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IDL5.3 and documentation

With his permission, I am posting RSI's Mark Goosman's answer to some
questions I posted on this newsgroup recently. He also provided the
following information about the next release of IDL:

IDL 5.3 is scheduled for October 99.

Mark's message:

I wanted to give you a response to the wishlist you posted recently to
newsgroup comp.lang.idl-pv-wave. I'm the IDL/ION Product Manager. In
list, you had some very good comments and I wanted to make sure you
a response to each of the issues. If you have comments or questions on
or any other issues, please let me know.

1) Enable help to be read using NETSCAPE.

Research Systems makes every effort to make the online documentation as 
convenient and easy to use as possible. To this end, we distribute our
in the most widely accepted manner in the software industry. Online
documentation is 
distributed in Adobe Acrobat format (.PDF). This allows better document
handling as well as 
being more efficient with disk space.

Prior to the IDL 5.2 release, we did make an effort to include an HTML
version of the IDL 
documentation. In addition to taking up almost 30% of the total file
it created a third 
method of distributing IDL documentation (Original FrameMaker files,
Acrobat, and 
HTML). This is in addition to the platform specific on-line help. The
decision was made to 
eliminate the HTML files and concentrate on the overall quality of the
documentation in PDF format.

2) Make sure that ALL the keywords for all procedures are documented. It
is hard to know if undocumented keywords are in the category of "Don't
use this since we reserve the right to change it" or are simply left out
because no one updated the documentation.

In most cases, we do attempt to completely document IDL routines and all
keywords. In some cases, there may be issues with the functionality
associated with 
a keyword. If the keyword either does not work as it should or is
replace by
functionality, it may not be the best decision to continue support for
particular keyword.
by removing references to it in the documentation but leaving the
functionality, we maintain
backward compatibility. 

In the IDL 5.3 release you will see major improvements to the
set which reflects our 
commitment to improving the quality and value of IDL.  If their are
omissions we should 
correct please let us know and I will ensure these are addressed.  Thank
for your interest and attention to IDL!  

3) Math routines that work! In the version of CURVEFIT that was
distributed a couple of years ago, there were so many serious errors
that I had to hack the code all over the place to get it to compute the
parameter errors properly. Just saw the posting on the SVDFIT routine
which also seems to have bugs. I love IDL, but I must admit that I have
gotten to the point where I don't even trust that it computes Bessel
functions properly without doing some cross-checks with other programs.

We are working to improve the quality of every functional area of IDL.
past couple of releases 
saw an incredible amount of attention to IDL's visual capabilities with
Object Graphics, a wide array of 
new data formats, enhancements to the language to support several new
types (16 bit 
signed/unsigned and 64 bit signed and unsigned), support for very large
files (> 2 Gb) on many 
systems, and a whole new development environment. Hopefully, you've
any errors you find in 
any of the analysis routines so that they can be entered in to our
tracking system.   

4) Has someone found a real manual for the GUI builder? If so, I'd love
to read it! I've tried to track it down in the Help menu but just have
not been able to navigate to a manual that actually shows you how to use
the thing, rather than simply telling you that it exists.

The IDL GUIBuilder does not have a stand-alone manual. As a part of the
Environment, it is documented with the other features of the IDLDE. As
was introduced in the IDL 
5.2 release, it is currently documented in the "What's New in IDL 5.2"
manual. With the IDL 5.3 
release, we will be reorganizing and greatly enhancing most of the IDL
manuals. At this time, we will 
be moving the documentation for the IDL GUIBuilder into the "Building
Applications" manual. 

5)I would LOVE to have as easy reference for each function a history
list of what changes were made in what version of IDL. I know this is
asking for too much, but it sure would help when trying to figure out
why things that used to work don't work any more!

Each IDL release includes a "What's New ..." manual to describe any
to IDL. As 
far as figuring out why things used to work but don't work any more, we
make every effort to make 
IDL 100% backward compatible.  With everything we do, one major goal is
make sure that existing 
customers have the best impression of each new IDL release. We do,
have situations where 
behavior does change between releases. Many times, specific behavior may
indicate a problem that 
is fixed in a later release of IDL. This may cause applications that
depending on the errant behavior, to behave differently.

6)The old DEMO routines in the old days actually did simple things like
draw plots of sine waves in black and white - the kind of thing that a
beginning user would like to know how to do. I used to be able to have
my students learn IDL by running the DEMO and then looking at the code
that produced it. This is no longer possible. The demo is so
high-powered that it is impossible for beginning IDL users to use it as
a way of learning how to program in IDL. I think this is a real loss.
I learned IDL by looking over someone's shoulder and by reading through
programs that did close to what I wanted to do myself. 

We are trying to address the needs of the new IDL user. Part of this is
identifying the best tools to 
help a user get started as well as understanding the purpose of the IDL
system. In the past, 
the best way to learn IDL was to reverse-engineer the demo system.
Unfortunately, IDL now has 
widgets, objects, object graphics, ActiveX Control, etc. With all of
new functionality, we have
come to realize that we need a better way to get someone started using
Part of the IDL 5.3 
release will be a new IDL Getting Started manual. This should address
concern you mentioned 
over how someone learns the basics of IDL. We are also re-releasing the
HandiGuide. This is 
going to be a major improvement over the previous IDL HandiGuide in that
lists each routine as well 
as all parameters and keywords.

Again, if you have questions on any of these issues or anything else,
do not hesitate to let me know.

Best regards,

Mark Goosman

Mark Goosman     	
IDL/ION Product Manager
Research Systems, Inc.
4990 Pearl East Circle
Boulder, CO 80301 USA
Tel: 303-413-3966               				
Fax: 303-786-9909
Email: mgoosman@rsinc.com

WWW: http://www.rsinc.com