By Dave Huss
Dateline: April 30, 2003
Volume 2, Number 15
Graphically Speaking forum
He who hesitates is not only lost, but miles from the next exit. Anonymous
I am doing something different this weekend I am not writing a book. Since my last column, in October, I have written three books. When you consider that I do have a 'day job', that's positively scary. So, I'm enjoying spending some time renewing old acquaintances, catching up on news, seeing movies I missed and getting some serious photography done for (you guessed it) my next book (my collection of Texas Spring photos can be seen at www.davehuss.com). So, while there isn't any way to catch up with several months of news, who needs old news with all of the current stuff going on?
Mike is Back on Top No Surprise
When HP merged with Compaq, they became the number-one PC manufacturer. At the time I predicted that the change in position was only temporary and that it wouldn't be long before Michael would be back on top. It happened this week with the announcement that Dell was once again the top PC vendor.
Corel Deadline Extended
The trick with writing a good obituary is to write it before the person (or company) passes, so that when the passing actually happens you only need to make a few minor updates and fill in the date. So I thought now might be an appropriate time to begin writing one for Corel.
At one time, Corel owned the PC graphics market. Grand galas, gaudy ads with 3D pie charts showing their overwhelming dominance, paired with their rainbow-colored, hot-air balloon logo seem a distant memory today, with Vector Capital of San Francisco announcing a tentative takeover bid last month that values Corel at between $91 million and $101 million US. When you consider that Corel still has around $77 million in the bank, it makes the low side of the bid a paltry $14 million. The original deadline for this event was extended until early next month, while Vector Capital continues its due diligence. While no one knows what will become of Corel, it is likely that many of its marginal products will be sold off. Already, the procreate and Deepwhite brands appear to be on the verge of extinction and the fate of the graphics and office products is anyone's guess (Say it ain't so, Dave. How could they kill off that cute procreate bunny logo? Ed.).
Because of my long history with Corel, I had written a much larger piece about this, but when the due diligence deadline was extended, I thought it would be better to report the result in my next column, rather than speculate as to what may happen. Sigh. It was a wild ride while it lasted. I have considered writing a book about Corel's brief moment in the sun entitled: Corel - How Defeat was Snatched from the Jaws of Certain Victory, but a similar title is already in print.
Iomega Losing Focus and Market
Iomega has never had an easy time of it. They began selling Bernoulli drives back in 1984 and were barely making it, when through a stroke of fate they acquired the technology for the Zip drive (which SyQuest was originally offered but turned down; explaining why they went out of business). Even though Iomega had a monopoly on the Zip drive, they still had a difficult time making a profit, even in their halcyon days. Several years ago, when the Zip drive faced competition from cheap CD burners offering 700 MB capacity, Iomega decided to make a Zip drive that was even larger (750 MB) than their 250 MB model, which wasn't selling that well since the media was so expensive. Gee, that's a tough decision for the average consumer. They have to ask themselves: "Should I pay $200 for a Zip drive that needs media that costs $15 each and can only be read by another 750 MB Zip drive? Or get a cheap CD burner for $60 and spend .08 for a CD?" All of the new Iomega storage solutions announced over the past two years represent repackaging of another vendor's technology. While Iomega's classic 100 MB Zip drive remains popular among existing users, the need for larger, cheaper capacity has sealed Iomega's fate, just like that of the 1.44 MB diskette, the tape drive and the 8-track tape. Iomega is adrift and I would be surprised if they are still around in another 18 months.
What the World Needs is a $200 Ballpoint Pen
Unlike Iomega, Logitech is a company that continues to make cool computer stuff we never even knew we wanted. One of their recent announcements was for the Logitechฎ io personal digital pen. This ballpoint pen records everything you write, and allows you to save and organize exact copies on your computer for safekeeping. The first time I saw the announcement of this jewel, I thought it would record my notes, upload them into my computer (through the USB cradle and charger) and convert my writing into text files. Unfortunately, it doesn't convert the writing, doodles or whatever into anything it just saves bitmap images of them. I am not discounting this gadget quite yet. If you go through the demo you'll discover that the pen is tightly integrated with Outlook and other office productivity applications including a package of Post-it notes designed specifically for pen (although they look a lot like the Post-it notes I currently use). The io digital pen could become the hot new ticket this year. Or become one of the many marvelous doodads that come and go in our business. Stay tuned.
