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Microsoft Excel’s tools for exploratory data-analysis are meagre. The developer of Data Desk, a long-time Mac-statistics favourite, has come up with a simple solution to Excel’s shortcomings: add commands that allow access to Data Desk from within Excel. Data Description’s Vizion 1.0 aims to give a quick way to analyze the data stored in piles of accumulated spreadsheets – and, surprisingly, it succeeds.
It’s surprising because programs often make mining more trouble than it’s worth. Vizion gives you just three Excel menu items; pick one and tell Vizion where to find the data to use, and you instantly pop into an environment that performs most kinds of analysis, with simple graphics and hand-holding for all program functions.
To start an analysis, you select some data columns in your Excel spreadsheet, pick the corresponding item from the Vizion menu in the Excel menu bar, and then you are transported to a Vizion page, where you’ll find every useful graphical analysis of your data. You don’t have to pick and choose among statistical tests, because Vizion chooses the appropriate parts of the Data Desk test repertoire for your data and does all the calculation and graphing.
Vizion’s speed isn’t impressive in the simplest cases – even Excel can draw a modest column plot fairly quickly. But Vizion can turn 500 rows by three columns into a 3D-rotating scatterplot in a second – along with boxplots and dotplots of the same data. Data Desk-style palettes let you work directly with Vizion graphics, using simple mouse actions rather than plodding through dialogue boxes. Tables provide standard summary statistics for variables and their combinations, and you can get clear explanations of what everything means by clicking in any screen.
Data Description offers separately optimized versions of Vizion for Power Macs and 680x0 machines, which is why the add-on is so much faster than Excel.
The only complaint about Vizion is that it assumes that you have a vision of your own. If you’re clueless about statistical graphics in a business context, you’ll find only a few sample files in the tutorial.
Vizion is the first serious attempt to make the tools of exploratory data-analysis available to Excel users. Using it is the quickest way to find the relationships lurking inspreadsheets.