Web Site: www.tradestation.com
Operating System: Windows XP SP2 through Windows 7; 32- and 64-bit versions.
Processor: Minimum, Standard and Power User Requirements range from single 1.5 GHz CPU with 2GB RAM to Dual- and Quad-Core 2.5GHz and higher with 2-4GB RAM.
Internet Connectivity: Minimum 1.5Mbps; Standard 3Mbps; Power 6Mbps.
Price: Product pricing varies based on asset class and subscription type. A typical retail brokerage customer who maintains a funded account has a $99.95 per month service fee (waived with moderate monthly trading activity; e.g., equities — 5000 shares; stock and index options and futures — 50 contracts). Stock and futures traders who use the RadarScreen component to scan and order a collection of assets pay an additional $59.95 per month. Subscription customers who do not maintain an account balance pay higher monthly fees. See the TradeStation website.
Real-time market data prices are exchange and order book (e.g., Level I/II) specific. The customer configures data feeds via the TradeStation website. Delayed data is at no cost. Commissions are specific to the exchange and volume traded. There are no forex commissions (typically, transaction fees are derived from trade bid-ask spreads). See the TradeStation website.
Overall Rating: 4 out of 4
TradeStation, arguably the leading PC financial software for the retail and small institutional trader, has been making incremental releases to its 8.0 products since 2004. So the release of TradeStation 9.0 in October 2010 carried high expectations for significant enhancements. In the eyes of this reviewer, TradeStation 9.0 has certainly met, if not exceeded, those expectations. The overall scope of its technology and user community continues to keep the product at the head of the class.
In fact, with so much technology and new features, simply reviewing the product is a daunting task. And if there is an Achilles heel to the product, it is that for the new user the learning curve can be steep. TradeStation 9.0 encompasses tools to actively trade stocks, options, futures and forex, addressing the full range of trade execution, from discretionary manual order entry to entirely computer automated and back-tested systems.
The TradeStation business functions as both a developer of technical trading software and as a broker. It has self-cleared stock transactions for several years. TradeStation’s commissions are highly competitive, but when account and data fees are added, TradeStation 9.0 may be vulnerable to solutions that derive their revenue solely from commissions. In any case, today there are tens of thousands of individual TradeStation retail customers.
As competitors attempt niche products that excel in a specific area, TradeStation 9.0 has continued to expand its scope in order to retain an advantage. Continuing to evolve without becoming overly complex may be the product’s greatest challenge. But then, I’d rather have that problem to deal with than be on the competition’s side of the equation.
Installation, documentation and support: 3.75 out of 4
Installation of TradeStation 9.0 from tradestation.com is straightforward. Recent releases of the product include an automatic update feature so that the user does not have to check for updates. TradeStation charts and graphics always have been attractively and professionally rendered. The 9.0 product was given a face-lift with new graphics and icons, while the overall application layout, thankfully, has remained consistent.
The architecture of TradeStation supports the use of multiple Desktops, which can be uniquely placed on each monitor/screen configured with the PC (multiple graphics cards and Windows multi-screen support can be used). Within a Desktop there can be multiple Workspaces, and within a Workspace multiple charts, data displays and order entry windows.
With this hierarchical design, the trader, using a single subscription and internet connection, can configure any number of screens. The retail trader or small institution can cost-effectively build a sophisticated trading desk with banks of monitors. This is a key feature of TradeStation and underlies the overall goals of the product — the individual trader has access to technology on par with the professional. Broadband internet and low-latency direct access networks help to make this a reality.
Product support is based on website sponsored forums where users can interact with seasoned users and a company support staff. With a large number of experienced and serious traders using the product, the forums are active and contain a wealth of information. The Strategy Network (see below), enhanced in the 9.0 release, gives the user access to third-party strategy and technical analysis software. Also, there is enough EasyLanguage free-ware at the forums to keep the new user fully engaged, to say the least.
Because of the size of the TradeStation customer base, phone support can be problematic if large numbers of users are simultaneously attempting access. If the trade order desk needs to be contacted to monitor a position because of network connectivity problems, the user may not always be able to get through. This problem persists even as TradeStation has heavily invested in its data network.
TradeStation documentation is extensive, well-written and easy to navigate, and has the look-and-feel of a Microsoft Office product like Excel. But, I gave a slightly less than perfect score for this portion of the review, based on a lack of examples using the new TradeStation 9.0 EasyLanguage class libraries and component toolbox; see below.
