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ISSUE 569: New Economy- Sept 19 2000

The high-tech office


Illustration software makers offer mighty similar products

A few issues ago, we looked at software rivals Adobe and Macromedia. Each has a high-
powered product for Web designers with a graphical bent: GoLive and Dreamweaver.

Both companies also go head-to-head with illustration software and, in this case, the rivalry has been going on for more than a decade. Both Adobe Illustrator and Macromedia Freehand are in their ninth incarnation.

Graphics programs fall into two broad categories. Paint programs, such as Adobe PhotoShop, allow computer users to fine tune each individual pixel and are often used to en-
hance photographs. Illustration programs work best with smooth lines and broad swaths of colour, and are used for designing corporate logos and the like. Pictures on the Web have been, up until now, paint-type pictures.

For many users, Adobe has an edge. Its PhotoShop program has almost cult-like status, and shares a common interface with its partner-program Illustrator.

In fact, Macromedia thinks enough of the PhotoShop interface that it's decided to rewrite its entire product line using a similar interface. It's similar enough that Adobe has filed suit. But the current FreeHand 9 still uses what we might call the Macromedia-classic interface, haphazardly tossing its features across menus, palettes and toolbars.

Macromedia's edge, on the other hand, has been its Web integration. Macromedia's Shockwave and Flash have become informal Web standards for online animation. The company has used that to build support for other products such as its Dreamweaver Web design tool. Adobe's Web strategy has been slow off the mark.

Both FreeHand and Illustrator offer a lot of similarities. For instance, both programs offer tools to help create Flash (or Adobe LiveMotion) animations. (This is particularly needed since the drawing tools built into Flash are pretty poor.)

FreeHand's Anti-alias view and Illustrator's Pixel Preview let you see how your smooth vector art will look online, complete with jaggy edges when magnified. You can work in so-called Web-safe colours, the 216 colours that will appear the same in Mac and PC Web browsers. Illustrator's Save to Web command does a particularly nice job of showing how up to four different sets of options will actually look when viewed on the Web.

As well as exporting your pictures to Macromedia Flash, either program will let you export your picture to PhotoShop while keeping all those layers intact. Illustrator also saves as SVG, the soon-to-become Web standard Scalable Vector Graphics format.

Both programs let you spread a group of objects across multiple layers (old-hat for FreeHand fans, but new to Illustrator), a key requirement for making an illustration that will be turned into a Flash animation.

And both programs price themselves at similar, "professional" levels. About $550 - $600 for new buyers, $200 and change for loyal customers upgrading to the new version.

They're not quite clones, however. Each tries to one-up the other, in different ways.

FreeHand delivers a new Perspective Grid, bringing this discovery of Renaissance artists to the computer era. New PDF capabilities make it easy to create Adobe Acrobat documents without having to buy Adobe's software. Unlike Illustrator, FreeHand users can produce multipage layouts.

Borrowing from teammate PhotoShop, Illustrator offers a new Transparency effect, taking the Lens gradient FreeHand standby several steps further. Transparencies are widely used on the Web, enabling a graphic to cleanly float on top of a page's background. Illustrator's new opacity controls, along with its blends and gradients, are superior to FreeHand's equivalents.

Also building on the PhotoShop base, Illustrator users can apply PhotoShop filters to layers and objects, while still being able to make editing changes later. (It would be nice, however, if Adobe had chosen to give Illustrator users a PhotoShop-like History command, allowing them to backup to any step in their project's past.)

Despite the differences, the two have been steadily encroaching on each other's turf. FreeHand has gotten better at working along with Adobe PhotoShop, while Illustrator has improved its support for Macromedia Flash. Neverthless, if you're looking for a companion to PhotoShop, Adobe Illustrator 9 is probably your best bet. And if you're planning to make Flash animations, stick with Macromedia FreeHand 9, and learn to love its interface. *



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