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RSI Releases IDL Version 6.0 07.30.2003

July 30, 2003
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New program accelerates data analysis, visualization and cross-platform application development.

Research Systems Inc. (RSI), a wholly owned subsidiary of Eastman Kodak Company, announced that it has released IDL version 6.0. This major product release offers significant enhancements in the areas of flexibility and ease-of-use to complement IDL’s strong foundation.

"The feedback we've received from customers is that the new features of IDL 6.0 are enhancements they can take advantage of right out of the box," said Richard Cooke, president and COO of RSI. "All of the new enhancements enable current and new IDL users alike to perform data analysis and visualization more quickly and easily than ever before."

Among the new features in IDL 6.0 are:

IDL Virtual Machine™

IDL Virtual Machine (IDL VM) is a free runtime utility that provides a simple, no-cost method for IDL users and software developers to distribute compiled IDL code. Novice and advanced software developers alike can now distribute IDL code, applets or entire applications without additional runtime licensing or runtime license fees.

IDL VM greatly facilitates collaboration and code sharing in the worldwide IDL user community, giving researchers, scientists, engineers, and other technical professionals a simple and fast way to share applications powered by IDL. Because IDL code is platform-portable, users can write applications once and deploy their application and user interface code across multiple computing environments.

IDL VM is included with IDL 6.0 and is available for all IDL-supported platforms, including Windows, Linux, Mac OS X and the Unix operating systems. As IDL VM can exist without an IDL license and run without the IDL development environment, it may be downloaded from the RSI Web site.

“The ability to distribute IDL applications to other research teams via the new Virtual Machine will have a big impact on our collaborative efforts with other members of the scientific community,” said Pete Riley, senior research scientist at SAIC.

“It (IDL VM) makes my job easier as a consultant because I can deliver a product to clients without requiring them to pay extra fees for a runtime license. It offers flexibility of distribution without any strings attached,” said Dick Jackson of D-Jackson Software Consulting, which serves the scientific and research community.

IDL Intelligent Tools™ (iTools)

iTools is a new set of interactive utilities that gives IDL users the power to quickly and easily perform ad hoc data analysis and visualization and produce stunning, presentation-quality graphics. Based on the robust Object Graphics system, iTools helps IDL users get the most out of their data with minimal effort.

Using the new iTools, IDL users can continue to benefit from the control of a programming language, while enjoying the convenience of a point-and-click environment. IDL programmers can also leverage and customize these flexible tools in their own IDL applications.

“The iTools system is extremely well thought out. iTools provides a solid framework for building object-oriented tools. I particularly like the way object descriptors can be used as stand-ins for real objects. And separating object functionality from the physical representation of the object will pay huge dividends down the road for clients who want to use their applications in distributed environments. iTools also makes it extremely easy to save and restore object functionality. There is no question that having an object framework like this will shorten the time it takes to develop new object graphics tools,” said David Fanning of Fanning Software Consulting, which serves customers in the commercial and government markets.

Rick Towler, a research consultant for the University of Washington's School of Aquatic and Fishery Sciences, uses IDL primarily for visualizing fisheries acoustics data. As a beta tester for IDL 6.0, Rick and his students find iTools to be particularly valuable for analyzing complex data. "I immediately realized the value of iTools in enabling new or casual users of IDL to 'get into' their data quickly and easily. I work with students every day and I'm familiar with the analysis packages they use and what they are looking for. iTools fits right in," said Towler.

IDL-Java Bridge
IDL-Java Bridge is a built-in feature that allows IDL users to tie Java classes into their IDL applications to take advantage of special input/output, networking and third party functionality. IDL-Java Bridge allows IDL users to easily integrate IDL with other software technologies. It is supported on Windows, Linux, Solaris and Mac OS X.

"We plan to use it (IDL-Java Bridge) in conjunction with VisAD, an open-source, freely available, object-oriented package written in Java. VisAD offers a unique and sophisticated data model for geophysical observations, and allows us to ingest observational data and view 3D graphics in real-time for meteorological applications," said Liam Gumley, a researcher at the University of Wisconsin-Madison's Space Science and Engineering Center.

“The IDL Java-Bridge is fantastic. I expect it to only get better and to add a huge wealth of possibilities to IDL. We have a data access client currently written in IDL. This client requests data from a Java data server running on a remote machine, via TCP/IP. The multi-threaded nature of Java makes for a nice base for the client, which as a pure IDL application, cannot handle server-driven interrupts and error notifications. By putting an IDL analysis, computation and display layer on top of a Java communication layer, we can do all the necessary multi-threading and server-driven interrupts in the TCP/IP/Java layer, and pass the results up to IDL,” said Doug Rowland, research associate for the Space Physics Laboratory, School of Physics and Astronomy, University of Minnesota.

Other Enhancements
Developers familiar with the popular C programming language will especially like the new language enhancements for more intuitive programming. These include increment and decrement operators, compound assignment operators and logical operators. In addition to being succinct, these new operators make more efficient use of memory, helping programmers write both faster and more streamlined code.

Developers will also appreciate “path caching,” a technique added to IDL 6.0 to significantly boost the startup speed of large IDL programs.

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