Personal graphics. (IBM images) (evaluation) Will Fastie.
One of the things that Apple has done for all of us is raise our consciousness about graphics. The effect of the graphics capabilities of the Apple II was so great that IBM made sure graphics capability was available for the PC at the time it was introduced. With the Macintosh, Apple has commercialized the graphics-based icon, menu, and mouse scheme developed at Xerox. A plethora of MacPaint-like programs now exists, and the color and graphics capabilities of the PC family are rising.
One of the first things I looked for when I got the PC was a graphics program that would allow me to build pictures. The thought of drawing with a mouse or other device was far from my mind; an etch-a-sketch program I wrote for my son was about the limit of my imagination at that time. I was quickly disappointed to discover that nothing existed, and it was to be three years before I invested in my own color display and a mouse.
In the meantime, I did finally find a program that fit my budget but allowed some drawing. Actually, PC Crayon was more than just a drawing program. It provided some rather sophisticated vector drawing capabilities as well as animation. I used the program successfully to design an automated ribbon-cutting ceremony for the opening of my new office. PC Crayon is still available, as is its big brother, Executive Picture Show. Both are from PC Software; PC Crayon, in particular, is a bargain from PC Connections.
About a year ago, MacPaint-like programs began to emerge for the PC family. By now, there must be at least ten products designed to satisfy the market demand. The two best known are Mouse Systems PC Paint and the more recent IBM PCjr ColorPaint. Both are good, and both have their limitations. Both have the by now mandatory Macintosh look, and both have about the same collection of features. If the truth be known, I like IBM's product better, but more often use PC Paint because use of ColorPaint is restricted to the PCjr: it is a cartridge-based program.
ColorPaint has four significant advantages over PC Paint. First, it can fill an arbitrary shape after the fact. This means that a drawing can take shape and an area can be filled at any time. PC paint, by contrast, can only fill the shape just after it has been drawn, a severe limitation. So, for example, ColorPaint can fill the intersection of two circles but PC Paint cannot. Second, Color Paint on PC Paint cannot. Second, ColorPaint on it is unfortunately limited to four at a time. PC Paint deals only with the familiar palettes of the PC, even on jr. Third, although both products support patterns, only ColorPaint can edit them; new patterns created by the user are saved along with the image. Fourth, ColorPaint commands a better selection of printers, including the IBM Color Printer.
One subtle difference between the two programs is the size and shape of the image created. PC Paint drawings are screen images, so they can be used effectively for presentation graphics. They do not, however, print very well. ColorPaint images do not fill the screen, but they are sized so that they can be printed upright (in portrait orientation) as full-sized 8 1/2" X 11 pages. In short, PC Paint has ascreen orientation and ColorPaint has a paper orientation.
Once again, PCjr ColorPaint is the better product, but is severely limited by its restriction to the PC's little brother.
Two other products that I have tried are Draw-It and 4-Point Graphics. Draw-It looks particularly interesting because of its low price ($29.99) and because it is published as a book (presumably for retail in book stores) by Paperback Software International. It seems a reasonable product, but I don't feel it measures up to another program of similar cost which I will be discussing in a moment. I also felt it was slow by comparison with almost every other program I have tried. 4-Point Graphics can only be called strange, and is not as fully featured as I think a product in this category outht to be.
Another product has impressed me and others greatly and promises to be an important player. It is Imsi's PC Paintbrush. Its big advantage over everybody else's product is the extensive display subsystem and printer support it provides. The installation program provides support for a long list of displays (including all the resolutions available for each one) and an equally long list of printers. I fully expect it to be the first drawing program available that will directly support the IBM Enhanced Color Display subsystem, a feat made possible by the fact that the program is device independent. In fact, pictures are stored in such a way that a particular picture can be drawn on one display system and then be correctly displayed on another system with different display characteristics. PC Paintbrush also supports the world of mice and joysticks, but can operate under keyboard control as well. All in all, a strong product, especially if your environment has a variety of hardware.
A product received too late for detailed examination but which looks very nice is TelePaint from LCS/Telegraphics. Like PCjr Color Paint, the program can produce an upright, 8 1/2 X 11 image. The TelePaint screen presentation is very good looking, giving the most Mac-like appearance of any of the products mentioned here. It is the most expensive Mac-alike of the lot, at $149, so a more careful look is required before a serious recommendation can be made. I'll let you know in a later column.
Those are the major products I have seen so far. I am quite sure there will be more and, of course, I have omitted mention of programs sold only with hardward products. However, there is one product that you will not easily hear about but that offers extraordinary function for the money. It is one of IBM's quietly marketed Personally Developed Programs called PC Palette.
