When you need to create more professional, higher quality presentation graphics and charts for your clients that just can't be created with the typical spreadsheet, Harvard ChartXL is the software program for you.
The outside of the Harvard ChartXL 2.0 box was marked Windows 95 and I thought I had the wrong version. Upon closer reading, I found that this version runs under Windows 95, Windows NT or Windows 3.1. It is not a simply a compatible Windows program, but it is a real 32 bit program and requires version 1.3 of the Win 32s library, which is included with the package.
The manufacturer's minimum requirement for the program is a system with a 486 processor and 8 megabytes of RAM. I tested the program on a Compaq Concerto with a 486SL33 processor running under the Windows 3.1 environment, DOS 6.2 and only 4 megabytes of RAM. The system was only slightly sluggish and the only memory problem I encountered was when trying to rotate a complex 3D chart. Running the program on a 386sx20 with 8 megabytes of RAM was usable, but very, very, very slow. A NexGen 586/90 system with 8 megabytes of RAM and no math coprocessor ran slower than the Compaq Concerto (486SL33) system. Therefore, I highly recommend having a math co-processor when using this program.
The program requires about 10 megabytes of hard disk space for the program and data with a little over 3 megabytes of hard disk space for the Win 32s library, if you are using Windows 3.1. The program includes toll-free support and included in the box is a special savings offer on 4 other SPC products ( Harvard Graphics, Spotlight, Montage and Onfile ). The program also offers an extremely limited 90 day return policy, useful only if the package is returned unopened.
The included manual is a half inch thick, 9" x 7.25", black and white paperback with 194 pages of instructions and reference information. It begins with how to install the program in each of the three different operating systems that the program supports. Fully installing Harvard ChartXL will create 3 icons, the program icon, a help icon and a deinstall icon. The manual then continues with two brief 15 minute lessons. The first lesson describes the process of creating and enhancing a business chart, while the optional second lesson works with a technical chart. These lessons are quite easy to follow as each step is clearly organized and arranged with a title, short paragraph of description, a screen snapshot and helpful instructions. The manual goes on to describe how to use the program to enhance charts and concludes with a reference section describing each chart type in detail.
Harvard ChartXL categorizes charts into Business, Statistical and Technical styles. Some charts have both two dimensional and three dimensional versions, while others exist only as a 2D or 3D version. The program includes 14 business, 8 statistical and 7 technical chart styles and the Chart Gallery contains more than 300 variations of these styles. You can create business charts ranging from the typical line and bar charts to extremely specialized high/low/close charts. The program has the ability to interpolate values along with the capability to compute trends (linear, exponential, polynomial or cyclical) and create charts with moving statistics (averages, minimums, maximums, standard deviations or variances). The data cursor feature lets you point, with your mouse, to a data item on most charts and view its value on screen and even edit its value graphically. These powerful tools will not only help you create interesting charts, but can assist you in finding and exploring significant trends in your data.
The spreadsheet portion of this program is meant to be a companion to another spreadsheet program and not its replacement, as several features are considerably weaker than those that are included in today's spreadsheet programs. To have borders around every cell in a spreadsheet, you have to select and border each cell individually. When importing a Lotus Spreadsheet (WK*) or Excel (XLS) spreadsheet, only the data and numeric formatting is preserved. There are no string functions in ChartXL and any cells which use string functions will import as empty, blank cells. If you need to import your current spreadsheets that use string functions, you will have to eliminate the use of these functions in your spreadsheet program or import them as a text (TXT) or delimited text file. I found that DIF file import was very problematic.
In order to show how this program might be used, we will first create a spreadsheet to contain the data values and then use Harvard ChartXL 2.0 to create the charts we will present to our client. Although we could use the internal spreadsheet built into Harvard Chart, I chose to use an Excel spreadsheet which contains the monthly gross sales figures for a single year of a client's corporation with four regions (East, West, Midwest and South). Although this is a simple year end consolidation consisting of 5 columns and 13 rows, it is typical of results found in a management report. Using the standard terminology of Lotus 123 or Excel, Row 1 consists of the 4 region names starting in cell B1 and continuing to cell E1. Column A consists of the month names (Jan, Feb, Mar, etc.), starting in A2 and continuing downward to cell A13. Cell A1 is blank. Cells B2 through B13 consists of the gross sales for the Eastern region for each particular month, C2-C13 is used for the Western region, D2-D13 for the Midwest and E2-E13 for the Southern region. This is a straightforward spreadsheet table, with data being entered into each cell located in the intersection of the appropriately labeled row and column.
