Graphics Works. (computer graphics software) (Software Review) (Evaluation)
by William Harrel
Graphics Works from Micrografx is a great introductory integrated package that lets users assess their graphics needs and upgrade to the more full-featured Micrografx applications. Simply put, it's a graphics-creation-and-editing extravaganza.
The package includes five applications, giving you a taste of the power found in full-fledged programs used by professionals. Each application's interface resembles the others, so after you've learned the basics in one, mastering the others is simple. A Run command on the File menu in each application lets you move among the applications with a mouse click. Object linking and embedding (OLE) is also supported, so it's easy to keep drawings and presentations current.
Graphics Works is built around Micrografx's popular, economical Windows Draw--a relatively sophisticated vector draw program. Since Windows Draw does not support color separations, trapping, and other commercial prepress options, it won't meet the needs of professional graphic artists. But it's a great application for most small business and home office settings, as everything else you need to create sophisticated vector drawings is included. In fact, Windows Draw is a scaled-down version of Micrografx's popular drawing and illustration package, Designer, which has long been a favorite among professionals. With Windows Draw, you can rotate, skew, fill, and manipulate Type 1 or TrueType fonts in every way imaginable. And Graphics Works ships with several high-quality Bitstream Type 1 type-faces. Dazzling radial and gradient fills make creating impressive backgrounds and 3-D effects child's play.
The other applications in Graphics Works include: PhotoMagic, a bitmap photograph editor; Windows OrgChart, for creating organization charts; WinChart, a charting and graphing program; and SlideShow, the standard slide-show module included with Micrografx's high-end draw and presentation packages, Designer and Charisma. There's also a clip art indexing and viewing utility for managing the 10,000 clip art images that come in the package, as well as a photo index and view utility for the 1000 photographs. However, to access the bulk of the clip art and photographs, you'll need a CD-ROM drive.
PhotoMagic is a remarkably friendly bitmap editor. For example, as you change tools, the application window changes to accommodate you by providing drop-down lists and icons that allow easy adjustments to pen and brush widths and the other feature-rich tools. Zoom controls, memory information, special effects, and other handy features are a mouse click away, rather than being mired in a complicated menu structure. You'll have to go to the menus only for seldom-used features, such as resizing or rotating images. An annoying aspect of the program, however, is its use of uncommon terms, such as SmartSizing for resampling (reconstructing) bitmaps. And to convert images from one format to another, such as from color to gray scale, you have to go into the Effects dialog box. I couldn't find this feature without calling technical support. Because converting images from one format to another is a common function, it should be easy to find.
Of all the applications in Graphics Works, Windows OrgChart is most impressive. Never has creating organizational charts been so simple, yet still powerful. You can create links between chart boxes and other information--such as salary, phone number, or home address--and access them by double-clicking on the box. About the only thing I don't like about OrgChart is that you must enter text into boxes and other objects through dialog boxes rather than onscreen, which means you cannot just enter an insertion point on the screen and start typing or editing. This does, however, prevent you from making inadvertent changes to text.
While statisticians and scientists might need a lot of charting prowess, most people will never need more than WinChart provides. The program offers an array of chart styles and several variations, including overlays for 3-D effects and comparing data. Almost all popular spreadsheets--and even some databases--are supported. Creating charts is as easy as selecting the data to include and clicking on an icon; changing chart types is just as easy. You can create gradient color washes and other exciting backgrounds, and you can do just about everything else supported by full-featured presentation packages. But you cannot embed sound and animation files to play back during onscreen slide shows as you can in most of the top charting and presentation applications.
SlideShow, Micrografx's standard screen-show utility, is beginning to look a little long in the tooth. It still contains only a few transition effects and doesn't let you embed multimedia files or jump around from slide to slide. However, it's straightforward and simple. You'll have your first slide show up and running before you know it.
The 10,000 clip art images included on the CD-ROM disc are some of the best available. (Actually, the clip art and photographs are worth the product's purchase price.) You'll probably never have to look any further for a suitable image. The options are nearly limitless. There are well-drawn maps, complete with cities and other geographic information; terrific anatomy shots; and a collection of business scenes and symbols to suit almost every imaginable situation. When your document or presentation calls for a photograph, surely one of the 1000 24-bit images will work. They are expertly scanned, color corrected, and ready to be placed into your work. And if you need gray-scale pictures, PhotoMagic is quite adept at converting them.
When you buy Graphics Works, you get a great support program, which includes 24-hour service during the week and limited hours on weekends. Not once in my several years as a software reviewer and desktop publisher have I called Micrografx technical support lines without getting immediate, accurate answers to all my questions. The technicians are very well trained and courteous.
Micrografx also offers several upgrade policies. If you already own Windows Draw, you can upgrade to Graphics Works for $99.95. Once you've had a chance to try out the various apps in Graphics Works, if you'd like to upgrade to a more powerful Micrografx app and the suggested retail price of the Micrografx application you'd like to upgrade to is $499.95 or $299.95, you can buy that application for $199.95 or $99.95, respectively. Those who want one of the more powerful, $699.95 applications may purchase it for $299.95.
Again, none of the programs in Graphics Works are full-featured enough to be adequate for professional desktop publishers and graphics designers. But the average small and home-based business can't miss with Graphics Works. In fact, this may be the only graphics package that you'll ever need. Graphics Works is, at $295, certainly a tremendous value. For the small or home-based business owner who wants quality graphics editing and creation without getting bogged down in the seemingly limitless, complicated features of dedicated professional packages, Graphics Works is certainly a good choice.