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December 2001, Week 1 -- Getting the Picture

 

 PhotoImpact 7

 

   Everyone from large corporations to the home office artist uses the computer for graphics, sometimes every day. We're going to look at three new programs with plenty of power and lots of praise.

   Instead of building to a climax, let's start with our all-time favorite. That would be Ulead's Photo Impact for Windows www.ulead.com, just out in version 7. We have been using this program for image editing and logos for 10 years, getting more features with each new version.

   Version 7 has 32 improvements. Chief among them are tools for moving and handling graphics for the web. You can create pop-up menus, roll-overs and pick any spot on the screen to be a "hot spot" activated by the user's mouse. Links allow any spot or image to be linked to sound and animation files. For photo enhancements the software has automatic skin smoothing routines to erase imperfections along with the usual contrast, edge definition and color brightening functions.

 

   A freehand tool allows you to draw a path with the mouse and then have any image or lettering follow that path. The "crystal" tool simulates viewing an object through a crystal or glass. "Onion skin" mode provides access to edit objects that are behind some other object in the photo. "Z-merge" fuses objects for 3D effects. A batch processor lets you alter all photos in a group at once.

 

   All in all this has always been our number one choice for photo editing, without having to go to the high price and long learning curve of Adobe PhotoShop. Sticker price for PhotoImpact 7.0 is $100 from the maker, $90 from discounters.

 

   ACDSee is a $50 program from Canadian maker ACD Systems that has garnered the editor's choice award from PC Photo Magazine as well as top rankings from PC Magazine.

 

   This is not an image editing program, it is an image management program. While it has a few simple editing tools, its primary function is organizing and search files composed on hundreds or thousands of images. It's very useful for web site catalog work because it can feed images from a database and into a web site quickly on demand or in a pre-determined order. The interface is clear and easy to use. Web site: www.acdsystems.com.

Corel Draw Essentials

   "CorelDraw Essentials" packages one of the most famous drawing programs, CorelDraw 9, with Corel Photo-Paint in a $109 set. Along with the two headliners, Corel has thrown in 10 smaller programs that cover everything from clip art to digital watermarks. There are 5,000 pieces of clip art and 1,000 photos to work with.

   The two chief programs work together: Photo-Paint is used for image editing and CorelDraw is used for page layout and manipulating text. That's the short take. Photo-Paint has more than 100 special effects in addition to the usual high-end editing tools. These include brushes that can give an image the look of a watercolor or an impressionist painting.

   CorelDraw enthusiasts will note that the latest incarnation is Version 10, not the version 9 in "Essentials." That's right. But I'm of mixed mind about having the latest versions of large programs. Earlier versions are always plenty powerful enough and learning the enhancements in new ones can be disconcerting and time wasting. In the worst cases, some programs that were compatible with earlier versions do no work well with the new ones. I like to avoid messes. Speaking of which ... comes now a few unkind words about Windows XP. Web site: www.corel.com

 

XP or not XP, that is the question

   Actually, it's an easy question, and my answer is no. It's not that there's not new stuff here, there is -- like video editing, for example. It's more a 'so what' and the caution and cynicism that comes from long experience.

   That's completely true when it comes to new operating systems. XP has only been out officially for a little over a month, and the number of fixes, patches and updates that are already out to go along with it would make a substantial stack.

   We ran Windows XP for about two months before it went public. It was okay, but nothing sensational. In fact, it didn't seem to do anything any better than the Windows 98 we used before it. We went back to Windows 98.

 

   My one golden rule about new operating systems and major programs of any type is "Don't buy anything with a low serial number." I would wait at least six months before using a new operating system, preferably a year or two. Let it all settle down. Among the initial problems that always come up, for example, are incompatibilities with programs that worked just fine before. At least one new Disney program won't run, for example. What fun. We can expect to hear about lots more. How much time and money do you want to spend on this?

 

The numbers report: sales are good

 

   The subtitle should be: "If the economy is so bad, how come it's so hard to park?" I went to a shopping mall the day after Thanksgiving and the crowds were so thick I could hardly move." What slowdown? Meanwhile, back at the Internet ...

 

   The Jupiter Online Shopping Index was up a whopping 43 percent for Thanksgiving week compared with the same week the year before. More than 50 million visitors went shopping online. On the day after Thanksgiving, traditionally the busiest shopping day of the year, visits to Internet retail sites were up 68 percent.

 

NOTE: Readers can search nearly four years of columns at the "On Computers" web site: www.oncomp.com. You can e-mail Bob Schwabach at bobschwab@oncomp.com  or bobschwab@aol.com.

 

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