B/Graph

Reviewed by John S. Davison

 

Issue 26

Mar/Apr 87

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Ariolasoft
29.95

Ever since I bought Atari's original 'Graph-It' program for my 16K 400 many moons ago, I've been wishing someone would produce a good graphing and charting utility for the 8-bit machines. Well, my wish has been granted - thanks to Ariolasoft (again!). The B/Graph package has an added bonus, too. It includes statistical analysis functions, allowing you to test, manipulate and reduce raw data into more meaningful information before displaying it graphically in many different ways.

Packaging and presentation is of the high quality which now seems to be standard on Ariolasoft's flagship range of 8-bit software, matching that of HomePak and PaperClip (both reviewed recently in Page 6), BUT, they do persist in printing their instruction manuals sideways with the spine at the top instead of the left hand side, and binding it in such a way that it won't stay open at the chosen page! And really, a 146 page manual SHOULD have a proper alphabetic index, although to be fair, the list of contents used here is fairly detailed.

The facilities provided by this package are comprehensive, to say the least. They're implemented via ten separate programs supplied on two single sided disks. Learning to use a package as complex as this could be a nightmare, so Ariolasoft have taken the sensible approach of writing the manual as a series of tutorials covering all of the major functions. Sample data is provided on the second disk, so you don't have to invent your own while learning some of the more exotic functions.

The package is mostly menu driven, and generally friendly and easy to use. Most screens prompt you as to what actions you can take next, although this is not always so. Some functions, notably imaging, use a full screen display, with no room for menus or prompts. I ended up writing out the required key commands on a reference card as a reminder.

GRAPHING AND CHARTING

For most people, the graphing and charting features are the ones which will get most use. B/Graph can produce a graph or chart to suit virtually any purpose, including line plots, scatter plots, area graphs, two and three dimensional bar charts, with factors stacked or side by side, market graphs (for stocks and shares), and pie charts. You can quickly switch back and forth between compatible chart types until you find one that best suits your needs.

B/Graph will handle up to three factors, that is, you can plot three different sets of data on one chart. This was a disappointment at first, as I often need to plot more sets than this. However, B/Graph lets you superimpose charts over each other, so if you needed six lines on a graph you could produce two sets of three and then overlay one on the other. The only problem is that there are only three different styles of line, so it could get a bit confusing.

Each factor can have up to 100 values - good enough for most home use purposes. There are display limitations with bar charts, though, restricting you to a maximum of 48 values. If you have more values than this, you have to use a line graph instead.

Positive and negative integer or decimal data values are handled, and B/Graph will automatically scale the axes for you, so you don't have to worry about plotting points that go 'off the chart'. To meet special needs you can turn off the automatic scaling function and do it manually.

Labelling your charts is easily achieved, with standard facilities for entering main and secondary title lines, X and Y axis titles, and chart identification number.

Pie charts work slightly differently in that you can key in up to 16 values and their descriptive labels. B/Graph then calculates the percentage value of the total each represents and displays them all graphically in the familiar 'pie slice' format.

CUSTOMISED CHARTS

Any chart can be customised by adding solid or dotted grid lines (horizontal and/or vertical), adding borders to the top and right hand side to match the usual X-Y axes, and set colour and intensity of background and plots to suit any requirement.

One other small disappointment concerned use of colour. Detailed colouring is achieved via - you guessed it - artifacting, which means users of non-American standard TV's see only patterns rather than colours. However, the patterns do effectively separate the different chart areas, so this is no real hardship.

PRINTING AND IMAGING

One of the joys of this program is the ease with which you can obtain a printout of your charts and data. It's as simple as pressing the START key. This gives a rapid, good quality screen dump producing a picture size of about one quarter of an A4 page. Most popular printers are supported. My only criticism is that pie charts printed on my Star SG10 were slightly oval, rather than circular. This happens with some printers as horizontal and vertical dot pitch is sometimes not quite the same, and B/Graph assumes it is.

The screen display is created in real time from data provided by you. Sometimes you may want to display a whole series of different charts without having to wait while B/Graph builds each one from the base data. To do this, you use B/Graph's imaging facilities to save screens to disk as 66 sector files. A utility is provided to display these in sequence as a 'slide show'.

Imaging facilities also permit you to use additional custom labelling on your chart. This time, however, you have complete flexibility as to positioning, fonts, text size, and colour (artifacted). A further use of this facility is to produce text only screens for inclusion in 'slide shows' of other charts. B/Graph provides several different fonts, including Greek, Hebrew, Russian, and Eskimo(!) alphabets. These may be rotated in 90 degree increments, if required, for special labelling purposes.

Yet another option provides a means of passing B/Graph charts to some of the newer word processors (like Antic magazine's Word Magic, and Ariolasoft's PaperClip) which can integrate them with text into documents.

LIES, DAMNED LIES, AND....

Statistics packages are something of a rarity on the Atari. Even if B/Graph contained only the features described so far, it would be a good buy. The fact that it also contains a whole raft of statistical analysis functions makes it doubly so (if you can understand and make use of them, that is!). I don't claim to be a statistician, but there are items here even I can use.

All the standard functions are present including mean, median, standard deviation, variance, skewness, kurtosis, upper/lower quartiles, and maximum/minimum values for a given set of data.

Data manipulation functions include exponential smoothing, arithmetic and geometric moving averages, predefined or customised factor calculations, e.g. divide factor 1 by factor 2, or use the factor values in any valid Atari BASIC expression supplied by you. Also, you can change the order of factors, remove factors, and load factors from another file. If you have a few missing values in a given factor, B/Graph will provide estimated values for them, if you wish.

Visicalc owners rejoice! B/Graph can read Visicalc DIF files, allowing you to visually illustrate your spreadsheets. Data can also be passed in the reverse direction, enabling Visicalc to read B/Graph data.

Other features cover F, T and Chi-Square tests, and Normal, Poisson, and Binomial Distribution probability testing. In addition, there are facilities for regression and correlation analysis. Phew - hairy stuff! Obviously, you need to know what you're doing to get the most out of some of this. The B/Graph manual isn't designed to give you more than a brief overview of what it's all about, but does recommend suitable books for further study, if you need it.

CAN YOU LIVE WITHOUT IT?

B/Graph, quite simply, is first class, quality software for the 8-bit Atari (and for the ST soon). If you need to produce graphical charts or do a little statistical analysis for home, educational, or even business use, then go out and buy B/Graph now. It's worth every penny of the asking price.

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