ISSUE 433: THE HIGH-TECH OFFICE--Alan
No need to draw upon the professionals
when all you need is a graphics program - Feb 10 1998
Over the past two weeks, we've looked at the
latest generation of graphics programs for high-end users. And we saw
how, despite Corel Draw's PC-based sales lead, the hearts and
of most graphics professionals remain with a pair of products from Adobe:
PhotoShop for photo manipulation, and Illustrator for drawing.
For most of us, however, both the Corel Draw and Adobe
products are overkill (and overpriced to boot!). They provide more
features than we need, with interfaces that simply take too long to
learn to use.
At the same time, however, more and more of us
actually need to work with graphics, especially with photos. There's
been an explosion in affordable devices that bring photos onto computer
desktops, ready (after some clean-up) to be used in newsletters and
catalogues -- or even in personal e-mail and homemade greeting cards.
For $200 or so you can get a flatbed scanner to
digitize photos or illustrations from books or magazines. Or perhaps
you want a video capture gadget such as Snappy, to grab stills from a
TV show or videotape. Digital cameras are more expensive, in the $500 -
$1,000 range, but are increasingly popular. No matter how you start,
the result is the same -- a photo on your computer screen.
However, just as with traditional snapshots, these are
rarely ready to use. They're too big or too small, or they need to be
cropped. Flash photos can suffer from "red eye." Colours can all have a
reddish or greenish cast.
With traditional photos, you'd need the negatives, a
fully equipped darkroom and some degree of skill and experience to
remedy these problems. But with digital photos, you can fix them right
on your computer.
Luckily, you don't need an $800 program to do it.
There is a range of software that takes much of the power of an Adobe
PhotoShop or Corel PhotoPaint, and in many cases bundles it into an
easier interface optimized for doing the sorts of projects non-artists
most want to perform.
Most digital scanners and cameras come with a software
bundle included; often the program included is Adobe's PhotoDeluxe (in
identical Windows and Mac versions) or Toronto-based MGI Software's
PhotoSuite (Windows only). Too often, how-
ever, the hardware ships with an older, harder-to- use, less capable
version of the software. You can upgrade to the latest version for a
nominal fee, or simply decide to use a program other than what came
with your hardware.
If you're shopping for a photo editor, you've got a
range of choices. Products seem to be taking one of two directions.
Some, including MGI's PhotoSuite (now in version 8.5),
Micrografx Windows Draw 6, The Learning Com-
pany's PhotoFinish 4, and the shareware JASC PaintShop Pro 4 use
some variation of the traditional Windows/Mac interface: option-filled
pull-down menus, dialogue boxes and toolbars. They're all capable
programs, offering perhaps 70 per cent of the wizardry of a graphics
powerhouse such as Adobe PhotoShop for about 20 per cent of the cost.
But with a similar-styled interface to the professional tools, they may
seem more technical than many users will want.
Other programs have tried to simplify the interface.
Adobe PhotoDeluxe, Microsoft's Picture-It!, and Corel Print
House Magic have all progressed to version 2, with big improvements
over their original releases. These products all aim at simplifying
life for the graphics amateur by making their program interfaces
project-oriented. Click on a button defining your project, and the
software takes you step-by-step through the process. While a graphics
pro will sneer at the handholding, this sort of design is just what
many of us need.
Another product in this category, MetaCreation's
Kai's PhotoSoap, can produce outstanding results when what you want to
do is clean up flawed originals. But as with other Kai products, it
uses an idiosyncratic interface. I find it simply takes too much
getting used to.
So while graphics professionals need professional
tools to do their job, the rest of us can look to the new generation of
products offering a better fit between price, power, and ease of use.
* * *
In the January 13 issue, we looked at Lance
Rose's book NetLaw: Your Rights in the Online World. Though
NetLaw is packed with anecdotes and information,
we wished for a more Canadian-oriented source of legal information.
Reader David Bell, acting executive director of Simon
Fraser University's Faculty Association, e-mailed me to point out
"there is a Canadian treatment on law and the Internet. It is called
'The Cyberspace is not a "No Law Land."' It was prepared for Industry
Canada and can be found at strategis.ic.gc.ca/SSG/it03117e_pr115.
sgml. Of particular interest to me," Bell continues, "is the
difference between the way Canadian and U.S. law treat liability and
the ISP (or university)."*