When Harvard ChartXL starts up, a screen appears which gives you the choice to create a new chart, open an existing chart or to create a chart from the Chart Gallery. This is a nice screen with huge buttons that make it very easy for new users to navigate, but unfortunately it is available only when starting the program and is unavailable once you are running the program. Since we are creating a new chart, we will click on the new chart button. A list of business charts is displayed along with a graphical picture of the highlighted chart type. We check the box labeled "Import external spreadsheet" so the program will automatically request the name of the data spreadsheet. Since we aren't really sure of exactly which chart style to use, we click on the Gallery button. We are presented with a graphical window filled with miniature chart pictures. When we see a chart we want, a single click gives us useful information about the selected chart, on the right side of the screen. The chart we choose displays "Charts of this type display trends of several items over a continuous period of time, showing each item's contribution to the sum of all items". We don't have to refer to the manual or remember when each chart style is used. Now we uncheck the "use sample data" box so we can use our own spreadsheet data. Each chart in the Gallery can have sample data associated with it, so you don't have to create and fill a spreadsheet just to try out a chart style to see how it looks or prints. This is a real time-saver. By clicking on the "Show all in category" box, additional chart type variations appear, along with their descriptions. We press OK and an Open file dialog box asks us for the name of the spreadsheet file to use. We enter the spreadsheet name and are then asked if we want a permanent link to the file. A permanent link enables changes made to the spreadsheet in Excel to be reflected in our Harvard Chart.
Harvard ChartXL's wonderful automatic features helps us get a colorful, nicely centered area chart and makes sure that the filled in areas of the chart contrast against the background color. The automatic data marks and line style are reasonable and the axis limits are automatically set to fit the data. You can, of course, turn off these automatic features and change or modify each chart element (colors, frame, axes, labels, data markers, bars, columns, etc.) separately. You can manipulate a single axis label, a grid line or even a single data point. Another fantastic feature (if you have a slow system or a complex chart) is that you can interrupt the drawing of the chart by pressing the escape key or the stoplight icon. Now you don't have to wait for a complete chart to be redrawn each time you want to make a change.
To make changes to the chart, you can click on the chart object to be changed or you can select the entire chart. To see some of the changes we can make, we select the entire chart and after right clicking, a list of chart properties is displayed. We then click on Chart Style and a series of tabbed information screens that look like stacked file folders in a file cabinet appear. The tabs are labeled Data, Style Templates, Axes, Data Markers, Legend, Data Labels, Number Format and Preview. The chart can be easily customized by clicking on the appropriate tab.
In our chart, only the odd months (Jan, Mar, May, etc.) are displayed on the X-axis. To change this, we click on Axes and then click on X axis style. We are then presented with another set of tabbed information screens labeled Style, Tick Marks, Limits, Number format, Conversions, Labels, Location and Grid Lines. This sounds complicated, but Harvard ChartXL gives many different ways of modifying the chart to meet your needs. The tabbed folder method is much simpler than multiple levels of pull down menus found in some graphic packages and the folders are quite similar to those found in Word. We click on Limits and change the Major Ticks value to 1 (currently set to 2) and press OK.. We are now returned back to the Chart Style tabbed screen. We can click Preview to see if we have made the proper change. The chart looks fine, so we click OK. When working with Harvard ChartXL, the screen layout can be quickly changed to show the graph only, the spreadsheet only or both at the same time. This lets you see how a change in the data affects the chart and lets you decide what you want to see, when you want to see it.
