18 December 2006
Reviewed by Felix Grant
A data store for analysis should be strongly structured and typed. Any analysis package worthy of the name reflects this imperative in its actual data storage and handling, but there is strong pressure for the front end to mimic an Excel style spreadsheet. FlexPro, from Adept Science, is one of that small band of products that bravely buck the trend, allowing form to follow function and embracing that as an upfront virtue for overall look and feel. There are worksheets here (and Excel workbooks can be directly linked), but they don’t insist on dominating the show.
Open the program and its starts as it means to go on, with the top level object in the left-hand folders browser pane announcing itself as a database. This doesn’t just mean that user data for analysis are stored there: all other associated objects are within the database too, a constant dashboard view environment carrying, among other information, a right-hand properties panel providing insight into the currently selected object. Screen space is intensively used, but well managed, with child windows stacked and tabbed for easy organisation and access. Data organisation and documentation is central, analysis and visualisation being part of a larger data management view.
All the usual facilities you would expect in a modern analysis and visualisation product are here, and in high quality, but there are also a lot of interesting differences. Signal handling and spectral analysis, in particular, are very well provided for, resulting in an array-centred view of data, reflected in such details as the ‘bundle’ operator, which combines data into more complex entities (individual scalars into series or matrices, signals into signal series), that are then handled as units in their own right. In the same spirit, complex numbers (not universally provided in analysis products) can be formed from scalar pairs, or entered directly, and manipulated. Other compounded data structures include the Space Curve – three data series bound together to represent a data set of XYZ triplets. Quick experiments confirm that if anyone out there wants to represent data sets whose individual components are quaternions, then that too is possible with a little ingenuity.
Data typing includes selection of bit depth (up to 32-bit for integers, 64-bit for reals and complex) and the maximum length of a string value is 2Gb, which should suffice for most purposes! Any sloppiness on the user’s part (such forgetting to specify bit depth, or multiplying a 16-bit integer by a 64-bit complex quantity) is failsafed by defaulting to the highest resolution and order so that information is never lost or degraded.
Curve transformation, spline and surface interpolation, I could go on indefinitely – there’s far more than a short review like this one can begin to touch. If your context is engineering, or your data are significantly sequential, or if your requirements are not met by the usual run of statistics products, time allocated to exploring what is on offer here will be well spent. Although the whole thing can be driven very comfortably from the GUI, automation for batch handling is available in the form of recordable macros or scripting. Like many products, FlexPro is available in different versions with increasing capability reflected in price. My review copy was the top end Professional version, although most of what I have written would also apply to the FlexPro Standard, the difference being a VBA development environment. FlexPro View is a lighter package, allowing full handling ability but restricted analytical and manipulative functions.