Imaging Made Easy

With the latest iteration of its PhotoSuite image editor, PhotoSuite 4 Platinum Edition, MGI Software Corp. couples an elegant interface with improved imaging controls. The US$50 PhotoSuite doesn't skimp on much, providing a host of image-enhancement, creativity, and Web features to choose from. But the program does have a few quirks.

Friendly Face

The software comes on two CD-ROMs; the second disc contains most of the content templates, image thumbnails, or stock images, and will be required as needed if you don't opt for the full program installation, which takes a whopping 560MB of hard disk space. If you don't already have Microsoft Internet Explorer 5.0 installed, PhotoSuite will install that as well. (Because PhotoSuite is built on a browser engine using Microsoft's ActiveX controls, IE is a required element.)Also required, and included with the software, is Microsoft's Java Virtual Machine. However, users of Norton AntiVirus 2000 should note that, due to a glitch between Norton and Java Virtual Machine, upon system reboot Norton might give you a false virus message. Per PhotoSuite's readme file, you can ignore that message and proceed with rebooting your system.

Once installed, PhotoSuite beckons with a comfy and nonintimidating interface that will appeal to novices but won't turn away those with more experience who want a quick-and-easy way to accomplish specific imaging tasks. The main screen--which doubles as the Web browser window--is in the center, with the top-level options in uniform buttons above, an image thumbnail library in a column along the right, and context-sensitive submenu buttons and wizards appearing along the left. The wizards are not the intrusive sort that force you to click through a series of screens; rather, PhotoSuite's implementation steps you through specific tasks and adjustments through prompts that appear in the left column.

The walk-through approach is generally fluid and helpful, but sometimes finishing common chores requires multiple steps. (To rid one photo of the wild-eyed "alien monster" look, otherwise known as red-eye, we had to go through menu levels--Prepare, Touchup, Remove Red-eye. Other packages have a single button to get the red out.)Other common features are hidden under topics that wouldn't immediately pop to mind (for example, brightness and contrast adjustments are accessible via the catch-all "Touchup Filters"). Furthermore, we found it was too easy to accidentally lose our changes after getting a picture just right: If in haste we forgot to hit the Apply button--which, oddly enough, is less prominent than the Return button that takes you back to the previous menu screen--your changes are not retained.

Another interface annoyance was the lack of a universal "back" button to take you to your previous screen. One button does take you back to the parent activity of a given menu, but often, that wasn't where we wanted to go.

Of Web and Design

In addition to the usual assortment of basic image editing tools for cropping, rotating images, special effects, and image enhancement, PhotoSuite offers several unexpected niceties. For example, we easily created slide shows and screen savers from image albums, complete with customized transitions and sound. The numerous creative activities--housed under the Compose Project button--include collages, calendars, photo layouts for scrapbooks and albums, and greeting cards. You can also stitch together up to 48 images by matching overlapping points to create a panoramic view.

New and improved in this version are PhotoSuite's tools for Web design. Web pages are equally easy to generate--though the templates leave something to be desired. There's also a drag-and-drop tool for creating animated GIFs; however, the feature is not particularly self-explanatory (we needed to invoke the online help to figure it out), and it lacks a means for viewing your end result.

Since PhotoSuite incorporates IE 5.0, we were able to seamlessly tap the power of the Internet without leaving the PhotoSuite environment. For example, we could easily upload photos via a direct interface to GatherRound.com, a photo-sharing site from Intel, or to Kodak's PhotoNet.com, for both photo sharing and printing. A bonus: PhotoSuite now includes a handy, small, stand-alone file viewer that makes it easy for you to view images without launching the master program.

Quirks notwithstanding, PhotoSuite 4 remains an excellent imaging option for those who want a one-product-does-it-all package.

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