The Software Solution

The software solution for our previously described tasks will be choosen from three graphics paint packages: CLRpaint, XPaint, and Paint Shop Pro. Each package is described, tested, and evaluated individually in the following sections:

Paint Shop Pro

The next sections give a description of the evaluation criteria, the testing process and results, and an evaluation of the results looking at the three packages together.

Evaluation Criteria

Criteria 1 :

How easy is it to use the paint program with minimal reference to help.

This tests to see how intuitive the icons, buttons, and general layout of the program is. For example, if you want to use the eraser button, but the picture on the icon doesn't even come close to looking like an eraser, and your best bet is either to read help or trial and error, then the program isn't that easy to use. The basics of the program, like creating a new picture, opening an existing picture, saving the picture, and just using the paint brushes should all be self explanatory without having to refer back to help.

The power functions, like resizing, colour modifications, and the use of special filters are excluded, for they are considered to be more advanced features of the program, and referring to help on how to use these functions is expected. In other words, the first time user will most likely not use these features until they become familiar with the basics of the program.

Criteria 2 :

Finished product, and how it looks on the 3 platforms (PC, SGI, and Sun).

This covers a broad spectrum of hardware, and since this will be viewed on the internet, it is important to note how the finished product will look like on these 3 platforms. For example, a jpg picture you create may look stupendous on the PC, but on the Sun the colour may run or it may not have enough hardware to display the colour properly.

To put it in a different perspective, the SGIs are designed for graphics, so pictures created on the SGIs will be colour intensive, but running the same picture on the Sun may not work, for the Sun is not designed to handle the graphics that a SGI was designed for.

Criteria 3 :

How long does it take to load a particular picture.

Since we are dealing with graphics all the time, and good graphics aren't created in a day, it is important to have the program load a picture as fast as possible. We will be saving and loading graphics constantly, and it kinda sucks if we have to wait around while the program is loading a particular picture. Of course, the bigger the picture the longer it takes to load, but it is nice to have a program that loads a picture as fast as possible.

One note must be put forth here though, it also depends on what format, and size of picture you are loading. Jpg pictures are compressed, so even for a small picture, ie. 20 k, it takes longer to load than a 1.27 M bmp picture.

Criteria 4 :

How many picture formats the paint program can support.

Most pictures found on the internet today is either in jpg or gif format, but most users opt for jpg, for jpg pictures aren't that big (average size is 50 k), and can support a colour depth of up to 16 million. As well, most users at home have a PC, and with the advent of Windows and Windows 95, the only format it can support is bmp. For this reason, it is critical for a paint program to support at least these three formats, jpg, gif, and bmp.

Of course, the more the better, but as long as these three formats are present, it is a big plus.

Criteria 5 :

Picture quality after converting the picture to another format.

This one is crucial, because different formats have different ways of handling colour depth. For instance, gif formats tend not to handle colour depths past 256, while jpg or bmp can handle colour depths up to 16 million. Naturally, if the colour depth is decreased you will notice it, but it is important that the integrity of the picture is kept relatively intact to the original, that is if the colour depth has not changed.

To put it another way, it really sucks if you create a nice picture, but after converting it to another format, the picture you created looks faded and unnatural, and does not resemble anything like the original picture.

Criteria 6 :

'Power' features, like text (number of fonts supported), colour palette manipulation ...

It is important for a user to be able to use the basic features, but to elevate the user from a beginner level to a advanced user level, they will have to know how to use the 'power' features of the program. Also, it i one thing to create a picture, but it is another to be able to add fancy things to the picture as well, like words describing what a particular button or icon is. As well, the default colours available may be adequate for a beginner, but a advanced user may want more control over the program, like being able to customize colours to their own liking, manually setting the brightness or gamma correction of a picture, and to tweak the program so it suits their own use. A program that allows a user to create a nice picture with the basics but yet has the flexibility of customization is an absolute must.

Evaluation of Results

Once each package was evaluated, we were able to compare the three packages together.

XPaint turned out to be rather inadequate for our needs compared to the other packages. We have discarded it first. We base this evaluation of the following conclusions. XPaint does not support jpg or bmp format, the spray can option would hang the program on the Suns, changing the background color was difficult to figure out, the file load time was long, and the selection of paint brushes and fonts available is rather limited.

Paint Shop Pro is complete and quite easy to use. Some of the advantages are as follows. The number of picture formats supported is far greater than the other packages. The number of paint brushes and painting tools available is superior and provides flexibility in drawing different pictures. It allows you to preview text before placing the text in the image. The hypertext on-line help is also a very good feature, and there is an undo feature. However, the floating palettes seem to always be in the way and you had to shrink it down.

CLRpaint was also complete and very easy to use. A number of features allowed it to become our favorite package by a slight margin. The real time zoom window was very well done and useful in many situations. It allows very detailed work to be done. There are lots of fonts and sizes to choose from, and there was a good method of picking the colors from the 24 bit RGB color space. The antialiased lines are definitely nice to have and make the finished product jaggies free. The power features like rotating and scaling blocks and polygons are not covered by the other packages. Finally, the tinting feature on blocks was quite unique.

Overall, CLRpaint was the graphics paint program of choice. The power features let us overlook some of the disadvantages of CLRpaint. As a result, we are placing Paint Shop Pro a close second, and we will use both packages in our work. We will use Paint Shop Pro for its support of formats and in the event that we do not make enough money to afford our own Silicon Graphics machine.