E&T looks at National Instruments new version of Labview while we also compare mobile office apps for smartphone operating systems such as Apple, Microsoft, and Android.
For engineers used to hard-coding systems and programming in the likes of C or Fortran, meeting LabVIEW will be a bit like your first encounter with an Apple Mac or a Windows PC. But for many who have grown up with the Windows metaphor, the question will be: why isn't all programming already done this way?
Now nearly 25 years old, LabVIEW enables design, test, measurement and control systems to be built as graphical block flowcharts. Subprograms or modular routines called virtual instruments (VIs) are assembled into a diagram showing the flow and processing of data. It also ties the creation of the user interface into the development of the rest of the system - and it allows an entire system to be designed as a coherent whole, in a system-level design approach.
If there is a criticism of LabVIEW, apart from it being a proprietary product of National Instruments (NI), it is that by hiding its complexity it can lull the user into a false sense of security. While relatively simple systems are easy - its best-known implementation is in the Lego Mindstorms robotics kits, for example - it can be hard to build and manage complex ones without a sound understanding of both the system being built and LabVIEW itself.
So, enough background. NI has just released the latest version of the software called LabVIEW 2010. But what has been added, and what direction will the toolkit be taking?
Two of the more significant changes involve improvements to the compiler hierarchy - LabVIEW's compiler is a lot more complex than the typical compiler because of LabVIEW's inherent parallelism. As well as optimising code generation at various levels, NI's developers have also built in the open-source LLVM (low-level virtual machine) infrastructure, allowing users to work at higher levels of abstraction. There are also new tools to streamline programs by eliminating both common subexpressions and unreachable code. Overall, an average performance improvement of 20 per cent is claimed.
To help with large projects, compile tasks can also be delegated to a compile server, which can in turn be clustered with worker machines. The idea is that companies can either set up their own compile farm, or rent capacity on a remote one - in effect making use of cloud compilation. NI has its own compile service in beta-testing, but expects to see third parties host similar services in future.
LabVIEW programs are typically deployed to a target that includes both a PC-based element for supervisory tasks and a Xilinx-based FPGA for real-time work. As there are already many others developing code elements for FPGAs, NI has made it possible to add third-party intellectual property to LabVIEW 2010 programs for deployment to the FPGA.
Similarly, the company also established an online marketplace where developers can offer free and paid-for toolkits and add-ons for LabVIEW, such as code-reuse libraries, templates, UI controls and connectors to other software packages.
One new feature that NI seems particularly pleased with in LabVIEW 2010 is the Idea Exchange - an online forum where users can suggest new features and also vote on their peers' suggestions. It has already incorporated 14 new features from this, including a Web-based hardware configuration tool for remote LabVIEW targets, an improved driver finder for instruments, and seemingly simple stuff that nevertheless makes life a lot easier for developers such as the ability to label the 'wires' on dataflow diagrams.
Documents 2 Go
Dataviz were the first company to release portable office apps way back for the Palm and continue to produce worthy productivity software.
Documents can be edited in portrait and landscape mode. Shown above is an excel file on the iPad. The Word interface is a definite challenger for Apple's own productivity suite, while the powerpoint app blows all the competition out of the water. Overall, it offers the best compatibility with Microsoft other than the Redmond company's own offering, of course. It is available on a wide variety of platforms and offers great content creation features. It has a slick and intuitive interface, excellent editing controls and Google Docs support. Performance is good and file syncing is easy.
iPhone, Android, Blackberry, iPad, Windows Mobile
Apple always releases software that is just compelling - but may have fallen short of its ambition with this version initially only available for the iPad, which leaves users needing more. All three applications include helpful tutorials that simultaneously describe and demonstrate
the bulk of their features which is easy to do given the pruning they've received for their initial iPad releases.
Unfortunately, one major and common problem shared by all three apps is the iPad's not-quite-finished iPhone OS 3.2 file-saving and printing system. Apple has dispensed with essential buttons such as ‘save' and ‘print' in favour of ‘send', ‘share' and ‘export' features, all exposing the iPad's dependence on a computer for printing and tweaking documents initially edited on the tablet. It integrates well with Apple's own MobileMe offering, but unfortunately, doesn't offer support for any other cloud services. Even still, it's a good start and may satisfy the needs of less demanding users.
The advantage that Quickoffice Files has over the competition is that it allows document transfer to and from the device. It supports PDF, PowerPoint, .HTML, iWork, images and others. Quickword allows the user to create, view and edit Microsoft Word documents. Quicksheet is designed to edit Microsoft Excel. Quickpoint - you get the picture!
Another major feature of Quickoffice is its ability to connect with cloud services including MobileMe, Dropbox, Google Docs and Box.net. In Use. Quickoffice is best used as a file viewer. It has a good set of features that make editing reasonably efficient, but content creation would be a task too far.
Symbian, Blackberry, iPhone, Android, iPad
Microsoft Mobile Office 10
Microsoft Office remains the overwhelmingly dominant productivity suite that workers use to build and share business documents. In terms of compatibility with its desktop parent, Mobile Office remains the best Office app out there. It scores very highly for, not just viewing documents, but for basic creation and light editing of more complex documents.
The Office franchise is Microsoft's crown jewel, and there's no good reason to chain it only to Microsoft's mobile platform. A reasonably priced mobile version of Office would be a big hit on other platforms.
Office2 for iPhone
While some Office Apps are easy to use and quite useful, the app market and players are generally quite new. These guys, on the other hand, have been around for a while.
Office2 has truly evolved over its lifespan and, like many of the other Office apps, it allows good connectivity to cloud-based services like Google Docs. Not only can you view your Google Docs from within this app but you can also edit, copy, move and even save them to your device.
In addition to being able to edit documents and spreadsheets, you can also view a variety of other documents and save them to your device using this app. This includes file types like PDFs and media files.
All in all, this app is a great way to make small modifications to documents, or even create simple documents in a pinch.