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-- by James E. Powell
Micrografx's Graphics Suite 2 is the Swiss Army knife of image manipulation-it has a top-quality tool for every graphics design task imaginable. This suite of raster and vector graphics programs can replace the hodgepodge of standalone software now installed on a digital artist's desktop.
Graphics Suite 2 (Micrografx has dropped "ABC" from the product's name) consists of six parts: FlowCharter 7 (for business diagrams and charts), Designer 7 (for vector image design and editing), Picture Publisher 7 (for raster image editing), Simply 3D 2 (for 3-D graphics and animation), Media Manager 2 (for managing clip art) and QuickSilver 3 (a plug-in and ActiveX control for interactive graphics images on the Web)
One benefit of using a suite is that all the programs share a fairly consistent interface, which means that when you learn to use one program, you can transfer those skills to the other suite components. The modules now use a new, common Open dialog box that pops up when you launch an application. Other cosmetic changes include better right-mouse-button support and redesigned menus. The right-click feature adds significantly to Graphics Suite 2's ease of use; for example, I quickly specified an object's formatting properties by right-clicking on the object in Designer and selecting choices from the ensuing tabbed dialog box.
FlowCharter has many new features I particularly like. Add a new object (an ellipse or a rectangle, for instance) to a chart, and existing connecting lines gracefully find an alternative route that sidesteps the new object instead of hiding beneath it. This automatic "get out of the way" feature is one way Flow Charter lets you draw lines and boxes, then works to make everything look good. It saves you valuable tweaking time. Another new time-saver is CoolSheets. These wizards let you quickly place fancier graphics, such as pyramids, timelines and circle/spoke objects, on a page.
The Living FlowCharts in FlowCharter are clever, although the beta I worked with had only a rough implementation of the feature. A Living FlowChart lets you add actions to each shape-you can perform math, display a dialog box so the user can choose the path to follow and so on. This allows you to build a decision tree. I could see one immediate application for Living FlowCharts: an interactive troubleshooting process that asks questions to guide viewers down the proper path to a solution.
Another spruced-up component is the Designer vector tool. Now at version 7, Designer still offers the excellent control of gradient fills that I found in version 6, as well as 600 new vector fill patterns and quicker previewing. Its Auto Trace feature is now multithreaded, so you don't see the hourglass mouse cursor as often. The program offers several new effects, such as watercolor, and now accepts Adobe Photoshop plug-ins.
Picture Publisher, the raster-image editor, offers several new features, including the ability to create an "average" palette (especially useful for compound images heading for the Internet), and the CoolText Wizard for adding text to an image. Prerecorded macros can add a green glow or soft focus to an object, and the tutorials work on your own image, not some standard piece of clip art.
A few changes in QuickSilver, Micrografx's tool for interactive vector graphics on the Web, greatly improved the product. If you're concerned about annoying visitors to your site with graphics that take forever to load, the new, slick Audit Wizard helps you reduce points of a vector, or move from 24-bit to 8-bit color, then shows the download time for a range of modem speeds.
Simply 3D, for building 3-D images, has new text manipulation tools, including some for building flying text for logos. Additive Animation gives you the ability to animate each letter as well as an entire word. Micrografx didn't forget the Web, either: You can save your creation in VRML2, AVI or animated GIF format.
The suite has a few omissions. For example, it lacks the ABC SnapGraphics application (although you can import files of this type into the suite). I've been a fan of SnapGraphics since its introduction; I use it to create graphics for presentations and diagrams.
The sheer size and complexity of Graphics Suite 2 make it tough to learn, especially the highly specialized programs like Simply 3D. For everyday charts and diagrams, I prefer Visio over Graphics Suite 2.
On the other hand, Graphics Suite 2's size also works in its favor. If you need a single application suite to handle all your graphics chores, Graphics Suite 2 does a commendable job. Despite its omissions, Micrografx has assembled what amounts to a near-universal graphics toolbox, with a blade for every job. That's why it has joined our Recommended List.
Micrografx's Graphics Suite 2 offers CoolSheets for building sophisticated graphics, like this pyramid.