Golden Software: Grapher 10, Surfer 11, and Voxler 3
25 July 2013
Reviewed by Felix Grant
Since I last reviewed them, this trio of graphic visualisation tools for Colorado-based Golden Software have gone through several upgrade versions. Having recently spent time looking at their application to a wide variety of scientific data types and contexts, it seemed appropriate for me to bring together review of their current incarnations in one place.
I’ll start with core function which is, of course, visualisation of data within different dimensional and psychoperceptual approaches. Differentiation between the packages is not as simple as mapping use case onto dimensional order; the issue is, rather, which approach (or approaches) best suit a given purpose. All three show (as you would expect, over multiple development cycles) extensive development in this core area, from which I can only pull out a couple of highlights in each case.
Grapher, which might be categorised as the most conventional of the three in its defining approach, has never been limited by that view in its treatment or approach. The new contour mapping and vector plotting facilities are an illustration of this – a vector being drawn either between two xyz data points or from one to a location defined by a matching differential triplet. In communicating with disparate cross-disciplinary research partners I have found the QQ plot, a form of scattergram related to Pareto, particularly valuable. QQ plots one probability distribution (theoretical, with the normal Gaussian distribution available as a standard option, or experimental from data) against another, along with a y=x reference line.
Surfer and Voxler, which concern themselves with multidimensional representation of data in relation to 3D surfaces and volumes respectively, have expanded their already extensive gamut of informational tools while also further refining interaction with them. Boundaries (or any other drawn elements) in Surfer are information carriers, as are numerous other visual objects at various levels. There is two way conversion between polylines and polygons, with aggregation and decomposition of both into more complex or simpler entities. Voxler has acquired new rendering views, displays related information such as calculations and multivoxel volumes, and sports faster calculation (including redraw) courtesy of multithreading. Axis handling has gained additional sophistication in both packages, and Voxler allows vertical scale exaggeration.
User interfaces continue to develop too. In the case of Grapher, this includes a fully customisable ribbon (with menu view as an option) but all three become incrementally slicker at each generation with the associated productivity and efficiency gains. Voxler and Surfer read an expanding range of data file formats, including some directly from within common compressed files, and Grapher has spreadsheet-style data manipulation options, amongst a wide range of data handling developments. Automation capability is extended on several fronts, as are productivity tweaks such as format transfers, global changes and cross linkages – text formatting in a worksheet window cell is now reflected in the plot window text object, for instance. New projections and coordinate systems are more easily applied; Surfer tracks coordinates across all open windows.
All of this is, as I say, only a superficial sampling from extensive enhancement across all three products, and every user would make a different selection. Evaluation copies are available, and their help systems are the best way to explore the features most important to any given user’s area of work.
The most recent previous individual reviews can be found here: