28 June 2010
Reviewed by Felix Grant
The latest version of Minitab extends and further consolidates its existing position in the market in most directions, without disrupting its existing layout or the workflow patterns of long-term users.
Every product has its key natural hinterland, and for Minitab (if we exclude education) it is industrial quality. Release 16 recognises this with more than a dozen enhancements across eight headings under the Quality Tools heading and, for six sigma users, profile management of the DMAIC toolbar. At the same time, there are valuable additions throughout the tools range.
A great favourite among Minitab-experienced postgraduate research students to whom I showed the package was the worksheet storage and outlier plotting of squared centroid distances (aka Mahalanobis distances) in multivariate data sets without need for manual operations or programming. To the team of ecologists I visited next, developments in the Design of Experiments provision was the main focus of comment. If I had to pick out particular features myself, I might well pick on subtle additions to Generalised Linear Model support and the range of new features available to regression handling. Or, looking to the extension of user base for such software, which is a particular hobby horse of mine, the most significant movement may be in enriching more basic options such as hypothesis testing and flexible descriptives display.
Minitab currently uses the mission headline 'Give everyone in your organisation the power to improve it', pointing up the fact that, for many, the need is not so much for more statistical power but wider ability and confidence to make use of it. Many users (from new students to hardened industrialists) need not only statistical help, but support in navigating the software available for implementing it. Software publishers have been waking up to this for a while, now, seeking to build hands-on and real-time educative functions into their products, and Minitab is no exception.
To an already rich stock of help materials it now adds the Assistant (to the right of Help on the top menu), a well-structured attempt to provide guidance to lost human beings rather than experienced computer scientists. From six headline descriptions, the user is taken through step-by-step decisions, which culminate in execution of the selected analysis without recourse to either the menus or the command line. I would like to see more top level signposts, but they are well chosen to reflect what a user is likely to be seeking – and will no doubt develop over time. There is also a tension between relevance and consistency, which again will presumably homogenise in the light of feedback. Despite those two caveats, the response from those new users to whom I have shown the Assistant has been unanimously enthusiastic.
Attention to the wider environment also shows in the facility to send output directly into Microsoft Word or PowerPoint (where installed) with two mouse clicks, which will be valued by members of organisational teams who must rapidly and clearly disseminate findings as much as by trainers and academics writing course materials. Of equal or even greater importance to cross organisational use, the program runs reliably and quickly on a basic 32-bit, 1 gigabyte RAM system, while also showing a good response to increased resources.
All in all, a very worthwhile upgrade to a solid and reliable package.