software is far less clear cut and both are used for data exploration. MagicPlot is well equipped for agile exploration, with ideas executed as quickly as conceived. As the mouse cursor (optionally a crosshair) moves, there is a continual display of coordinates. Tools are well implemented and refreshingly straightforward. Transforms are typed in as spreadsheet-like formulae which inexperienced and non-specialist users find particularly accessible. Differentiation, integration and fast Fourier transforms are built in and can be applied with a few mouse clicks, as can curve fits and selective summary statistics. Zoom selection and curve increment measurements are linked, both controlled from a single click-and-drack action, with added quick zoom controls available on the tool bar.
Graphic output can be in a variety of publishable file formats, raster or vector – BMP, EMF, EPS, GIF, PDF, PNG or SVG.
An interesting characteristic of MagicPlot Pro and its associated products (the free student version, a free standing and free to download implementation of the expression calculator, a full featured viewer version at a shade over €20) emerged strongly over my evaluation period. It encouraged team working and groups using the software working cooperatively and effectively together in analytic conversation.
This review has been based on an extended field evaluation of version 2.3; an upgrade to 2.4 is due for release soon.