Microsoft Digital Image Suite 2006. Windows 98SE or later. Microsoft. $99.99.
Ask anyone who does frequent digital photo editing and you’re likely to be told that Adobe Photoshop 3.0 is “the one to beat” among editing suites. That may be true for experienced photo editors, but novices are likely to find Microsoft Digital Image Suite 2006 easier and more pleasant to use – and even for more adept users, this new product gives Adobe’s a run for the money.
Microsoft’s 2006 product is a mostly revamped and upgraded version of its earlier ones, and the improvements are all to the good. It is essentially three products in one: Library to organize images, Photo Story 3.1 to create slide shows, and Editor to change components of images. Library is neatly designed and easy to use. You can create keywords and assign them to individual images, as before – and now you can organize the keywords themselves so you don’t have to sort through long alphabetical lists. You can also rank individual images (up to five stars) so you can more easily put together the best ones. Photo Story 3.1 makes it easy to create video slide shows – including music and motion effects. It’s a very nice product, but not in itself a reason to buy the suite – since it is available for free as a download from Microsoft’s Web site.
Editor is something of a mixed bag. Although newly named, it is not much different from earlier Microsoft digital-editing products. The interface is clumsier than in the suite’s other components, and although the editing tools work well, there is nothing special about them and nothing particularly new – except for a really neat feature to convert color images to black-and-white.
Ease of use and mostly well-done suite integration are the big selling points here. Expect to spend a couple of hours learning all the ins and outs of the suite and practicing with it– but that’s much less than you would spend with Adobe’s product. And some elements, such as image enhancement, are so intuitive that you can use them almost immediately. Others, such as layer and transparency, are much easier than in Adobe’s software. Users of the RAW image format will be pleased that Microsoft’s new suite supports it.
New users of digital-editing programs will find Microsoft Digital Image Suite 2006 to be a great deal of fun. It takes only a few clicks to correct color balance and contrast, switch photo backgrounds, remove objects from pictures, E-mail photos in a size that is small enough so even dialup users can send and receive them quickly, and much more.
The program installs easily and painlessly, though it does require 400 megabytes of disk space. Slower computers (microprocessor clock speed below 1 GHz) and ones with less than 512 megabytes of RAM can run it but probably shouldn’t – it works, but slowly. Users may run into occasional glitches with certain photo formats in certain types of projects, but the Help files are genuinely helpful and can usually point you toward a fix or workaround. Automatic resizing and the sharpening tool are weak points, but neither is a serious problem – they are just not up to the quality of the rest of the suite.
Expert digital editors and those with a strong technical inclination may continue to prefer Adobe’s product for its top-of-the-line image editing tools and an integration even tighter than Microsoft’s. There are also some other good editing suites out there, such as Corel’s Paint Shop Pro X. And some buyers may balk at spending $100 for a three-component suite when one of those components is available free. Despite all this, Microsoft Digital Image 2006 is a good value and a very worthwhile competitor in its field – especially for people who want to start getting top-notch results quickly and without wading through mounds of jargon.
January 12, 2006
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