Product review: Add visual spice to bland Web pages

Let's face it: An all-text Web site is a yawner. Adobe's $US129 ImageStyler 1.0 can give drab pages visual oomph.

Aimed at business users, this graphics enhancement tool works with Web authoring packages like Microsoft FrontPage and Claris HomePage. With a preproduction version of ImageStyler, I created slick, colourful Web graphics without too much fuss.

The program includes a library of shapes and images that you can select from a palette to add to pages. You can apply textures and styles, such as embossing and metallic shine, to objects or to elements such as text. Page elements can be edited independently. If you don't like your work, ImageStyler has 14 levels of undo.

As with most graphics packages, you can line up page elements using precise x and y coordinates, as well as specify color and levels of opacity and distortion. To update your Web graphics quickly, ImageStyler lets you assign graphical 'aliases' to a collection of elements; when you change the attributes of one object in the group, all the other objects in the group change as well.

You can also add canned interactive JavaScript effects that change a graphic's appearance when the pointer moves over, on, or away from it. (Of course, these effects can be seen only in browsers that support JavaScript.) While you can't directly edit HTML pages, you can export graphical elements to any heading tag. You can also copy and paste ImageStyler graphics into other Web design applications; the program supports .gif, .jpg, .png, and Photoshop (.psd) file formats.

Those unfamiliar with Adobe products may find the palette-based interface tough to master. NetStudio, a $149 competing application, has a simpler, Word-style interface and makes information on file size and download time easier to locate. But for nifty-looking Web graphics (and a savings of $20), ImageStyler is well worth considering.

Adobe ImageStyler 1.0

PRO: Produces polished, vivid, easy-to-edit Web graphics.

CON: Download time information not easily accessible; interface may be a little complex for novices.

VALUE: Affordable tool for embellishing Web pages.

Street price: $129