Microsoft is giving Excel users a new way to explore data: GeoFlow. The technology, which sprang from a stargazing project at Microsoft Research, is capable of generating animated 3D visualizations on a globe or map powered by Bing Maps.
GeoFlow allows data analysts to embark on eye-catching flyovers and flythroughs, where data points can sprout out from the landscape like skyscrapers. Not only does it provide a flashy alternative to 2D charts and graphs, GeoFlow can help users gain valuable new perspectives on business data, according to the company.
"GeoFlow adds to the existing self-service business intelligence capabilities in Excel 2013, such as Microsoft Data Explorer Preview and Power View, to help discover and visualize large amounts of data, from Twitter traffic to sales performance to population data in cities around the world," wrote Microsoft Office product marketing manager Ari Schorr in a company blog post.
The Excel add-in's data-mapping capabilities allow Excel users to plot more than a million rows of data from a workbook. Available visualizations include columns, bubbles and heat maps. It supports annotations, viewing changes over time and virtual tours, which provided guided playback of animated visualizations.
GeoFlow origins trace back to Microsoft Research's WorldWide Telescope (WWT) project. WWT is a virtual observatory, of sorts, that allows astronomy buffs to seamlessly pan and zoom across terabytes of astronomical data and enjoy distortion-less visuals.
Curtis Wong, principal researcher at Microsoft Research Redmond, said that his team had to start big in order to bring the technology down to earth.
“With the dramatic growth in geospatial and temporal data, we wanted to explore new tools that could help us understand the large-scale temporal and geospatial trends that affect businesses. The goal always has been to bring dynamic, interactive data visualization to the business world," said Wong in a company statement.
"Yes, we built a gigantic virtual telescope, but to do so, we had to build an engine that could visualize the universe. If we can visualize the universe, we can visualize almost anything else," added Wong.
While Microsoft Research is a reliable source of whiz-bang concepts that rarely see a commercialized release, Wong pointed to WWT as a project whose innovations are influencing the company's business software portfolio. "WWT was a project that gave the research work a focus on a real problems and access to data and imagery, and it also contributed something valuable to the study of astronomy: a unified visualization of everything, accessible to everyone," he stated.
"But soon after the launch, we set a very deliberate goal: that we needed to guide the work in a way that it would ultimately find a home within one of the product groups," said Wong.
Microsoft's GeoFlow Preview is available now as a free download and requires Excel 2013 (Office Professional Plus 2013 or Office 365 ProPlus).