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The PC corner: business graphics today.

*Helga Smith is Manager, Analytical Support Department, Citicorp, New York, NY.

My guest columnist this month is Helga Smith, who was a speaker at the Skills Seminar held at our annual meeting last September. Her speech on business graphics was very well received, and I have received many requests for copies. Because it's a subject near and dear to our hearts, I thought that all of my readers would be interested in seeing it. I will add some of my own comments in next quarter's column.

--John H. Qualls, Editor, The PC Corner

AS YOU ALREADY KNOW, graphs are important. They convey a message, and it is up to us to make that message as accurate and convincing as possible.

Until very recently, integrated packages were considered quick and dirty from the graphics point of view. The accepted leader in the field is Lotus 1-2-3, even though others are gaining rapidly. Up to version 2.01, Lotus too can be considered quick and dirty. Version 2.2, which comes with Allways, still lacks many graph types but allows for enhancements with Allways, e.g., shades, outlines, row height for text or tables, "movable labels" (if ever so painfully), and printing from inside Allways. Using Impress instead of Allways eliminates switching between spreadsheet and graphics. Version 3.0 does have better graphs, and the worksheet/window graph displays graph and data side-by-side. It allows more choices of fonts, sizes, titles, notes and prints from within the program, but there is no real drawing or object manipulation. Version 123/G is definitely an improvement in graphing capabilities, even though it needs OS/2 Presentation Manager to run, a minimum of 5 megs memory, and at least 12.5 megs storage. The latest version (3.1) supposedly incorporates all the good functionality of prior versions and is the ultimate of the Lotus line at this time.

Excel has been around for some years. Its graphics were better than those of Lotus from the start and the next update will incorporate all of Microsoft Chart's functionality, which means Chart is not going to be upgraded any more.

Newcomer Quattro can be used as a stepping stone into the window world; it has the processing power of Lotus 3.0 and the output power of Allways in 2.2. For those who do not want to cut the Lotus strings, there is a Lotus-like layout screen in addition to the regular Quattro screen. Quattro allows total control over all graphics aspects, has a powerful drawing program, and permits up to thirty-two open windows at a time. It also has clip art and a slide show. In short, there is very little wrong with this program.

Wingz, now available on the PC, earned its stripes on the Mac. It is the most graphical of all spreadsheets, producing gorgeous charts in a myriad of types. It is especially good for compound documents because of its ability to mix graphs, drawings, imported pictures and text easily. As a spreadsheet, it is weak and the least Lotus-compatible package; as a graphics package, it is best suited for specific needs.

On the whole, integrated packages produce charts reasonably well, with limitations, which is the reason we need stand-alone packages. A recent publication by Dona Meilach lists eighty-two graphics packages for the IBM and compatible alone, of which thirty are suitable for presentation. Of these, ten cost $495, 1/3 of them cost less and 1/3 more. As one might imagine, price is not necessarily an indicator of quality. While there are specialized packages that perform one task very well, the ideal combination in the business world is a strong charting package that has drawing capabilities for enhancements.

Which package is the best? Obviously there is no easy answer. A major consideration is the already available hardware as well as software; if Excel is currently being used, one may not want to switch to a DOS-based package while a strictly Lotus or Symphony shop may not want to jump into Windows. The most important considerations are graphing requirements. Are most of the needed charts text, data-based or full-blown presentations? Also important are import/input considerations. Are data already located in some spreadsheet or database, do they need to be input directly, are scanned images to be used, does the user feel comfortable working with a mouse, or does he/she prefer a keyboard? If charts are to be exported, the two most important considerations are the word processing or desktop publishing package used and the output file type needed.

Another important consideration is output needed. Paper output can be black-and-white or color. For multiple copies or integration into a larger project, a laser printout may be the best output, while a small number of printouts in color can be very impressive. The HP Paintjet now costs less than $1000 and the quality is quite acceptable, unless one wants to spend multiples thereof for a Postscript printer. Transparencies do still have their validity, even though they can just as easily be copied from a colored printout in a Xerox machine, probably with even better results. Projections have become very popular and are likely to be used even more so in the future. Whether you use desktop presentations for a small group or multimedia with audio/video on a large screen is mainly a matter of effort and investment. Many packages now have screen shows with special effects like fades, scrolls, wipes, and dissolves, which certainly liven up a presentation. Freelance, for example, has a runtime version that can be taken to another machine and run even if that machine does not have Freelance loaded.

Should slides be needed even occasionally, choose good-quality, reliable software. Make sure the package produces the type of output file the slide equipment can handle. If you want to produce the slides in-house, consider the equipment needed, training, time and effort, and especially the break-even point. Are there enough slides produced to make it worthwhile having your own equipment? The next best thing or maybe the best may be to use a service bureau, where specialists with plenty of experience are usually more than willing to work with the user. Sending a few files by modem is very easy; many packages even have built-in links to specific services (which are usually more expensive than the local all-purpose outfit). Prices range from $5-15 per slide (in New York as low as $3.25), depending on turnaround time. Sending more than a small amount of files by modem may be risky because of possible transmission problems. Sending a disk may be just as simple and will not occupy the computer for long periods.

Slides should generally be kept simple. Use templates for uniformity, catchy headlines for the message or statement, and keep it uncluttered with a minimum of text.

Also to consider is the frequency of presentation. Frequent high volume output demands automatization, avoiding repetitive steps. Occasional updates could be done with macros; better yet, use DDE (dynamic data exchange), where charts change every time the data change. When there is little time, use your familiar integrated package or a memory-resident application. The best on the market is Graph-in-the-Box, still one of the least expensive packages. It works with any kind of DOS-based program, be it spreadsheet, word processing or statistical package. It handles data manipulation and statistical functions, and the executive version even does text and org charts. Not only is it very easy to use, it occupies a mere 10K in memory. Of course if there is enough time, the range of possibilities is endless, and you are basically limited by your effort, imagination and budget.

