Microsoft PhotoDraw 2000

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Microsoft's new PhotoDraw 2000 application workspace is designed to be easy and comfortable for Windows Office application users. There's a bar of primary function buttons across the top of the screen under the menu bar, which pop up right-hand side column tool definitions with easy to select graphic options as well as color choices and effect controls.
Photos © 1999, David B. Brooks, All Rights Reserved

The early rumors were pitting microsoft's new, yet to be announced application against Photoshop. How wrong the pundits were. Microsoft's new PhotoDraw 2000 is a quite different approach to a graphics and photo application because Microsoft took their own particular perspective on the market to determine what was needed for their customers. Considering that their business suite, Microsoft Office, has something like 90 percent of the market, it was their target audience of choice for PhotoDraw. That it significantly involves digital photographic functions was also influenced by current trends, like the fact about 80 percent of digital camera sales are to businesses and institutions. In light of these facts of obvious importance to Microsoft, just what have they designed to make PhotoDraw a must have application?

Superficially you could assume Microsoft is just another application in the recent category established by Adobe, Live Picture, and Corel that includes the likes of PhotoDeluxe Business Edition, LivePix SOHO, and PrintOffice, but Microsoft's approach was anything but "me too." Besides the obvious, providing very tight integration with all of the applications in Office 2000, which PhotoDraw will be a part in the Office 2000 Premium package, PhotoDraw is also the original work of some of the best minds in computer graphics development. Although some fault Bill Gates for the huge wealth he has amassed, he does some things with it that are very beneficial. Taking a page from FDR, Gates has created a "brain trust" of scientists, two of which I have had the pleasure of interviewing in the past, who have developed a completely new and more effective core solution for creating graphics on a computer. In the case of PhotoDraw, the most significant result is a highly effective integration of vector (draw) capabilities with faster (paint/photo) bitmap imaging, and there is more as I get into describing how PhotoDraw performs.

Microsoft PhotoDraw Features. The purpose of Microsoft's Photo-Draw 2000 is to provide the means to create any kind of publications needed--primarily for businesses large and small, including a full page ad, a fold-out brochure, flyers, and business cards. To accomplish this all of the elements, including design elements, importing and modifying clip art, headlines and text with all kinds of effects like curving a line of type around an object, shading and 3D effects, bringing in photographs from digital cameras, scanners, and CD libraries, adjusting and modifying photos, applying special effects, as well as edging or selecting a subject out of its background, are all handled in the same workspace with largely the same tools.

PhotoDraw also provides a very complete set of pre-designed graphics of all kinds from ads to banners, as well as elements for web pages like 3D buttons and a cornucopia of resources contained in the three CDs, which are the application package. These resources are supported with online help, tutorials, Wizards, and expert guidance, so professional looking publications can be created by a nonprofessional. This all sounds relatively common until you also consider PhotoDraw is equally adept as a set of tools and as a work environment for creating from scratch. This for anyone with computer experience, even just with word processing using Microsoft Word, is easy to accomplish compared to learning the tools of professional applications like Freehand and PageMaker. It also avoids a perennial problem of the past requiring different kinds of graphics like type effects, design elements, and paint or photographs to be created in separate applications and then be put together in a desktop publishing application like Page-Maker or Quark. PhotoDraw does it all in one workspace using a common set of tools.

Working With MS PhotoDraw 2000.
Besides finding out what PhotoDraw can do in general and how it works, considering Micro-soft's focus for the application is Microsoft Office users mostly in business work environments, just how useful and appropriate is PhotoDraw for a photographer. in addition to just exploring the features, tools, and capabilities, I set for myself the task of beginning the creation of a poster or lead web page design for a series of photographs about a specific subject. I soon found that although Photo-Draw has a quite full set of photographic image adjustment tools, that by the way are surprisingly conventional, they are no match for a professional image editor like Photoshop. In fact, it is a good idea to not expect to do major color correction of raw images in PhotoDraw as it does not have the ability to equalize an image like Photoshop's Levels with a histogram to optimize an image's use of the entire colorspace, nor does PhotoDraw have any sharpening filters. However, it does have all of the Hue and Saturation, Brightness and Contrast adjustments needed to tweak an image, and even a tool to eliminate redeye, as well as a facility to cleanup dust, dirt, and scratches. If you're scanning into PhotoDraw, you should do a complete job of color correction plus add any sharpening if those facilities are available in your scanner's driver. The saving grace for PhotoDraw, however, is that it supports Adobe Plug-Ins, so if you want to be able to do more in the way of photo color correction and adjustment, including sharpening, within PhotoDraw, you can use a plug-in like Test Strip 2.0 or Intellihance 4.0.

I don't consider myself a professional at all when it comes to using graphic design applications like Illustrator or Freehand, so I was pleasantly awarded with a very good experience thanks to the really intuitive tools designed into PhotoDraw. Putting in a special text effect headline over a photo background was a cakewalk, as was applying a border effect to the entire image. This intuitiveness designed into the tools available is consistent throughout the application. Applying a special effects filter to a photographic image is really point and click guided by illustrated control buttons and thumbnail samples, making the selection of an effect to try purely visual. The tools, although they involve an amazingly large selection of options, are also simple because the same effects tool for applying an edge effect to an image is also used to apply similar effects to text.

The bottom line is that I found it quite easy to start with a plain photo, find a special effects filter to alter its appearance the way I imagined, then soften the edges, and add a painterly edge effect. I then added some type by visually selecting a font from PhotoDraw's graphic font preview, then colored the font by applying a degree of transparency and adding a complementary color outline. This entire project resulted in a graphic with very complex, softly muted subtle coloration. So how would Photo-Draw handle outputting this to my Epson Stylus Photo 700 printer to make an 8.5x11 glossy? Surpri-singly well. PhotoDraw provided a WYSIWYG print result with all of the subtleties and muted effects I had created on-screen--replicated faithfully in a print. This was surprising because I assume the PhotoDraw workspace is sRGB colorspace, but Microsoft has apparently implemented this without the usual garish effect of clipping colors that I've experienced with some of the new applications that use sRGB colorspace.

Conclusion And Recommendation. Although Microsoft Photo-Draw 2000 is designed to fit into the Office 2000 suite of business applications, it does contain the pre-designed graphics to make publishing easy as well as a powerful facility for creating unique individual photographically based publications. In consideration of my just scratching the surface of photoDraw's capabilities, that experience assures me I could use it as effectively as any application to create almost any publication I might need, based on my catalog of photo images, from a printed flyer to a web page. It was an unusually easy experience for me to dive into PhotoDraw and work with it with confident results immediately, suggesting anyone with familiarity with Windows business applications like a word processor, particularly Microsoft Word, will have an equally easy and fruitful reward for their efforts.

At a stand-alone price set by microsoft of $149, PhotoDraw is on par with other applications offering similar capabilities. That is a reasonable cost as an addition and extension to an image editor for any individual photographer/computer user. I would also assume it would prove invaluable to anyone with their own full-time or part-time photo business, as well as serious hobbyists desiring to create their own photo- graphically oriented publications. For anyone with experience using Microsoft Office applications, PhotoDraw is definitely an advantageous choice. For more information about Microsoft PhotoDraw 2000, visit their web site at www.microsoft.com
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