Stories by Stephen Beale

Watch & Smile: Notable Features, Lousy Interface

Given the current glut of digital cameras, software developers are rushing to market with inexpensive photo-editing programs for consumers. Binuscan Inc., a company best known for high-end scanning software, has joined the fray with Watch & Smile 1.0, an inexpensive package that combines image-editing, digital video, and multimedia functions. The program packs some impressive features, including photo-retouching tools derived from the company's professional software. Unfortunately, Watch & Smile suffers from a poorly conceived interface that violates Macintosh software conventions in every way imaginable.

G4 ZIF Socket Upgrades

Now that Apple Computer Inc. is shipping its G4 hardware, the Power Mac G3 that blazed through your applications a year ago might seem a bit long in the tooth. But thanks to the zero insertion force (ZIF) socket in Apple's G3 systems, it's relatively easy to swap in a faster CPU, and developers are racing to offer G4 upgrades for older Macs. First out of the chute are Newer Technology Inc., with its Maxpowr G4 400MHz, and XLR8, with the 400MHz Mach Speed G4z. The two cards offer comparable performance, providing a substantial speed boost when running 3-D rendering software or AltiVec-enabled applications. However, you'll likely see only modest improvements when running everyday business applications or graphics-intensive computer games. Both upgrades work with Apple's full range of Power Mac G3 systems.

Paperport Goes USB

With prices for flatbed scanners hovering around
$100, you might think it's time to write the obituary for their sheetfed
cousins. "Not so fast," says Visioneer Inc. (888/229-4172,
http://www.visioneer.com), which has announced Visioneer Strobe Pro, a $199,
30-bit, sheetfed color scanner that boasts 300-by-600-dpi resolution along with
USB and SCSI interfaces. The scanner includes the Paperport Deluxe
document-management software and ScanSoft Inc.'s TextBridge text-recognition
software.

Image-Compression Plug-Ins

JPEG may be the tried-and-true photo format for the Web, but with its tendency to add blocky artifacts to compressed images, it still doesn't get any respect. Several companies have released Adobe Photoshop plug-ins that compress images without introducing those unsightly distortions. Joining Altamira Group Inc.'s Genuine Fractals and LizardTech's MrSID are LuraTech Inc.'s LuraWave and BitJazz Inc.'s PhotoJazz 2.

MetaCreations' Strange Move

Many Mac users had to be scratching their heads after MetaCreations Corp.'s December 14, 1999, announcement that the company plans to sell off graphics applications that don't fit with its new focus on 3-D visualization technologies for Web-based retailers.

Fiction-Writing Tools

Using desktop software to compose a novel or screenplay is nothing new; after all, word processing was among the first personal computer applications. But using software to conceive a story sounds like magic. Yet this is the promise of Screenplay Systems Inc.'s Dramatica Pro 4.0 and Ashleywilde Inc.'s Plots Unlimited 1.04, two Mac programs designed to act as fiction-writing coaches for wannabe Faulkners and Hemingways.