Monday, December 11, 2006


I ignore the history of Acorn and generally don't like to express my thoughts about people. Unfortunately I assigned to myself the task of defeating the generalized laziness of the web and now I am forced to describe Acorn's main product, called NUTS (NMR Utility Transform Software). The bad thing is not NUTS, but the laziness of the web. You can find countless lists of NMR software whose only effect is a great loss of time for all their readers. Most of the programs you can find have serious limitations and can be considered unusable. The compilers of the list never find the time to download, test the programs, write a review and discourage you from doing the same.
This particular case (NUTS) is a borderline one. The program is worth to see because is a living fossil, just like its nice vintage icon suggests. Using NUTS can be as funny as visiting a museum. The web site is informative, readable, moderately vintage (by today's web standards) and certainly a valuable source of information. I appreciate a lot the simplicity of the pricing policy, its transparency, the immediate availability of a downloadable demo, etc.. a lot of things that I am in tune with.
There is nothing wrong in writing a program in an ancient DOS-like style. It's the right answer to the hundreds of icons of Topspin (there are no icons into Nuts). I am seriously concerned, however, at the mere idea that in 2006 a chemist could invest money in buying such a fossil. The user can only open a single window with a single pane and two spectra cannot remain open simultaneously. There is something more unusual, though. In a single word: this program is modal, if you know what it means. Before testing Nuts I believed that all Bruker software was modal. Today I must say that Bruker software is 40% modal, while NUTS is pure modal. It's so modal that the manual doesn't even mention the existence of modes and calls them "subroutines". There are 9 of them, plus the starting mode, called "base level". In simpler words: there is a total of 10 different interfaces (just like ten different programs) and the user is expected to learn them all. I wonder how somebody can remember where the commands are because, even when the menus bear familiar names like "Edit" and "View", the menu items are highly non-standard. It's not a matter of opinion, is a matter of design. I mean: if you are writing a program for the Macintosh, like Acorn is doing, you should adhere to clearly stated principles and practices. The principle is that half of your commands should be the familiar "Copy", "Paste", "Undo"... in their familiar menu positions.
The good thing is that you can just ignore the menus. All the NUTS command can and should be written in the command line. Menus have an aesthetic function. In the basic level you find six equivalent menu commands: "Processing Parameters", "Set LB", "Apply EM", "Apply GM", "Set Sine Phase", "Apply Sine Multiply". They all open the same dialog window!
A noteworthy property of most menu items is that they are not context sensitive. They are never dimmed, even when there is no spectrum "on stage". In practice, half of the commands, if given at the start of the program, crash the program itself! It's also funny to see that they make no distinction of FID or spectrum. Knowing "what's on" is 100% responsibility of the user. The sine-bell multiplication, for example, that is intended for FIDs, can easily be applied to transformed spectra, even if I can't find no good reason for such an operation.
All the above things are today considered "non-professional", yet they represent surmountable defects. The average user can discriminate by himself if he is working on a FID or on a spectrum and he will soon learn to do without menus and use the command line exclusively. Now you also know why there is no "Undo" command: the program crashes as soon as you make a mistake, nobody had ever the opportunity of using "Undo" and it was eventually removed. Using the same logic, however, most of the remaining menu items could have removed: For example, the first 6 items of the "Process" menu, plus the six other items already cited, could all have been put into a single dialog.
In my exploration I haven't found the commands to enhance/decrease the apparent intensity of the spectrum. It may be a limitation of the demo version, but at this point I am full of doubts and believe in nothing. Is NUTS actually "usable"? The web site says that they are developing the Mac version because they received specific requests in that direction. How is it possible that somebody who loves the Mac can order a program driven by the command line? How is it possible that they sell NUTS 1D at 499 USD and the fully fledged Mestre-C sells at 265 euro only?
This review refers to wxNuts version 0.6.0, compiled on October 19, 2006.


At 12:11 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Certo che ti fai degli amici...
bel post ciao

At 6:45 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

While the NUTS interface is antiquated at best, it has two enormous conveniences that make it my everyday NMR software. 1. It is incredibly fast -> command line processing means I can process a spectrum in just a few seconds without ever lifting my hands off the keyboard. 2. I haven't yet found a better tool for creating publishing/presentation ready graphics -> export a file as scaleable vector graphics is incredibly useful. I would like some improvements (overlaying spectra tools and the like are archaic), but NUTS does some mission-critical things better than any other software I know of, and is therefore my current tool of choice.


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