New Features: 4 out of 4
Recognizing the scope and complexity of TradeStation 9.0, there is a QuickStart feature to help the new user begin navigating the stock, options, futures and forex markets. Accessible from the Help main menu, QuickStart presents an uncluttered window of iconic panes to take the user to default workspaces that contain many of the trader’s necessary tools. Default workspaces include quote and chart windows; an active price ladder graphic (the "Matrix"); Level II bid/ask queues; an order entry bar, and the TradeManager, used to monitor trade status. Support and training links also are displayed prominently. QuickStart will give the user a toe-hold, but it does not eliminate the need to understand the many features of the pre-configured workspaces.
TradeStation 9.0 has incorporated a Quick Trade Bar that offers streamlined order entry graphics. It can be used with stock, futures and forex markets. TradeStation 9.0 now has three distinct mechanisms for manual order entry: The standard order entry bar near the top of the desktop (with a compact tab structure supporting equities, options, futures and forex markets); the Matrix point-and-click price ladder order entry interface, long a favorite of discretionary day-traders; and the new Quick Trade Bar. Perhaps the only missing order entry feature is the ability to manually place and manage orders from within a price chart, a new graphic technique that has surfaced in the last several years.
TradeStation leads the industry in promoting automated trade strategy development and execution for the retail and small institutional trader (the largest firms develop in-house solutions to differentiate their execution; TradeStation undoubtedly attempts to win large institutional clients, as well). For the purposes of trade strategy development, TradeStation has distinguished itself with EasyLanguage, a programming language reminiscent of a 1980s/90s computer programming language, with support for price charts, technical indicators, and order and account management.
EasyLanguage has a reputation as an excellent fast-prototyping tool for the algorithmic trader. Trade ideas can be programmed and backtested quickly to determine their efficacy. If a strategy looks promising it can be taken forward with additional development and live order execution development. It is an ideal environment for the retail trader interesting in moving from discretionary to automated, computer-generated trading.
EasyLanguage programming, until the release just prior to 9.0, had been part of the trading workspace. It now has its own stand-alone environment, referred to as the TradeStation Development Environment (TDE). From the TDE, TradeStation 9.0 has evolved EasyLanguage programming even more significantly, putting the language on par with contemporary object-oriented programming used in operating systems and across the Web (e.g., C++, C#, Java).
The TradeStation 9.0 TDE includes EasyLanguage Class Libraries and a Component Toolbox and Properties Editor that bring the TDE up to contemporary object-oriented development standards. Working with class libraries will be more familiar to the current generation of object-oriented programmers, but entirely opaque to the novice trader-programmer. The TDE is 100% backward compatible, so all existing EasyLanguage programs will execute correctly on TradeStation 9.0, and programmers comfortable with traditional EasyLanguage can continue to use it. However, there will now be a clear distinction between the professional EasyLanguage programmer and the non-professional trader-programmer.
With the TradeStation 9.0 Class Libraries and Component Toolbox, the EasyLanguage programmer has new support for functions and market data.
TradeStation is promoted as the leader in strategy development and execution, and TradeStation 9.0 has added new Strategy Optimization Features. There is a new "genetic" optimization feature intended to cut down the amount of time spent in optimization runs, often the bane of the strategy developer who is slowed by lengthy optimization passes. And there is additional support for strategy back-test with in- and out-of-sample data.
The TradeStation ecosystem, consisting of forums, consultants and third-party add-ons, is a product highlight. TradeStation 8.8 incorporated a Strategy Network of EasyLanguage strategy products that customers could search and quickly access for trials and subscriptions to third-party products. TradeStation 9.0 has seen the network grow to include over 650 third-party offerings (as of May 2011) and now includes stand-alone technical indicators as well. TradeStation 9.0 integrates third-party products seamlessly.
Finally, TradeStation 9.0 enhances OptionStation, the options trading component of the product, and has made changes to the entire product’s graphical look-and-feel.
TradeStation 9.0 builds on a mature, feature-rich legacy of real-time trading software, with an emphasis on trade strategy automation and execution. With the addition of object-oriented programming and event handling, and the integration of its Strategy Network, TradeStation 9.0 has the potential of initiating a new generation of automated trading for the retail customer.
Because of the scope of today’s active trading, there undoubtedly will be detractors who find a certain feature missing or inadequately implemented. TradeStation 9.0 may be vulnerable to losing market share from competing solutions that have a narrower focus, and when one combines subscription and market data fees, TradeStation 9.0 may not be the lowest-cost trading desktop.
But based on the quality of its software, the sophistication of its strategy automation, and its broad user support and third-party network, TradeStation 9.0 continues to get the very highest marks from this reviewer.
For 20 years Michael Gutmann was a software engineer and manager at Intel Corporation. He has recently published the 2nd Edition of a popular trading text: "The Very Latest E-Mini Trading: Using Market Anticipation to Trade Electronic Futures," 2nd Edition. He can be contacted via www.anticipationtrading.com.