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-- by Lynn Ginsburg
Graphics software is caught up in the Internet's seismic upheavals. Companies are scrambling to Web-enable products, and Macromedia seems ready for the Web with its timely release of FreeHand Graphics Studio 7.
FreeHand 7 features an array of tools designed to meet the challenges of creating graphics for the Net. Thanks to the company's early entry onto the Web with its multimedia Shockwave technology, Macromedia is already a known commodity. With FreeHand 7, the company is in an ideal position to leverage its assets in both new and traditional media, combining the power of its industry-standard Shockwave with FreeHand's proven design tools.
In addition to its Web-design tools, the program has also updated its traditional toolset, with a reworked interface, useful plug-ins and expanded printing features.
Shockwave is FreeHand's outstanding feature. The technology resolves the limitation of Web browsers that only display raster-based image formats, such as GIF and JPEG. Previously, to display FreeHand images on the Web, you had to first rasterize vector images so they could be recognized by a browser. With the Shockwave plug-in, designers can distribute FreeHand vector-based graphics on the Web, taking advantage of the smaller file sizes, scalability and easily editable images associated with vector.
FreeHand files are converted for use in Shockwave with the new Afterburner Xtra, which compresses images for quick download over the Web. If you have the Shockwave plug-in installed with your Web browser, you can then view the FreeHand vector files, zooming in or out on an image, and panning the graphic just as you would in FreeHand. You can now easily assign a URL to any object in a FreeHand file with the new URL Xtra. URLs are assigned by selecting an object and simply entering the URL.
FreeHand's appearance has also been overhauled. All the panels are now tabbed folders that can be peeled off and grouped together to create a custom workspace. The already impressive Inspector panel can now include any other panels (such as the color list and layers), greatly enhancing its functionality. Additionally, you can now change the type's font and point size from within the Type Inspector. Stroke and fill colors are also available.
FreeHand 7 has broken away from its original Mac roots. It introduces new toolbars that emulate the Microsoft Office standard, as well as colored icons on the toolbox. Although I did appreciate the instant access the new toolbars provided for many functions, it was sometimes at the expense of the previous appropriately minimal and utilitarian interface. This gripe aside, I liked the new interface enhancements and felt that they contributed greatly to the program's ease of use.
A charting Xtra tool lets you create a grouped or stacked bar, line, pie, area or scatter chart.
A search-and-replace feature handles both graphics and text, with an extensive searchable attribute list. This is a great tool for replacing color, removing invisible objects and finding overprinting objects. It also works well with the Set Note feature, which attaches a name and a 254-character note to any object. The Autotrace tool now supports color bitmaps and does a respectable job of matching the color of originals.
While FreeHand 7 places much emphasis on Web publishing, the program also has some enhanced features for traditional output. FreeHand now offers a Print Preview window that lets you easily preview multipage documents. The program has added Color Sync and ICC color matching, and has expanded support for Pantone systems, which now include Hexachrome.
For my money, FreeHand is the best illustration program available. The program's previous version already featured impressive text handling, drawing tools, layers and style sheets. This version's Web/Shockwave features and revised interface push it to the top.
The FreeHand Graphics Studio bundle, which includes an image-editing program (xRes 3), a 3-D modeling and animation program (Extreme 3D 2), a font-building program (Fontographer 4.1) and a Web publishing tool (Shockwave), provides an incredible range of high-end software for a very reasonable price. With this new low price, FreeHand should pose a threat to bundled graphics programs like CorelDRAW, whose latest version is also reviewed in this issue. FreeHand Graphics Studio 7's power and style are more than enough to make it a Recommended List favorite.