Founded in 1996, Visualize, Inc. develops and markets a series of Java-based products for interactive data analysis and visualization. They announced the availability of the latest version of their VantagePoint data visualization class library at JavaOne back in June, and I was recently given the opportunity to test out the new version of the software.
Visualize recommends that you have some experience working with Java programs and data visualization before you start working with VantagePoint. The key to your success with the product is understanding Visualize's VIDA (Visual Interactive Data Analysis) architecture. VIDA is the process by which numerical data is translated into pictures that are more intuitive for end users to understand. VantagePoint supports a wide variety of these 2D, 21/2D and 3D visualization objects (charts and graphs) with hooks that allow you to add real-time drill-downs. Visualize provides precooked example programs that show you just how this interaction process works, and I found these examples incredibly helpful in mastering the product.
Installation and Configuration
Visualize makes the software available through their Web site. The VantagePoint download is delivered as an InstallShield Java Edition program, which means you'll need to have a copy of the JDK installed in order to run the installation program. Installation is quick and painless and the entire extract takes up only 25 megabytes of disk space. VantagePoint is packaged as a set of class libraries, which are meant to be used with a Java development environment. Therefore, the installation program doesn't create the start-menu icons you'd typically find with other Windows-based installations.
Working with VantagePoint
The easiest way to get started is to navigate to the root directory for VantagePoint and to open up the "index" HTML page, which will take you to a link for the online manuals. Within the manuals you'll find a wealth of example charts and graphs, such as the one shown in Figure 1.
All of the examples can be run directly from the example HTML pages. Visualize cleverly includes a listbox window in which you can see the events firing as you interact with the graphs. Since I'm not intimately familiar with the ins and outs of data visualization, I found these interactive examples to be an excellent way of learning how to work with the VantagePoint libraries.
Visualize has a sparse tutorial, but I was able to use it to get my first program up and running fairly quickly. When you download VantagePoint you'll receive a license key via e-mail from Visualize. In order to run any of your own code you'll need to load the license as a parameter using the addLicense method of your charting object. I loaded the two-dimensional line chart sample program source code into the NetBeans Java IDE and edited the sample source code. I then added my license key to the chart object and modified the data values and parameters for this sample line chart. The resulting months-and-orders graph is shown in Figure 2. While it isn't terribly sophisticated, you have to appreciate the fact that I had the code modified and running in less than 10 minutes.
VantagePoint comes equipped with some very sophisticated routines for managing data and calculations and it will take you some time to become familiar with all of the capabilities of the product. This is not a product for a novice developer, but I'd recommend it for those developers that are looking at creating complex interactive visualization applications.
Jim Milbery is a software consultant with Kuromaku Partners LLC, based in Easton, Pennsylvania . He has over 15 years
of experience in application development and relational
Jim can be reached via the company Web
site at www.kuromaku.com.