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 minds
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-
'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
. 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)."*

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Alan Zisman is a Vancouver educator, writer, and computer specialist. He can be reached at E-mail Alan