Paint Shop Pro 8 A Review
Since last year I have been writing my latest book, How to Do Everything with Paint Shop Pro 8, which of course is devoted to Jasc's newest version of their flagship product, Paint Shop Pro. With the increasing popularity of digital cameras, there comes with it an unprecedented demand for software to enhance, correct, manage and print the resulting digital photos. When it comes to photo-editing software, the choices are Photoshop and then all of the other image editors that aren't Photoshop. Few people would disagree that Photoshop is the industry standard. Standard or not, there are several valid reasons for most consumers to not buy Photoshop as their photo editing software. First, it is expensive. Second, for most people that want to work on their digital camera photos, it is overkill. Third, if you have never worked in Photoshop, it has a steep learning curve (it is an almost vertical curve that resembles a wall). These and other reasons are why there are so many less-expensive photo-editors crowding the shelves on your local computer store. Out of all of these Photoshop wannabes in their brightly colored boxes, there are only a few applications that can be used to produce quality output and Paint Shop Pro 8 tops that very short list. So, let's talk about the big question that everyone asks.
What's New in PSP 8?
For me, one of the biggest improvements has been in its performance. I shoot images with two different digital cameras: a Nikon D-100 (6 megapixel) and a Nikon Coolpix 5700 (5 megapixel). Both of these cameras produce large images and, quite honestly, Paint Shop Pro 7 used to get bogged down when I added several layers to one of these photos. I am pleased to report that during beta testing, I have had these images open with up to ten layers active (like the composite shown below) and PSP still hums along. Thank you, Jasc. Just a side note here; even during beta testing, my technical editor and I agreed that the new software was remarkably stable.
A New User Interface
The user interface (UI) has been changed finally. For previous versions, Jasc had to take into account that some users had monitors that displayed in only 256 colors and the PSP icons had a very freeware/shareware appearance. In PSP8 they have come to grips with the fact that anyone working on digital photographs is using 24- or 32-bit color settings on their display. As a result, the icons and the overall appearance of the UI look much better and, more importantly, they can be customized.
As a digital photographer, I have a particular combination of tools that I use all of the time, so the first thing I did with PSP8 was to create a custom toolbar containing all of my favorite tools. The degree of customization that is possible is demonstrated by the fact that you can actually load the Paint Shop Pro 7 workspace that Jasc so thoughtfully provided and make PSP8 look just like PSP7.
The only issue I have with the new icons and their arrangement is that the Dodge tool icon looks just like the Zoom tool in Photoshop/Photoshop Elements and, to make matters worse, it appears in roughly the same location on the toolbar. More than once during testing I clicked on the Dodge tool, thinking it was the Zoom tool.
Cool New Tools
Jasc has added two new warping tools: Mesh Warp and Warp Brush. These tools are great for distorting images of friend and foe alike. The Warp Brush (my favorite) acts like the Liquify command in Photoshop/Photoshop Elements, except that the Warp Brush doesn't open a separate application window, as happens in 'the other' program. PSP's approach is much smoother from a user standpoint. Here is an example of a little fun I had with a photo of Lady Liberty. Using the Warp Brush I gave her some larger forearms and turned her crown into petals. So now the Lady of Liberty all clad in green copper looks like she pumps iron.
New Tools for Photo Correction
Traditionally, the one feature that Paint Shop Pro handles better than in any other application is found in its automatic color, contrast and saturation commands. In PSP8 these tools have not only been improved, but there is one feature called One Step Photo Fix that runs a script to apply a combination of these filters and commands, which results in making slightly flat images look really good. Since this is a script you can make variations of it, so that with the built-in batch processing you can create your own combination of auto photo enhancements and apply them to all of the images from a particular photo shoot.
Correcting Lens Distortion
Someone at Jasc figured out that most digital cameras and their very wide-angle lenses produce a lot of lens distortion, so PSP now includes several lens distortion correction effects. It does a good job of correcting the barrel lens distortion in most of the photos to which I applied it. The photo below (left) is one I took in Chicago last year. The wide angle lens makes the buildings on the edge lean inward. After adjusting and applying the barrel distortion lens correction the buildings no longer lean and with a quick sky replacement we have a great Chicago skyline with a Texas sunrise.
The Perspective Correction Tool is another great tool, designed to fix perspective errors in an image. When you identify an object in the image that should be rectangular, you just need to position the handles on the corners of the object. Applying the tool will correct the image, so that the selected object becomes rectangular. In the following before and after, pay close attention to the building on the left side. As with any perspective correction, you lose part of the image when you apply the correction, like the towers on the right side of the original photo.
