Friday, September 15, 2006

Sparkline Generators For Excel: Features Comparison

Juice Analytics have highlighted two great resources for embedding Sparklines - "tiny, word-like graphs" - into Excel spreadsheets. Each involves the use of a custom font which interprets Excel data and renders it in "graphlike" fonts.

The two offerings are Sparkmaker and, more recently, MicroCharts. MicroCharts appears to be more robust, but the need for readers of spreadsheets to have custom fonts installed on their own computers to view the embedded charts seems like a significant usability issue - Sparkmaker has the ability to output its charted products in .gif, jpeg and .png formats, which renders them uneditable but allows for easy spreadsheet sharing.

I noticed that MicroCharts' free download is a trial version of the software that expires in August 2007. It's a generous trial window, so I was curious to know what would happen after that. I emailed Andreas Flockermann at BonaVista Systems, the company behind MicroCharts, to find out. Flockermann said that the final pricing has not yet been determined, but should be in the ballpark of $300 for a license, while the font needed to view such charts will remain free. Sparkmaker, in contrast, offers its Office add-in free of charge for personal and academic use, and sells commercial licenses for $200. While these prices may seem high to Office users accustomed to paying $30-$50 for a useful add-in, the addition of fresh-baked fonts (which can run anywhere from $40 to $100 apiece) makes both of these prices seem a bit more reasonable.

Here's a chart to sum it up. Color values indicate which service "wins" in each category; the best model for your needs will depend on which categories are most important to you.

I discussed the uses and abuses of Sparklines in a previous post. Click here to read JA's post on MicroCharts.

UPDATE: Microcharts has since added a lot of new functionality and brought down its prices. In addition to the details I mentioned here, you should make sure to check their site out to make your own evaluation based on their product's new features. They have also informed me that they will be releasing Microcharts 2.0 in May 2007.


TheBizofKnowledge said...

I've never heard of Sparklines before, but after reading this post and the one from July that you linked to, I am definitely intrigued. This is something I can make great use of nearly every day. I will have to find out even more about it now. Thanks for the info!!

Jon said...

Here's another approach to sparklines by Fernando Cinquegrani:

It's pure Excel, with no need for VBA, special fonts, or any of the usual overhead associated with these techniques.