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Over the years, we've repeatedly praised DeltaGraph for its ability to transform rows of mind-numbing figures into compelling charts (Reviews, May 1999). The OS X-only DeltaGraph 5.0 is Red Rock Software's first release since it acquired the rights to DeltaGraph from SPSS last year. And, aside from a few quibbles we have with its advanced graphics features, we deem DeltaGraph 5.0 to be a strong effort.
DeltaGraph 5.0 retains a familiar spreadsheet-like interface for entering numeric data, with the top row and leftmost column reserved for labels. You can also import data files, including Excel and delimited text formats. However, DeltaGraph can't read files created by Excel 98 or X - you have to open them in Excel and convert them to an older format before importing.
DeltaGraph also sports advanced plotting features such as programmable error bars and polynomial curve fitting for scientific work. If you're not sure which chart to use, a handy feature called the Chart Advisor helps you choose one that suits your data. You specify your intended audience and set a few other options, such as the level of display detail, and the program responds with a tailor-made list of recommendations.
You can customize the appearance of any chart component, text, or graphic down to the length of the tick marks and the angle of the axis labels. However, we were disappointed that DeltaGraph doesn't support soft drop-shadows or transparency, features we've come to expect in OS X graphics applications. (Red Rock plans to add these capabilities by the end of 2003.)
Another feature leverages DeltaGraph's ability to store multiple pages of charts in a single document by letting you display your graphs sequentially in slide-show format. We suspect that most users will opt to transfer DeltaGraph charts to dedicated presentation applications. While DeltaGraph supports several export formats, PDF isn't one of them. Apple's Keynote achieved the best results by converting our charts into PDF files, but we had to use the Save As PDF feature in Apple's print dialog to do so.
DeltaGraph also reaches beyond traditional numerical charting by letting you work with text-based hierarchical data. You enter text into an outliner view that mimics a standard yellow notepad, complete with ruled lines and a red margin. Double-click on the symbol next to the top-level entry and DeltaGraph generates a standard organizational chart or bulleted text list.
The results aren't as stunning as those you can achieve with dedicated programs like OmniGraffle, but they're adequate for many tasks. If you use DeltaGraph to present your work, you can handle an entire presentation - charts and text - with one application.
The charting functions in Microsoft Excel and PowerPoint may be sufficient for simple jobs, but DeltaGraph offers many more specialized chart formats than either. If you can live with the minor annoyances and limitations, most of which Red Rock says it will correct later this year, you'll reap the reward of an almost unlimited number of ways to get your message across.