Personally Developed Software
A note about IBM's Personally Developed series is in order here. IBM has published a mail-order catalog, called "The Directory,' that initially carried 36 products and has recently been expanded by 22 more, for a total of 58. These programs were developed by IBM employees and are marketed by IBM in a remarkably cost-effective way. Most of the programs cost less than $50 (the range is $15 to $150) and include utilities, games, and business applications (see Table 1). Some of the programs have been bundled together in "value packs' which range in price up to $195 and generally represent a substantial discount over the price of the programs purchased individually. I have had a chance to look at about 15 of the programs and have found some real gems, as well as a few that are less interesting or valuable.
"The Directory' itself is well done. It is nicely printed, with much color. Each program is described on a page that includes a brief summary of its function and capability, its operating requirements, and the price. A picture of a typical screen display is also provided. The names of the program authors are given; a very nice touch is the photographs of the authors in the table of contents. And because it is, after all, a mail-order catalog, several order forms with mailing envelopes are conveniently provided.
For the most part, these programs are good values. The better ones could not be had at twice the price if they were marketed in traditional style by typical publishers. PC Palette, for example, costs only $39.95 and is probably more powerful than most of the other programs I have seen in this category. What it lacks is pizzazz, but if you are trying to get some work done, you can often do without that. That is characteristic of the better programs in the series.
Another program I like is the Backgammon game, written by John E. Hoel. Before I used the game, I had played only a bit and could not even remember the rules. It plays a pretty strong game, offers help just about anytime, looks good on the screen, and is easy to operate. It is a tad slow, but then it costs only $19.95. Somehow, I didn't mind the slowness, and I play better backgammon now than I did before.
If you want more information about the programs, the catalog is free for the asking (even though it shows a $4 cover price) from the address shown at the end of the article or by calling the order number.
Back to graphics. I'm impressed with PC Palette because it is, indeed, so powerful. It is a very versatile drawing program, competitive in every respect with the better known and more expensive packages. Add to that its capability for animating presentations and its built-in graphing function, and it just seems too good to be true. But, wait, there's more! Five free steak knives that can cut through tires! Oops, sorry. There is more. One of the most significant features is subtle: PC Palette allows you to cut a section from one drawing and add it to the one on which you are working. This function is very nice, because it means you can have a library of design elements and get them at any time. It is a feature that most other painting programs lack.
PC Palette records the "strokes' used to build a picture, instead of just holding the screen images. This allows the program to redraw the whole picture, or parts of it, in different sizes (scaling) and to rotate parts of the picture (see Figure 1). It is the storage of images as files of strokes that gives PC Palette its animation capability. Storage of dot images is also provided and has the advantage that the picture can be loaded and displayed much more quickly.
Shows, or automatic presentation of screen images, are controlled by a second program included with PC Palette. After images have been created with the drawing program, a show can be constructed by using an editor to create a file containing PC Palette commands. The show program reads the commands from this file and carries them out. In effect, it is just the draw program running but taking commands from a file instead of from the keyboard or mouse. Because this is the case, the show can include anything PC Palette can do, including animation. A demo is included on the disk with the program and can be used as a guide to learn how shows are constructed.
PC Palette does not have the visual appearance of MacPaint, as some of the other painting programs do. There are no pull-down menus, as all the options are displayed in a single menu at the bottom of the screen; the program can also be operated from the keyboard, usually by giving single-letter commands. Because a user can see everything at once, PC Palette is probably even easier to learn to use than some of the other products.
A few other points. Only two printers are supported: the IBM Graphics Printer and the IBM Color Printer. I think any Epson or Epson-compatible will work; my TI 855 worked just fine. The list of input devices supported is long, and can be found in Table 2. Multiple fonts are provided by the program, but I found them to be limited (see Figure 2); no capability is provided to make your own fonts.
I salute Kai-ching Chu for an excellent, full-featured program. I salute IBM for its innovative publishing operation and for making PC Palette so affordable.
Table: 1. IBM's Personally Developed Software.
Table: 2. Input devices supported by PC Palette.
Microsoft Mouse (serial port)
Microsoft Mouse (parallel bus)
Mouse Systems PC Mouse (M1 or M2)
GTCO Digi-Pad 5
Summagraphics Bit Pad One
PCPalette allows the technical user to create a device driver for input devices other than those directly supported. The documentation explains the requirements. An example program is included with the package to promote understanding.
Photo: Executive Picture Show
Photo: PC Paint
Photo: PC Paintbrush
Photo: Figure 1. This image, printed on a TI 855, shows rotation and scaling of an arbitrary shape. The leftmost "blob' is the original from which the other three were copied.
Photo: Figure 2: The 12 PC Palette fonts. The fonts cannot be scaled, and the letters retain their orientation even when rotated.
Products: IBM ColorPaint (computer program)
PC Paint (computer program)
Draw-It (computer program)
4-Point Graphics (computer program)
PC Palette (computer program)