There's so much Flash around these days. By Flash, I mean SWF files, more commonly known as Shockwave Flash output. It is a compressed vector format that includes animation and interactivity. Ever since Macromedia opened the format to third party developers, there has been a flood of applications of all sorts that output to Flash SWF. You have specialized applications that create Flash animations, banners, presentations, movies, slideshows, screen savers and charts. Our subject for this review is a new charting application called rChart from a company called rObjects that outputs charts in the SWF format.
Charts in rChart can be created from existing data sources or data entry within the program. Also included within the actual product is an Excel add-in that integrates to create SWF charts within the spreadsheet program. Finally, rChart allows a variety of output options. You can export to SWF as also export the entire SWF to a PowerPoint presentation. You can also export to still graphic formats with niceties like resolution control - a great option if you need to print charts.Back
rObjects, a company based in Toronto, Canada develops content creation tools for rich media applications. Apart from rChart, they develop several other Flash related products including rFlash, rP-XML, rVideo and rPaint. Some of these products are still in the development stage.
You'll find more info about rObjects and their products at their web site (link no longer exists).
My contact at rObjects for this review was Carl Robinson, their VP of Product Development. I wish to thank him for his support during this review.Back
Download, Purchase and Installation
rChart comes in three specific versions. The basic version, called rChart Pro costs US$69 for download - the same product comes on CD with a User Guide for US$99. The Enterprise version adds enterprise content delivery options for US$199 and US$229 for download and CD versions respectively. A Studio version is in the pipeline - this will add broadcast video support.
rObjects also has a trial version of the product available for download. Carl Robinson, Senior Product Engineer at rObjects says: "The download is a complete package with all features enabled; all we do is watermark the output when rChart is run unlicensed. This allows you to explore all product features before you buy".
Installation is a quick affair - just choose your setup folder and the product creates a startup group for you.Back
Getting Started and The Manual
I received a PDF manual with my copy - this in effect is almost the same as the help menu within the program. For all practical purposes, both the manual and the help menu are very poorly constructed. There's plenty of info, but none is presented in a logical or practical style. I printed the PDF manual of 50 pages - there is no page of contents or even an index. If you have a question, you have to look at all the 50 pages to find answers. I hope rObjects reorganizes their help menu and manual soon - this is all the more unfortunate since the application has much better usage standards.
rObjects has a nice streaming Flash movie on their site that shows an overview of the product - it would be nice to have such stuff integrated with the product help.Back
rChart opens with a new 'Tip of the Day' whenever you load the program. One tip told me that I could smoothen the lines in a chart - most of the tips illuminate you about how customizable all elements in a chart you create within this program are.
You can click the 'Create a new document' icon (the first icon) to start a new chart. This opens the Style dialog box where you get to choose the chart style you prefer - some of the styles include area, point, stock, bubble, lines, pie, scatter and bars. Most of these styles have several sub-styles you can choose from. I chose the Stock style - this had only one sub-style. Clicking the 'OK' button gets you to the data-source dialog box - this provides you with options to import data from a text file, an ODBC data source, a data source description file or the Windows clipboard if any data is copied to the clipboard. The Excel spreadsheet option is also active if you have an Excel instance open at the same time. I chose the data entry option which provides you with a customizable grid - here you can type your data. Unfortunately, if you have a somewhat larger data area, you will have to scroll through the window all the time - it would have been good to have a resizable data entry window.
Once you have finished the data entry, pressing the Finish button takes you to the program's main interface with the chart ready for further customization.Back
Nothing makes rChart's abilities more obvious than the level of customization it offers - at some times, the possibilities are entirely amazing. You can customize every thing from the colour shade to the size and type of font. You can customize the placement of each element as also their animation possibilities. Text can be justified and orienation can be both vertical or horizontal. You can even attach a URL to any text or graphic element.
Background colours can be changed - you can even use a picture as a backdrop.
Whatever customization you do, a thorough awareness of charting is desirable - most charts are not as easy to create or edit unless you understand some charting terminology.Back
Finished charts can be exported to a SWF file, you can also directly export SWFs to be embedded within HTML and ASP web pages or within a PowerPoint presentation.
rChart's PowerPoint integration is exemplary - you can export the Flash charts to an open PowerPoint presentation - such Flash charts are embedded within the PowerPoint file itself. rChart also does not cover the entire slide with the exported Flash chart so that you can use PowerPoint's own navigation tools to go back and forth between slides.
rChart's ability to embed Flash content in PowerPoint is not limited to its own Flash charts - it helpfully allows you to do that for any Flash SWF file.
rChart is a great product with extensive capabilities that achieves so much within its framework. It works very well with Excel and PowerPoint and has useful extras everywhere.
All styles can be saved and re-used - you can even share styles between users. I personally find much to like about the product and assume that its few glitches are just part of an evolution when you look at a version 1 product.
All put together, the product provides excellent value at its price point.Back