Good times, bad times, you know I've had my share. (evaluating computer peripherals and software) (evaluation)
by Robert Bixby
If you want to make me happy, send me a board to install in my computer or a pile of shaghetti wire to plug into its various ports. I've had much enjoyment recently trying out tools and boards.
First, ComputerEyes (Digital Vision, 270 Bridge Street, Dedham, Massachusetts 02026), one of the oldest names in video digitizing, is bigger and better than ever, providing the desktop publisher on a budget a tool that captures video signals in a trice and converts them to useful, editable graphics. It can cope with a range of screen resolutions and input devices as various as TVs, VCRs, computers with composite output, and still and motion video cameras.
It provides an interactive preview that shows a fast-capture input screen so you can set the focus and aperture of your camera. Then you can elect to capture a screen at various speeds (from 1.6 to 24 seconds), with the resolution related to the speed (it supports screen formats through Super VGA--640 X 480 with 256 colors).
ComputerEyes can work with 24-bit color (16.7 million colors) or 8-bit gray scales (256 gray levels). When the image is captured, you can use its editing tools to adjust the image or save it out to one of several formats (including TIFF, PCX, DeluxePaint LBM, MSP, IMG, Targa, and Splash) for editing in your favorite paint program. ComputerEyes lets you generate real-world are for your desktop publishing projects.
I was less taken with FTG Data Systems' light pen (10801 Dale Street, Suite J-2, P.O. Box 615, Stanton, California 90680). I don't like the mouse as an input device--particularly for drawing--and I'm always looking for useful alternatives. As soon as I read about the FTG light pen, I wanted to look at it. But after about a week of trying to make it work with Windows and my ATI graphics board (and extended phone calls with the helpful folks at FTG), I gave up utterly.
Windows slows to a crawl whenever the pen is pointed at the screen. I accumulated a list of anomalies no one could explain (the cursor followed the pen everywhere on the screen except the menu bar, to name one frustrating example). Upgrades may improve its performance, but currently this tool isn't viable for Windows.
A year ago I had an opportunity to review a new input device called the Wiz (CalComp, 2411 West La Palma Avenue, P.O. Box 3250, Anaheim, California 92801). For various reasons, I wasn't impressed by its performance, but I liked the idea. The Wiz combines a digitizing tablet with a mouse (or a pen) to provide extremely tight cursor control. CalComp has a new driver for DOS and Windows 3.0 that works beautifully. It also offers a template system that allows you to enter Windows or DOS commands (or specialized commands for many popular programs) by clicking on various positions on the touch tablet. Although it works, I have never liked this part of the system.
CalComp provides a pen that can be substituted for the mouse. It allows you to draw in a very natural way, holding the electronic pen as you would an ink pen and drawing on the digitizing tablet as you would on a paper tablet.
The only problems I had were in double-clicking and accessing the right mouse button. When you bear down on the pen, its point clicks, simulating a left mouse button click. Unfortunately, it's very difficult to double-click the point without moving the point on the digitizer surface, which prevents the double-click from registering. Also, the pen's second button isn't designated to function as the right mouse button. You can make it act as the right mouse button, or you can make the point act as the right button and the pen's side buttona ct as the left mouse button, but that's not much help. Clicking on the side of a pen without moving the point is also next to impossible.
Thw Wiz is compatible with the Microsoft mouse (if you have the new 1.1D Wiz driver), but you still may have to go through some setup gymnastics to get it to work. GeoWorks Ensemble required that I install GEOs so that its own mouse driver was ignored. Presentation Team from Digital Research required that I install the program as if I were using a bus mouse. The control was remarkably tight when the mouse was in use, and the pen worked well, except for the clicking problems I mentioned. You have to get used to the fact that the mouse must be aligned with the pad for the movement of mouse and cursor to be analogous.
If you know of a good light pen (or other interesting input device), send me the name and address of the manufacturer, and I'll try to review it in these pages.
Although it isn't a tool or board, not to mention CorelDRAW! would be a sin after the hours of enjoyment it's given me. Corel Systems isn't the type of company to add a few bells and whistles to something and call it a product upgrade. The next "Arts & Letters" column will be a close-up of CorelDRAW! 2.0. It has all the features you've heard so much about for the last couple of years, plus a generous measure of tools you'll wonder how you got along without.