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Drawing a bead on graphics programs.

Drawing a bead on graphics programs

Last month we reviewed general points to keep in mind when shopping for graphics software. In this article we will consider the merits of specific graphics programs.

To begin with, graphics capabilities are included in integrated programs, along with such other functions as word processing, spreadsheets, and database management, all of which can share the same data. Integrated programs require large amounts of memory, however, and their features are less sophisticated than those of a special-purpose program. Graphics are usually limited to a few major kinds, such as bar graphs and pie charts.

Here are integrated programs from two companies:

Symphony/Lotus 1-2-3. Lotus Development, 55 Cambridge Pkwy., Cambridge, Mass. 02142. These are among the fastest spreadsheets. A wide range of available templates add features to Symphony. Many programs accept graphics created by Lotus 1-2-3 and enhance them.

Framework II. Ashton-Tate, 20101 Hamilton Ave., Torrance, Calif. 90502. Not as popular as Lotus 1-2-3, this program has an extremely powerful language for sophisticated applications.

A new crop of spreadsheet-integrated software came on the scene in 1987. These programs offer superior features and performance when compared with 1 -2-3 as well as compatibility with most of the established data files and data structure, at a lower price. The disadvantages are that fewer individuals know how to use them, and if you have sophisticated Lotus applications, they may need modification to work with the new programs.

If you are buying your first spreadsheet and compatibility with other spreadsheets 'is not essential, you should seriously consider an alternative to Lotus. Among those reputed to be the best, I will mention Excell (Microsoft, 1601 1 N.E. 36 Way, Box 97017, Redmond, Wash. 98073) and Quattro (Borland International, 4585 Scotts Valley Dr., Scotts Valley, Calif. 95066).

Now let's look at some graphics programs. The ones we have reviewed can be learned in a few hours and are easy to use. Prices change continuously, and substantial discounts are available from mail-order houses or directly from the producer to academic institutions.

Picture Perfect. Computer Support, 2215 Midway Rd., Carrolltown, Tex. 75006. This program produces excellent business charts. It has a similar structure to Diagraph, which is made by the same company, but Diagraph cannot enhance charts produced by Picture Perfect. Diagraph, probably the best for diagrams, has a library of more than 2,000 predefined drawings plus specialized libraries in a variety of fields, including medicine and biology. Although Diagraph is copy-protected, a new version under the Windows operating system is not.

Chart Master, Sign Master, Diagram Master. Ashton-Tate, 25 Sylvan Rd. South, Westport, Conn. 06880. These provide, respectively, data charts, word charts, and diagrams. They are easy to use and have a common format, though charts produced by one cannot be enhanced with another. To get better results on each program, you need separate software from other companies, which requires further learning time. I think Picture Perfect and Diagraph in combination are technically superior; the Ashton-Tate programs are not copy-protected, however.

Graphwriter II. Lotus Development, 55 Cambridge Pkwy., Cambridge, Mass. 02142. This is most suitable for someone who wants to quickly redraw data from Lotus spreadsheets. It is ideal for designing a chart that is frequently updated from a spreadsheet and can handle more types of business charts than Freelance, another Lotus product. The latter, however, is probably the best single program for all purposes. A user can easily draw diagrams with Freelance, prepare charts (except word charts, for which it is poor) and improve graphs with freehand drafting, a feature that is not available on most chart programs. Frequently used diagram elements, such as error bars, can be created and superimposed on other graphs. Freelance enhances graphs created by Lotus 1-2-3, Symphony, and Graphwriter.

Microsoft Chart. Microsoft, 16011 N.E. 36 Way, Box 97017, Redmond, Wash. 98073. Among the best general-purpose chart programs, Microsoft Chart is easy to use for data and word charts (it does not produce diagrams). It displays the range of possible values due to measurement error and can fit simple regression lines.

Graph-in-the-Box. New England Software, Greenwich Office Park 3, Greenwich, Conn. 06831. The main benefit of Graph-in-the-Box is its ability to make graphs from data displayed by almost any other program; running from within the other program. It has a comprehensive list of charts, compatible with several desktop publishing programs.

In-a-Vision, Designer, Graph, Draw. Micrografx, 1820 N. Greenville Ave., Richardson, Tex. 75081. Here is one of the best combinations of software under the Windows operating system, especially for complex illustrations. Separate programs handle diagrams, graphs, and drawings. Advantages of the programs can be combined: Graphics originated in one program can be sent to another and modified.

R:base Graphics. Microrim, P.O. Box 97022, 3925 159th Ave. N.E., Redmond, Wash. 98073. This is one of a group of programs that produce quality graphics from information stored on databases; it is excellent in combination with R:base V, which is among the best generalpurpose advanced databases available. R:base Graphics is particularly suitable for recurrent production of reports and statistical analysis from databases (as opposed to spreadsheets or tablelike data sets, the common means of data entry for most other graphics programs). Because the program is designed for database users, it is more difficult to learn than the other programs we have discussed.

Now we will turn to programs providing statistical analysis coupled with graphics, primarily charts. They allow you to plot the results of different types of statistical analysis. All include a sophisticated language that enables the user to redefine variables in nearly any desirable way and plot the results of the new variables.

Statgraphics. STSC, 2115 E. Jefferson St., Rockville, Md. 20852. It provides statistics comparable to those of major statistical programs (see below) plus advanced graphics at a reasonable price and speed.

SAS (SAS Institute, Box 8000, SAS Circle, Cary, N.C. 27511), SPSS (SPSS, 444 N. Michigan Ave., Chicago, 111. 60611), and BMDP (BMDP Statistical Software, 1964 Westwood Blvd., Suite 202, Los Angeles, Calif. 90025). These statistical programs were converted from large computers to IBM microcomputers and their clones. Although they are big, cumbersome, and expensive for PCs, they are cheaper to use than the same programs on a large computer and can answer most statistical questions. They are ideal for advanced statistical analysis on large databases. Their graphics output quality is not necessarily as good as those of smaller programs, but they offer a greater variety of graphics. BMDP has an excellent reputation for accuracy, SPSS is aimed at the social sciences, and SAS may have more types of statistical analysis.

RS/1. BBN Software Products, 10 Fawcett St., Cambridge, Mass. 02238. This is an extremely powerful spreadsheet combined with a programming language like a superset of Basic. It provides three-dimensional graphics, statistical analyses at a level between those of a spreadsheet and those of a statistical program, curve fitting, error bars, and easy and sophisticated data entry. New users can quickly learn simple features. This is a large, complex, and expensive program, and it supports limited types of output devices.

Among the many applications for graphics programs in the lab:

* Training and procedure manuals. Computer-prepared manuals can incorporate sections with different letter styles and sizes; simple drawings of instruments, lab equipment, and techniques; and diagrams of steps to follow.

* QC charts, trends in results.

* Trends in staff utilization, test demand, etc. These help justify requests for additional personnel and other budgetary changes.

* Sophisticated interpretation of lab results with figures identifying pathological situations. In reports to physicians, drawings can highlight result patterns.

* Trends indicating potentially dangerous situations, such as consistently declining platelet counts or red cell counts suggesting a need for a transfusion.

* Plasma concentration of a given drug during the day.

* Posters for presentations, graphs for articles, signs in the lab, notices.

* Organizational charts.
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Article Details
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Author:Siguel, Edward N.
Publication:Medical Laboratory Observer
Article Type:buyers guide
Date:Jun 1, 1988
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