Digital Camera Data Preserved
Paint Shop Pro 8 now supports EXIF data (which is all of the information that your digital camera stuffs into your digital images about the settings at the time that the photo was taken.). The native file format of PSP8 supports EXIF data, meaning you can open a JPEG file from a camera, edit it, and save as a PSP file without losing the EXIF data that was in the image.
As I indicated earlier, Paint Shop Pro 8 now supports scripting. Jasc has added a full-blown scripting engine, based on the Python programming language (www.python.org), which allows advanced users to write complex scripts using that language. While I am sure that this excites some folk to no end, I'm just not one of them. However, they obviously knew that some of us would like to make scripts but not learn the Python language, so Paint Shop Pro 8 includes a script recorder. Now when I want to record a script of a technique that I use often, I use the built-in script recorder and virtually everything I do in PSP8 can be recorded and saved as a script.
Improved Plugin Support
In case you weren't aware of it, Adobe has been tightening up their plugin support architecture, via their plugin Software Development Kit (SDK), which must be adhered to for any plugin to work in the Photoshop family of products. PSP8 supports a greater portion of this Adobe plugin SDK, which means that many of the plugin filters that were not supported in PSP7 do work in PSP8, and plugins that support scripting in Adobe Photoshop can be scripted in PSP8, as well.
Improved Selection Tools and Features
With regards to improvements in selection techniques, the biggest improvement in PSP8 is the addition of the Selection Edit mode. If you are a Photoshop user, you will recognize it as Quick Mask. In Selection Edit mode the selection marquee is replaced with a colored overlay that indicates the area selected. In this mode, all of the raster painting/drawing tools and effects can be applied and used to modify the selection marquee. In other words, you can use these tools to create, add to or subtract from an existing selection. The Background Eraser tool is also a great addition; with it you can selectively erase pixels based on their color content. For example, the photograph of Cindy is a good one, but the background is less than exciting. With the Background Eraser, you can erase the background and when you have finished, paste her over a new background like the one shown.
Remove Specks And Holes is another new selection feature that is a godsend to anyone who has used the Magic Wand tool and ended up with a virtual sea of little specks and tiny islands of unselected areas winking back at you. This feature removes unattached specks outside a selection, or holes within it, according to size.
Zooming In and Out
They finally got zooming right. If you have used previous versions of PSP, you had some bizarre choices to make when it came to selecting a zoom level. The zoom tool now works in terms of percentages, rather than ratios such as 2:1, 3:1, etc. This makes it possible to size an image to fit your screen and, more importantly, the Zoom tool now supports quick access to 100% zoom.
The Text tool is Improved A Little
The Text tool is completely redesigned. With the Picture Tube tool and some of the many built-in effects, you can create some great type effects, like the one shown below. Another cool type thing is the ability to make text flow along a path. Still, I would like to have the ability to add text directly on an image, rather than entering it into a dialog box and applying it. While on the subject, I wish Jasc would invest in a spelling checker, as most good artists can't spell worth a darn.
New Picture Frames
Jasc also figured out that its users love cool-looking photo edges as much if not more than classic picture frames, so they replaced the few edges that they shipped in PSP7 with a large number of new ones. Here are some samples I made with a few of them.
So, should you invest your hard-earned dollars in Paint Shop Pro 8? This decision is a no-brainer buy it. If you already own a previous version of Paint Shop Pro, you'll find the new version is a vast improvement over the previous one (which is still a good photo editor). You can download a 30-day evaluation version and give it a spin before spending any money. The new user pricing is $109 for the boxed product and $99 for the electronic download version. The upgrade price is $49 for either, if you own a previous licensed version of PSP. If you own a licensed version of Adobe Photoshop/Photoshop Elements, Roxio Photosuite, MS PictureIt!, Ulead PhotoImpact or Corel DRAW/PHOTO-PAINT, you can receive $30 cash back by mail (after you pay the new user pricing). Go to the Jasc order site for more information about this.
Discuss this column with Dave in the Graphically Speaking forum.
Don't miss the next installment of this column. Get the free Graphics.com newsletter in your mailbox each week (and win great graphics products). Click here to subscribe.
David Huss has authored 15 books on digital image editing that have been
translated into eight languages and writes articles for Photoshop User and
Nikon Capture magazine. A popular conference speaker, he has taught
workshops in the US and Europe and he has been seen on CNN and Tech TV. A
third-generation Texan, he and his family have called Austin, Texas their
home for the past 30 years.