Photoshop improved by shades of gray

With Photoshop 7.0, Adobe has put the emphasis on productivity enhancements

Photoshop has long been the standard-setter for desktop image-editing programs, and the new version further secures the program's position on top of the hill. The fact is, however, we couldn't find anything you can do to an image with Version 7.0 that you couldn't do with earlier versions of the program.

Instead of new functionality, the main selling point is productivity, because Version 7.0 makes it much easier and quicker to perform certain tasks.

The first new feature most users will notice is Photoshop's new file browser. At long last, the program offers a browser that lets you scan thumbnails of files so that you can select which ones you want to open.

By default, the file browser offers a navigation tree in one window, a thumbnail pane, a preview pane that shows a larger image of the selected file and an information pane that displays file data. Even better, you can use the "rank" feature to organize files according to custom criteria, such as proofs or final versions.

Another welcome new feature is the Tool Presets. Using Tool Presets, you can save settings for any tool and make them available with a single click from a quick-access palette.

Likewise, Photoshop 7.0 enables you to save custom layouts of tool palettes so that you can quickly load a configuration featuring just the tools you want available for a particular type of job.

In addition to those file and project management tools, Photoshop 7.0 introduces a few new processing tools that make it easier to correct images. The new Healing Brush, for example, makes it easy to erase defects from an image.

Previously, users accomplished that task using the cloning tool, which copies pixels from another specified portion of the image. But the Healing Brush also corrects for shading and texture. The Patch Tool, also new, lets you perform the same operation on selected portions of an image.

Photoshop 7.0 includes a number of other improvements, including better controls for brush effects. Although we liked the new controls — which make it easier to vary hue, flow and other effects — we didn't find Photoshop as powerful in this regard as Corel Corp.'s Corel Painter, a program that specializes in simulating the effects of artistic media.

And we experienced some performance issues with the software. Unless you have a fast machine with a lot of memory and a fast hard drive, you may experience some unwelcome delays that appear to be freezes. What's more, as noted above, the new version doesn't offer many new tools for working on images. But we were impressed with the ease of use and resulting productivity gains provided by the enhancements in Version 7.0.

REPORT CARD

Photoshop 7.0

Score: A-

Adobe Systems Inc.

(800) 833-6687

www.adobe.com

The list price for Photoshop 7.0 is $609.

With Photoshop 7.0, Adobe has put the emphasis on productivity enhancements. Highlights include a new file browser and utilities for saving custom tool settings.

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