This is where most packages end. In order to get a different style chart, you start over with this new chart style. Harvard Chart is more powerful as it allows you to simply apply the style of the new chart on top of the current chart style like you now change a font or formatting style, in a word processing program. We select Chart from the pull down menu, select Type and from the chart selection, select 3D oblique column chart, then press OK. We have now transformed our 2D chart into a series of rectangular solids. It's just that quick! We can now adjust the size of the chart, change colors and even rotate the chart to get the look we desire.
We should now save our work, but we have several choices. By saving this chart as a Harvard Chart, we can return later and make additional changes to both the spreadsheet and graphic chart. By saving the graphic chart separately as a BMP, CGM, EPS or WMF file, we can import this chart into a word processor, desktop publishing program or other graphics package. Since we can use this chart for future client data, we will save it as a Chart Style, in the Gallery. This allows us to add our own comments about when to use this chart and it will take only 10 clicks of the mouse to go from an existing spreadsheet to a finished chart. Now you or one of your assistants can quickly produce complex charts, without knowing much about ChartXL!
Overall, this program is a very useful and powerful addition to your current spreadsheet program, but no program is perfect and it does have a few rough edges. Some of these problems will have greater impact on some people than others, but there are ways around most of them.
ChartXL spreadsheets can only be exported in the most unusual Harvard DAT format. When this is imported into a "real" spreadsheet program, as a text file, blank ChartXL cells become cells filled with the letters "NaN" and the first two rows contain extraneous data. Blanking the "NaN" cells and deleting the first two rows is the only way to get around this one.
The axes can be scaled by a multiplier which is a nice feature to allow the labels to display units in millions of dollars instead of dollars (by multiplying by 0.000001). This feature, however, does not work properly with the Data Cursor feature, as the modified data item will become scaled by the multiplier.. The resulting chart will be radically altered if the automatic axis scaling is being used. Therefore if you want to use the data cursor, don't scale the axis!
Colormap is another useful feature, which lets you color your chart according to data value. Unfortunately, Harvard ChartXL's implementation is useful only for data that is fairly evenly spread out over the entire data range, as each color range must be the same size. For example, if your data ranges from 0 to 100 and most of the data is between 0 and 20 with only a few data items between 80 and 100, most of the color range will be used up in the areas that have no data!
The ability to rotate charts in three dimensions is very useful, but using the perspective feature to gain added visual impact can sometimes result in the chart being drawn incorrectly by ChartXL. If this occurs, I would suggest changing the rotation or turning the perspective off.
The program also has a "snap to grid" feature which can help you align objects in the chart, but it is not possible to adjust the spacing or center of the grid. This may be a problem only if you require specialized alignment of your charts.
Multiple, three dimensional pie charts are another unusual chart type, but there is no way to adjust the spacing between each of the individual pies and sometimes the labels get quite crowded. My only suggestion is to use a different chart style or eliminate the crowded labels and add them manually with the text annotation feature.
The table chart is a chart style that looks like a spreadsheet with rows and columns, but it allows each cell to be individually colored. Changing the font or font size in this entire chart can be quite difficult as font changes can only be made in rows, columns or individual cells. It may take awhile, but you will have to change the font one row or one column at a time and will eventually change the font in entire chart.
If the "large buttons" feature of the toolbar is used on a 640x480 display, several of the buttons will disappear off the screen, therefore this feature is useful only on high resolution displays. It would be nice to be able to customize the toolbars like many word processing and spreadsheet programs. Unlike Microsoft Office programs, the floating toolbar help requires that your mouse cursor be absolutely motionless in order to get help. This makes it very difficult to get help if you are using an alternative input such as a pen, an IBM laptop pointer or even a slightly jittery mouse.
I've tried to give you a glimpse into Harvard ChartXL 2.0 and haven't covered all its many useful features. Even with its problems, it provides an economical and efficient way of creating colorful charts and graphs and it's a great program to use with your new color printer or a great reason to consider buying one.
Three dimension rotations can sometimes result in charts with incorrect perspective (like that of an optical illusion).
Lack of string functions and other features in the included spreadsheet. It's so close to being a "real" spreadsheet, if additional features were added many people could use this program as their exclusive spreadsheet.