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ISSUE 489: The high tech office- March 9 1999


Local firms offer improved
software packages
that bring Web sites to life

Two local companies are offering interesting ways to put pictures and movement onto your Web sites, screensavers and corporate presentations.

Aptly named Totally Hip Software (685-6525; www.totallyhip.
) produces WebPainter -- with its newest version, 3 -- for both Mac and Windows platforms.

WebPainter is perhaps the best product around for producing those little animations to spice up Web pages.

Like the classic Disney cartoons, it's based on the idea of using cells -- transparent layers that allow, for example, your talking mouse to move across a static background. You can use the program with both vector and bitmap images, allow-
ing you to start with pictures made in most types of graphics soft-
ware and import them in-
to WebPainter and make them move.

WebPainter is about as easy to use as possible in a still-complex process, al-
lowing the user to get up and running quickly. At the same time, it offers high-end features, such as fancy transitions and SMPTE special effects for combining sound with your artwork.

The program lets you preview your animation in the browser of your choice, and export it, either as an "animated gif" file (the standard used in most Web pages) or in Apple's Quicktime video format. One thousand ready-made animation clips are included and can be used, royalty-fee, in business presentations or on the Web.

The new version includes support for up to 32 layers and new tools for working with vector images.

There is also an export preview function, which allows you to see how your animation will look as you shrink it to different file sizes. This nicely lets you balance file size (small files display faster on your Web page) against image quality. New autotransitions offer a wealth of fancy special effects when changing cells.

The application costs about $110. If you want to try it out, Totally Hip's Web site offers a free version that works for 20 hours before self-destructing.

The company is also still selling older versions of its product, for prices dropping as low as $45 for WebPainter SE. Users of older versions can upgrade to the new version for about $60. *

As digital cameras and scanners become more and more common, there's always the question of what to do with all those digital photographs. You can print them out or use individual shots on the Web or in a PowerPoint presentation.

InMedia Presentations (893-8955; of-
fers more possibilities with its series of Slides & Sound products.

The top of the firm's line is the new version (2.0), called Slides & Sounds Plus. It makes it easy to combine digital photos, scanned images or most other bitmap images into a multimedia slideshow. Most digital cameras come with software to produce such slideshows, but InMedia's products (available in both Windows and Mac versions) offer many more power and features.

You can add your choice of 160 transitions between slides and, as the name suggests, it's easy to add music -- either your own, from CDs or other sources, or the royalty-free cuts included in the package. Individual photos can be enhanced, cropped or colour-adjusted. You can also add video clips in QuickTime, AVI or MPEG formats (so, presumably, you could make a clip in WebPainter and add it into a Slides & Sound presentation for an all-Vancouver production).

An especially nice feature is that you can save presentations as standalone files in your choice of Mac or Windows formats, so you can send them to other users even if they don't have their own copy of Slides & Sound.

On the downside, files tend to be pretty big -- too big to fit on a floppy disk (maybe Apple is right in leaving the floppy drive out of their recent models) -- and pretty hefty to send as an e-mail attachment.

One way to get around this is to burn the file onto CDs to distribute to clients or potential customers. Or slideshows can be converted into screensavers, so your loved ones (or company images) will always be popping up on-screen.

Slides and Sounds costs $60, with a free 30-day trial version available directly from the company's Web site.

A more limited Express version is available for about $25 (Windows only), which includes many of the transitions of the full version, along with the ability to add sound and video clips, but lacking the standalone export features.

Another version adds the screensaver export function to the basic Express version for about $30, while a version limited to producing screensavers from your photos is a mere $15. (All these prices are approximate, since both these local companies list prices in U.S. funds only).

InMedia was offering a nice perk -- the ability to post your slideshow on its Web site for free for 10 days and to keep them there for less than $10 a month thereafter -- even for shows created with the free trial version. But that's no longer mentioned on InMedia's site.

Even without the ability to use its Web site to show your photos to the world, this remains an easy-to-use, affordable product.

And since both Totally Hip and InMedia offer fully functional, free trial versions, and both products are available in both Windows and Mac flavours, you may want to check out both.

Postscript (September 7 2003): This column was published in 1999; since that time, InMediaPresents, along with many small technology companies, has apparently vanished, taking its product Slides and Sounds, with them. The product seems to have gathered its share of fans-- a number of whom have emailed me asking if I know where they can purchase copies.

I don't.

Unfortunately, all I can suggest is a generic sort of answer-- to check (perhaps several times) on eBay, or at websites specializing in older software such as

If anyone successfully tracks down a place selling this product, I would be happy to hear about it.

-- AZ

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