VISUALISATION / GRAPHICS
Igor Pro 6
7 May 2008
Reviewed by Felix Grant
Wavemetrics’ Igor is a rich and powerful data analysis and visualisation program for both Windows (2000 or later) and Mac (OS X 10.3.9 or later, Intel or PowerPC), offering publication quality graphics, a wave model for handling of variables and particular strengths in signal processing. To save repetition, I’ll refer readers back to the 21 September 2006 review of version 5 for background.
One point, brought to my attention by an SCW reader, wasn’t mentioned in that earlier review. It’s the sort of thing that doesn’t make itself known in a short review period, only emerging in long term use, but I’ve spent some time discussing it with a number of other Igor users who offered unanimous agreement. This is the commitment of Wavemetrics to openness, with a published file format and commitment to supporting interoperability with tools from other vendors. There are entire third-party products built on this openness, and the current release is the foundation of a dedicated enzyme kinetic data analysis tool from Softzymics of Princeton.
Release six is a well-designed upgrade, building on the existing strengths and philosophy. New capacity and capabilities have been added, usability has been extended and tuned, fetch extended, performance and handling refined, but the look, feel, and design remain unchanged. Most of the development has been done within the existing shell, generally extending response to existing controls, which allows new learning to be an incremental part of normal practice. There are some exceptions (the Analysis menu is a particular case), but the reorganisation is intelligently done and soon internalised; there are improvements to interface and organisation as well, but these are not such as to disrupt most existing workflow.
Significant among the developments are those, not obviously headlined, which relate to background multitasking. This is not an area where I have my greatest expertise, but experienced colleagues were equally impressed with the creation of multiple background tasks and 'ThreadSafe' management of (so far) numeric functions and some aspects of file operations. Such facilities are becoming familiar in generic mathematics packages, and general programming, but are still a novelty in data analytics. It seems likely that their scope will be extended over future releases. Other programming aspects also see a variety of enhancements.
Supplied procedures are improved and supplemented in support, and core function additions include significant extension of matrix handling, curve fitting, statistical operations and analyses. Because much of this has been fitted into the existing structure, it’s worth taking the time to check that your well-trodden paths are not taking you straight past valuable new potential.
The rich but businesslike notebook implementation sees some tweaks, and (a welcome but often overlooked user aspect) accessibility enhanced by a magnifier. Igor notebooks (which are worth an entire article in themselves, but this is not the place) has a class of notebook objects lurking under the misleadingly innocuous name of 'special character', which are not just glyphs but represent entities of various complexity. A new 'action special character' is a clickable link triggering execution of Igor commands; an accompanying notebook operation can modify actions or even generate new ones.
There’s plenty more; release 6 is a substantial update to a unique product, which deserves to be more widely known. A 30-day evaluation copy can be downloaded for exploration.