It seems to take several tries before Microsoft is able to get retail products right. It happened with Windows and with Word, and now it’s happening with PhotoDraw 2000 (www.microsoft.com/photodraw), the new graphics package that comes with certain versions of Office 2000.
PhotoDraw allows you to work with pixel-by-pixel images, similar to a paint program — and with vector-based shapes, similar to a draw program. The goal is to provide the best of both worlds. The theory is great. But in Version 1.0, the reality isn’t quite there.
Maybe I do need a hardware upgrade, but PhotoDraw 2000 is painfully slow on a 200 MHz machine with 64MB of memory. Better hardware may solve the speed problem, but there are deeper design issues. The program limits the user to the choices Microsoft, in its wisdom, thinks should be required. I often found myself wanting a choice that Microsoft did not make available.
I turned to look at the new options available from Micrografx (www.micrografx.com). Its iGrafx Business suite combines a draw and a paint program with a 3D generator, and adds a large library of images. I’ve always liked their draw program and it’s still likeable.
The problem I have is that draw output is not quite Web-ready. Edges are not as smooth as they should be — the anti-alaising isn’t up to snuff. The paint program seems to be missing the normal options for how a GIF file can be saved, specifically, control of transparency. And I could find no easy way to locate the right image on the three CR-ROM library that was provided.
I did stumble on a little gem. It’s a shareware program called CyberView Image (www.cyberviewcd.com)
It allows you to optimize the size of a JPG file. I was able to cut the size of many JPG files in half, with no visible loss of quality. I have not found a better way to selectively shrink JPG files.
The most promising graphics package I found was the beta of Paint Shop Pro, Version 6 (www.jasc.com). Paint Shop Pro has long been one of the more attractive mass-market paint programs. It’s available as shareware, so you can try before you buy. Version 5 added layers. Version 6 is adding vector based images.
Paint Shop Pro delivers an effective combination of a good paint program with key draw program elements. Now, text and simple geometric shapes can be resized with no loss of quality. It’s not as ambitious as PhotoDraw 2000, but it fully delivers on what it promises. Paint Shop Pro, however, doesn’t give the user the finest possible level of control.
Corel has an almost invisible package called Draw Select Edition (www.corel.com/products/graphicsandpublishing/drawselect) that does deliver the next level of user control. It’s available at a modest retail price.
The package is a bare-bones combination of Corel Draw and Photopaint, both version 7. This is power at an attractive price, but it’s not for the faint of heart.
Fabian is director of the Internet Commerce and Technology Institute at Seneca@York. He maintains a professional Web site at www.rfabian.com.