The new vector. (vector-drawing programs for the PC) (Evaluation)
by Robert Bixby
It wasn't so long ago that the only option for vector drawing on the PC was Micrografx PC Draw. Then it was big news when Adobe created the PC illustration and design niche by porting Illustrator from the Macintosh to the PC. The big news was followed by a small thud, unfortunately. So much had to be left behind that Illustrator's giant leap turned out to be a baby step for mankind. Adobe Illustrator, though still available, was soon buried by the currently, reigning big three -- CoreIDRAW!, Micrografx Designer, and Computer Support's Arts & Letters.
The competition has been fierce in this arena, with the ante being raised first by one's hotshot programmers and then by another's, with massive clip art files, followed by massive typeface libraries, followed by ever more bizarre means of manipulating the drawing (perspective, waraping, and extruding routines), followed finally by charting. Watching them slug it out makes me marvel that all three are still standing. But what's really amazing is that new kids keep appearing, ready to join the fray.
The first newcomer to appear on my desk was Harvard Drqw from Software Publishing. It features layers, which are like acetate sheets laid over the drawing surface. Layers allow you to construct a multiple-level drawing, and they keep distinct systems separate in mechanical drawings. It could generate multiple copies of an object in a circular pattern or in perfectly placed columns and rows.
An onscreen help line provides the options available as each icon in the toolbox is selected. This will be appreciated by biginners, and it's easy to turn it off so veteran Harvard Draw artists won't have to look at it anymore.
Harvard Draw features autotrance and many of the drawing features familiar in illustration/design software, but it also has some innovations that will force the past masters to run to cathch up. One of the innovations in this product is its scriping language which allows you to write and edit drawings with a text editor. Simply copy the text file into the Windows Clipboard from a text editor while Harvard Draw is running, and the commands you've specified (with commands like open-draw; set fillnone; set-outlinecmyk 0,0,0,100) will be carried out. Harvard Draw also allows you to fit text to more than one curve, group and combine objects, cut holes in objects, paste copies of an object to a path, blend shapes and colors, perform unusual gradient fills (the motifs include such exotica as a 12-pointed star), mix color on a CMYK or an RGB model, fill an open path, automatically generate regular polygons, choose from a 16-level undo, get context-sensitive help, and more.
Soon after mey encounter with Harvard Draw, I received a telephone call from a publicist about a product called Professional Draw (from Gold Disk, the preeminent profesional software developer for the Amiga).
As of this writing, Professional Draw is still in beta, with some functions unimplemented, so I can't comment on its trace engine, for example. However, Professional Draw is not arriving without a track record. It's the prime choice for vector drawing and illustration/design software on the Amiga. Its arrival is a little like that of Adobe Illustrator -- we wait with bated breath to see to what degree we can make a PC with Windows perform like an Amiga. Making it behave like a Macintosh proved beyond the powers of Adobe's best programmers.
Gold Disk has the benefit of arriving on the scene with many of the problems already solved. I am pleased to report that Professional Draw is very intuitive, jackrabbit fast, and not bug-ridden, which is high praise indeed for beta software. Whether Gold Disk can pack in enough features to make it stand out from the crowd remains to be seen.
Suddenly a new area of competition has opened up at the affordable end of the spectrum. I received Picture Wizard and Arts & Letters Apprentice the other day from Computer Support, both scaled-down versions of Arts & Letters Graphic Editor, loaded with clip art and designed to make it easy to construct art projects. The name and the package of Picture Wizard suggest that it's aimed at young people. Meanwhile, Micrografx has introduced a new graphics package called Micrografx Windows Draw. I hope to compare these new packages in an upcoming column.