Monday, June 10, 2013

Visual Intelligence - Book Review

Time for something a bit different on my blog, a book review! I haven't done any book reviews on here before because I'm not much of a book reader and especially not technical books. Usually I just skip around and reference the chapters that I need, but for this book I actually read it cover to cover. And on top of all that I'm reviewing a book that I actually know all of the authors, so no pressure.

The book that I'm reviewing is "Visual Intelligence: Microsoft Tools and Techniques for Visualizing Data" by Mark Stacey (blog | Twitter), Joe Salvatore (blog) and Adam Jorgensen (blog | Twitter) published by Wiley on April 2013. The first thing that you will notice about this book is that it is published in color, and no I'm not just talking about the cover, but the pages in the book actually have color printing throughout. While most of you may think that this isn't a big deal, for technical books it is very rare that you can get a publisher to take this risk since it does add to the cost of the printing the book. In the case of this book though, it is required that it be printed in color because of the different visualizations being shown throughout along with helping to highlight points throughout about good and bad use of color in visualizations. There are many diagrams, screenshots and pictures throughout the book, which help to summarize the various tools that are being referenced. This is probably the strongest point about this book is that it does a great job outlining exactly what each Microsoft visualization tool does and does not do. The technologies covered are all Microsoft in this book, so you will not find any comparisons in detail on the Microsoft tools over a competitor, which I think helps to narrow the focus of this book and prevents it from becoming overly complex in explaining what each tool can or cannot do. The Microsoft technologies covered span from Microsoft Excel, SQL Server Reporting Services, PerformancePoint to the newest PowerPivot and Power View and few others in-between.

This book is great for anyone that is evaluating various Microsoft visualization tools and having a hard time deciding which ones to use in their applications. It is also great review for those that have used most or all of these technologies over the years to make sure you understand them and help to explain the newer ones that you may not know so much about. I have used all of the tools mentioned in this book in various applications over the years, so for me this book provided a great resource for clearing up why certain tools only do things in a very specific way. In the end I think that I will use this book in the future as a reference tool when I go into a client that is not sure what visualizations they want to use to help make the discussions go quicker and be able to provide quick samples of each.

I also want to mention that there are exercises that you can do in just about every section of this book. I did not actually go through these exercises at this time, but I do hope to have the time to go back and do that in the near future. To do all of these exercises you will need quite a bit of software since Microsoft has all of these tools spread across the SQL Server, SharePoint and Office families of products. There are instructions provided or links mentioned in the book for how to get all of this software setup along with where to get the sample data used. There is also a website setup by Wiley for this book that contains more information related to the book.

Overall, I found this book to be a very easy read and provided a great overview of lots of different tools in the Microsoft product list that can be used for visualizing data. The book also throws in some of the history of visualizations too, which I found really fascinating, especially the pictures of some very early ones. If you are thinking about using Microsoft tools for data visualization and unsure which tools to use, this book would be perfect for you since it will give you the details for each tool and what its strengths and weaknesses are. Even if you are a developer that works with these technologies, I'm sure just like me you still can get confused on which tools do which visualizations better than others, so it works as a great quick reference for that as well. And if you are looking for just that type of comparison, Appendix A has all of the features for each tool summarized in tables that makes it very easy to find the right tool for the job.

If you are interested in getting this book, below is the link to to pick it up and it is also available in Kindle format, but I would recommend only reading that on a color device (Kindle Fire, iPad, Surface or any other color capable tablet/e-book reader).