In Windows, image is everything. (image browsing software) (Windows Workshop) (Software Review) (Hardware Review) (Column) (Evaluation)
by Clifton Karnes
While you may not agree that image is everything, you'll certainly admit that images are a crucial element in Windows. They're everywhere--in icons, cursors, wallpaper bitmaps, screen savers, Clipboard files, GIF files, PCX files, video clips, and on and on.
The problem is managing these graphics. If you work with images much, you probably have scores of these files scattered everywhere on your hard disk, with little or no organization. To maintain and manipulate these graphics efficiently, you really need help, and you won't find a better helper than ImagePals 2 from U-Lead (310-523-9393, $129). ImagePals 2 is a single pack-age with everything you need to view, catalog, capture, translate, and manipulate graphics. It's configured as a suite of superbly crafted, highly integrated tools that make working with graphics fun--the way it ought to be.
ImagePals 2's core consists of four modules: Album, Image Editor, Viewer, and Screen Capture. Since Album is the control center of the suite, I'll start with it. Album lets you catalog your images, and it presents the images as thumbnails. There are two especially noteworthy things about Album. The first is that it supports an amazing array of graphics formats, including some unusual but useful ones, like icons (with ICO extensions) and cursors (with CUR extensions). The second is that it isn't limited to graphics. You can use Album to catalog video clips, WAV files, and MIDI files; and in the most general sense, you can place almost any kind of file on a thumbnail (like an HLP file). When you doubleclick on a thumbnail, Album runs the program associated with the file (you can set associations inside Album, which is very handy), and if there is no association, it runs its own viewer.
Probably the best way to think about Album is as a visual file manager. In it, you place thumbnails, organized in groups you choose. You can keep groups active so they're on the Album desktop, or you can move them to Album's Bookshelf, where they're out of the way. One of Album's coolest features is its user-configurable button bar. You can place a program on this button bar and press the button to launch the program. But better than that, you can drag a thumbnail to a button to load a graphic (or WAV file or video clip) into the application. This feature really lets you customize Album to work the way you want it to.
After Album, the most important element of ImagePals 2 is Image Editor. This program lets you manipulate your images by changing colors, cutting and pasting, cropping, and applying special effects.
Specialized tools like Magic Wand, which selects similar colors throughout a picture, and Magic Lamp, which allows you to apply effects like blur, sharpen, darken, lighten, and smudge selectively to a small part of an image, make this editor powerful, flexible, and easy to use.
In addition to the small-scale effects you can create with Magic Lamp, Image Editor's Effects menu lets you blur, sharpen, despeckle, emphasize edges, find edges, and adjust for NTSC, as well as apply several very unusual effects with descriptive names like average, blast, cool, emboss, facet, fat/thin, fish eye, mosaic, stagger, tile, warm, watercolor, and windy.
If you're interested in conversion, Image Editor can handle almost anything. You can move from formats that include BMP, CLP, EPS, IFF, JPG, PCX, PSD, PXR, RAS, TGA, TIF, and WMF. And conversion is fast!
Viewer is an important element of ImagePals 2, and you'll find yourself using it often. It works a lot like other viewers, but it has several very nice features. First, it's a drop destination, so you can drag graphics files to it from File Manager and Album. And instead of replacing the image in the window you drag to, Viewer opens a new window, which is a great feature. There are several items on Viewer's Control menu that make it easy to do things like close, restore, and tile all Viewer windows.
Viewer also has two neat buttons on its status bar. The first button lists all the active Viewer windows. The second lets you drag the contents of Viewer to any drop target, like Image Editor.
My favorite part of this ensemble is Screen Capture. While capturing screens in Windows can be easy (you just press Print Screen to capture the whole desktop or Alt-Print Screen to capture the active window), if your requirements go beyond this, you'll need help. ImagePals 2's Screen Capture will give you all the help you need and more. It's an MDI application that keeps each capture in its own document window. You can capture the cursor or leave it out, and you can grab any area of the screen you wish. Screen Capture even lets you change your windows' colors from inside the program and crop captured images.
That's a short introduction to ImagePals 2. If you work with graphics, you need it.