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-- by Lynn Ginsburg
After more than five years without a major new release, you might have assumed that Adobe Illustrator-a popular Macintosh illustration program-was down for the count in the Windows marketplace. After all, during Illustrator's protracted hiatus, competitors in the Windows graphics market, such as Macromedia FreeHand and CorelDRAW, easily bested this venerable former leader with upgraded versions that offered features like multicolored gradients, layers and the ability to work in Preview mode.
But Illustrator has risen before the final bell to match the level of excellence found in Adobe's other graphics programs (including Photoshop and PageMaker). In short, Illustrator is once again a viable contender on the Windows platform.
It would be easier to list what hasn't changed in Illustrator than what has. Although Adobe has been regularly brushing up Illustrator for the Macintosh, the company has sadly neglected the Windows version until now. The beta we tested sports a radically overhauled interface; incorporates changes Adobe implemented on the Mac side, such as layers, multicolored gradients and open architecture support for plug-ins; and offers some brand new features. One of the new features is the RGB (red, green, blue) color picker, a color-management tool you can use to ensure that predictable color results are achieved on screen. Happily, the program retains its core drawing tools, which are uniquely powerful and virtually transparent. These facilitate the creative process without hampering you with unnecessary or awkward techniques.
Adobe has made significant improvements to Illustrator's interface, which now mimics those found in Adobe's Photoshop and PageMaker. The changes go beyond cosmetic enhancement; they offer the underlying functionality of shared routines. For instance, both Photoshop and Illustrator now use the same hotkey combinations for comparable functions (such as zooming), similar tabbed palettes and parallels in pull-down menus that group similar functions under like headings.
Tabbed palettes are an especially welcome improvement. They greatly enhance productivity by making attributes for text and objects accessible, and by allowing users to structure palettes to suit their individual work habits. While these developments aren't unique to Illustrator, Adobe has done an excellent job of implementing them.
If not for the five-year wait since the last release, no one would be excited about Illustrator's new multicolored gradients, layers, multiple undos and object alignment. Yet these almost mundane features are important. A more progressive feature is Illustrator's enhanced raster image handling, which allows you to work with both bitmap and vector images. Illustrator's support for various bitmap formats makes it a powerfully viable program for creating Web images.
Thanks to Illustrator's new open architecture support, you can also apply Photoshop and Photoshop-compatible filters to raster images from within Illustrator. Capitalizing further on this synergy between Photoshop and Illustrator, Illustrator lets you accomplish virtually foolproof conversions of fonts from Illustrator to Photoshop (without making you convert type to paths). The program also anti-aliases screen fonts, which is unique in vector programs, and actually delivers on the promise of WYSIWYG.
Despite major strides, Illustrator is still missing a few important features. Most notable is the lack of styles for objects and text. This is puzzling, since these styles are standard fare in other Windows graphics programs such as FreeHand and CorelDRAW. Illustrator also fails to support true multiple pages and limits document size to 10 by 10 feet.
Although adding these features would make Illustrator a stronger product, the program's impeccable drawing tools have helped it rejoin the ranks of leading vector programs on the Windows platform. What helps to set Illustrator apart, particularly for devotees of other Adobe programs, is an interface that feels and performs like that of Photoshop, making it one of the most streamlined and usable interfaces in the graphics market. We're giving it a big thumbs-up by adding it to our WinList.
Illustrator 7.0 has been a long time coming, but it may well persuade former Illustrator users to champion this reincarnated heavyweight. Now that Illustrator is back, we sincerely hope Adobe doesn't rest on its laurels and keep loyal users waiting another five years for the next version.