Origin adds freebie to research aid

Free viewer allows users to see data and documents in files created by company's research management software.

Editor's Note: This story was updated at 10:30 a.m. March 21, 2006, to amend the spelling of Joe Przechocki's name.

OriginLab has launched the Origin Viewer, a free software tool that allows users to view documents stored in Origin files. The company is hoping that the viewer will make its purchased software more useful to the scientists who comprise its primary market and possibly inspire a few new sales.

OriginLab’s primary software product, Origin, allows scientists to pack all of the electronic documents associated with a research project — raw data, word processor documents, slide presentations and spreadsheets, among other files — into a single file in Origin’s proprietary OPJ format. Other Origin users can unpack the files, and now anyone can download the free viewer to see the information.

Origin likens the viewer to Adobe’s free Acrobat reader for PDF documents. Robert Nelson, a senior research associate at the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center’s Astrochemistry Laboratory, has been testing the viewer and its earlier incarnations for about three years. He has used Origin for about 10 years for projects such as his research on the gases present in the atmospheres of the solar system’s outer planets.

When other scientists have the Origin Viewer, Nelson can assemble and edit the documents he sends to them in Origin, and they can use the viewer to see or print the documents. In the past, he would have to export graphs and other specialized documents as PDF files for colleagues who were not Origin users, a time-consuming and sometimes difficult feat.

“In some cases, what I need to share with a colleague is the data that I’ve worked up, not just the raw data,” Nelson said. “I don’t work with huge files, but it’s not uncommon for me to be working with files that might have several thousand data pairs. I find that I have no trouble at all working with them” in Origin.

Origin users can also set some documents in a project file to be invisible to Viewer users, said Joe Przechocki, Origin product marketing manager. That allows scientists to release only certain documents without removing them from the Origin file and then restoring them later, he said.

“This really opens up the door to sharing with many people,” Przezhocki said.

Although Origin is already widely used in government labs, Przezhocki said the company would like to continue to develop that market.

However, he downplayed the marketing aspect of the viewer. “Of course, we would like to further our penetration within the market — that certainly would be great,” he said. But “our primary reason is to facilitate collaboration.”

Jonathan Eunice, president and principal analyst at Illuminata, questioned whether the viewer offers much value. Most creative products can export documents to PDF or other graphics formats, which already have free readers available, he said. “Having a free reader for the native Origin format probably gives you a few more options, and perhaps a little more visual precision when viewing the charts,” Eunice said. However, he added, “all told, Viewer is a minor increment to a scientific graphing package, not something of more general utility.”

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