The main consideration in choosing a graphics package should be the types of graphs that are needed. Even though 75 percent of all charts are text charts, which are useful in summarizing findings, they are more likely the exception than the rule among economists. There are specialized packages for specific needs, to name just a few:

1. For text charts, there is Arkwright for $99.

2. For 3D there is Foxgraph with a gallery of greater than thirty types and eighteen viewing angles.

3. For maps there is nothing better than PCGlobe ($69) with a wealth of demographic and economic data, reporting on 175 countries, listing 1300 cities, doing country comparisons and allowing group selections like OECD, OPEC, Arab League and a dozen other groups. In addition, this package is great fun, and updates are available annually.

If ease of learning is important, Harvard Graphics 2.3 cannot be beat. The first to offer proportional pies, it prints practice cards, has a spell checker and now comes with Draw Partner. Its special effects include the ability to bend text around circles and curves. Of course there are limitations, no zooms, no rotates, no shortcuts (many layers) and, as InfoWorld says, it succeeds by brute force rather than elegance.

For repetitive tasks, Graphwriter still scores high. The graphing process can be completely automated, macros can run from DOS, and it has many chart types, including bubble and Gantt charts. Unfortunately, it has no drawing facility at all. Toprunner Freelance also uses the familiar Lotus menus and is the most sophisticated drawing and editing package for the non-Windows environment. Screen display is fast, but what you get is better than what you see. Its 900 symbols (including maps) are impressive, and the screen show and portfolio options are useful. It also allows for CGM output, meaning that charts can be imported into word processing without conversion. The absence of math functions, slow output, data entry forms and lack of macros may turn off some users, but all in all it is a good buy.

The Microsoft Windows environment offers a variety of fairly good-quality packages. Ashton Tate's Applause II is easy to use, has a large and good image library and has at least one useful feature it turns colors into patterns for black-and-white printing without tedious conversion. However, once a chart is in the drawing window, the data link is lost. In addition, the screen show on my 386 machine was extremely slow, and I could print to my HP Laserjet III only in low resolution.

Micrografx's latest Charisma combines Graph Plus and Designer, allows inclusion of scanned images, overlays, can handle up to twelve separate graphs/page, and has a built-in pointer with ten different styles. It boasts 2200 pieces of clip-art, many of which I found useless in the business world. Its drawing tools include the Bezier curve for detailed modification but not true 3D nor hot links to Lotus.

Power Point, now available on the PC, is huge, taking up about 12 megs on the hard drive. It seems geared primarily toward slide production or video shows. The built-in word processor with spell checker makes text charts a cinch, and the templates are superb. It also prints notes and handout pages automatically, numbers pages and changes colors to patterns for black-and-white printouts. There is no listing for the clip-art, its contents are poor, and we were unable to produce slides from transmitted files (they had to be sent on a disk).

Publications rank the more popular products in the following order:

1. InfoWorld (6/90): Freelance, Harvard Graphics, Graph Plus (now Charisma);

2. Personal Computing (2/90): Draw Perfect, Graph Plus, Applause;

3. PC World (11/89): Graph Plus, Freelance, Applause.

All three list Freelance and Harvard Graphics among the first five places; also listed were Pixie, Gem and 35mm Express. Even though it has a few nice features and superb fonts, Draw Perfect does not deserve more than honorable mention at this point until its bugs are resolved. Pixie is worth mentioning for ease of use and the ability to swap between the Mac and the IBM PC. PC Magazine normally reviews graphics packages once a year the next review will be published in the spring of 1991.

For those who wonder why to use Windows, even Lotus Magazine admits the following:

1. Most new graphics packages run under Windows.

2. Lotus seems to be going this way with 123/G and Version 3.1.

3. Even WordPerfect expects to have a Windows series in early 1991.

4. The similar interfacing in the Windows environment shortens the learning curve.

5. Multitasking and ease of transfer increase productivity dramatically.

6. Drawings are already done in graphics mode anyway.

Incorporating charts into word processing requires a few thoughts. Unless a Postscript printer is available, black-and-white printouts are more satisfactory than color. Because necessary conversion deteriorates quality, charts should be kept simple and text has to be large enough for the unavoidable reduction. PIC and CGM file types are preferable over other types since they can usually be imported without conversion. In the DOS environment, WordPerfect works well together with DrawPerfect (once the latter is debugged). In the Windows environment, MS Word is a good choice as well as Ami Professional. Of course, combining charts and documents is easier under Windows. Conversely, unless you are using a graphics package with built-in spell checker, it may be easier to import an ASCII file from word processing than entering text directly into a chart. Because most word processors are character-based, generally no slides can be produced.

One specific problem I found in many packages is the handling of negative numbers in stacked bars. Most spreadsheets as well as Freelance, Harvard Graphics and Graph-in-the-Box handle this situation correctly by placing the negative portion below zero. Other packages are unable to cope: Applause II ignores the negative value but alerts the user with an error message; Charisma and Power Point treat negative numbers as positive and DrawPerfect, the worst offender, corrupts all data in that chart. Pixie/Mirage overlap, i.e., negative numbers are drawn on top of positive numbers, but because Mirage at least allows overlays, data can be shown correctly using different techniques. Of course, if you never need to graph negative numbers in stacked bars, you don't need to worry about it. Unfortunately, I do. Tabular Data Omitted
COPYRIGHT 1991 The National Association for Business Economists
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Author:Smith, Helga
Publication:Business Economics
Date:Apr 1, 1991
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