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Origin Pro 8

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With version 8 (this review has been done on the basis of a late beta, but the market release is due in August 2007) Origin Pro continues three developmental strands. First is the push outwards from its original visualisation and publication base into the desktop data analysis market (see Making Child’s Play of Power Tools, Scientific Computing World June/July 2007). Second is an enrichment of batch handling abilities. And third is an increasing internal sophistication in relation to its external environment. All three are intertwined, but can be pulled out to some extent for ease of examination.

Progressive addition of new analytic capability remains a clear feature, with new procedures added, though it takes a while to track them down, given the necessary reorganisation of menu hierarchy as the volume and complexity increase. Origin users who already make regular use the analysis and statistics menus will have to allow for a short period of adjustment to the new structures, but will find it worthwhile. This seems to be a one off reorganisation, since the new regime shows evidence of thought given to long term capacity.

The analysis menu now has three top level headings: mathematics, fitting, and signal processing. Mathematics contains four interpolation and/or extrapolation options (including one for 3D data), two for integration and differentiation, normalisation, and multiple curve averaging – with user controlled tuning of defaults and choice of methods where appropriate. Fitting covers a range of methods (linear, nonlinear, polynomial, peak, sigmoidal, curve simulated...) and comparison for both data sets and models. Signal Processing offers a range of options not always available elsewhere, five of them wavelet oriented. All are controlled from a consistent and friendly dialogue panel design which makes the learning curve pretty much painless.

That consistency and friendliness continues in a conveniently alphabetic “fitting functions organizer” under the Tools menu, subdivided as basic (from Allometric to Voigt), form  (Exponential and Growth through to Waveform and Surface) and field (Chromatography to Statistics), with a blank section after that ready to be populated by user defined additions. Selecting a particular function opens a main control dialogue panel (which continues the overall design template for the package) and, at the bottom, a reference slot containing the equation for the fit, samples of the curves to expect from it, and short but valuable documentation.

Also under the Tools menu are the new X-functions – OriginPro’s name for extensor routines in Origin dialect C. These provide a flexible ongoing development and extension platform analogous to that available natively in high end language based data analysis products, and are already the basis for some tools in use. Help for this area was not yet in place for my beta copy, but even as a “C challenged” user I was able to establish by exploration that most areas are accessible to X-function control, from basic computation through new procedure definition to interface control and modification.

Interface features go well beyond what I’ve covered here, and contribute significantly to a OriginPro’s undoubted fitness for the new world into which it’s headed. Redesigned toolbars are a minor part of this for me, but several colleagues looking at my beta copy rated them highly. Higher up my list are database access, autoupdate and, most of all, a new workbook structure offering multiple sheets.

All in all, while the developmental roots can be seen in version 7 (or earlier in some cases), release 8 is a very significant leap beyond OriginLab’s previous target market. The leap is a solidly founded one, soundly implemented and well thought through.