With CorelDraw 7, illustration is as easy as paint-by-numbers

With their mysterious interfaces, odd menus, eccentric terms and unfriendly feedback,
illustration programs can confound even the wiliest power user.

Since CorelDraw 6's release more than a year ago, Corel Corp. has delivered several
packages from its illustration suite for such specific tasks as clip art and World Wide
Web authoring. It also acquired Novell Inc.'s PerfectOffice and has given that suite a
graphical twist. Along this route, Corel seems to have adopted a praiseworthy new mantra:
Make it easy.

CorelDraw 7, which should hit the shelves soon, has three primary applications: the
Draw illustration app, Photo-Paint for editing photos and Dream 3D for three-dimensional
drawing. Like every other Corel suite, this one includes many helper applications and a
bevy of fonts and clip art.

I'll focus on Draw, which has come a long way since Version 5, the last one for
Microsoft Windows 3.x PCs. Draw 5.0 wasn't friendly. It had a steep learning curve.

Draw 6, the first release for Windows 95, inched forward in usability. But every time I
created a Draw 6 object, I'd have to search for the properties to change it. I spent most
of my time clicking through menus.

Draw 7, which I tried in a late beta release, is a dream by comparison. As soon as you
create an object, a property bar appears with practically everything needed to change it.
No more searching through menus. The bar is completely context-sensitive, so whatever
you've selected--even multiple objects--will have appropriate options available.

Draw 7 is fast, opening drawings in seconds that would take Version 6 almost a minute.
And Draw 7 does text better than ever, borrowing some automatic WordPerfect formatting.
The text handling is so robust, this is practically a desktop publishing package itself.

Draw 7 is easy. CorelTutors guide you step by step through rather complex tasks. I
didn't have the final code; many of the Tutors weren't working yet, but a few were. I
especially liked one that created a realistic drop shadow behind text and a 3-D ball with
a shadow fading into the distance.

Some windows even have a Show Me button that does the actual work for you. Such macros
aren't unusual in other classes of software but are a welcome addition in the illustration

Another context-sensitive stroke of genius is a Hint window that you can leave open.
Its contents suggest the next steps in plain English. It's hypertext, so you can jump to
any option to see if it's what you wanted to do. This is impressive.

Until now, illustration applications have created vector images while photo or paint
packages made bit map pictures. There have been hints that the two types were coming
closer together, and now Draw 7 merges them nicely with its Bitmap menu. You can transform
a vector object into a bit map and then apply a variety of filters in Photo-Paint.
Anti-aliasing rids the bit maps of dreaded jaggies.

Draw 7 will be an excellent choice for any Web page designer. You can export an
illustration to .GIF and Joint Photographic Experts Group formats. There's even a Publish
to Internet selection under the File menu, but it uses Corel's Barista, which in turn uses
Sun Microsystems' Java, and I couldn't get it to work with my browser.

Corel is gunning hard for the Internet, but I have to say Draw 7 falls short when it
comes to Internet publishing. I've been using the company's WebGraphics Suite, which
contains Web.Draw based on Draw 5. Putting together some of Web.Draw with much of Draw 7
would make a powerhouse Web tool suite--especially with the Web.Designer page creation

I tested release candidate No. 1 of Draw 7, but I expect there will be a No. 2. The
install shield in No. 1 didn't work correctly, and Draw 7 and its many components weren't
registered for easy removal. Beyond a few bugs and the incomplete Tutors, however, Draw 7
represents a real leap forward.

Graphic artists, who tend to work at Apple Power Macintoshes, have shunned Windows 3.1
illustration apps because they feared crashes. Draw 7 on Win95 works on more solid ground.
I'm sure it can crash, but even in beta version, it never did.

Draw users will cheer. But I think the real story about Draw 7 is its accessibility to
new users. If you've never used an illustration app before, Draw 7 makes it easy.

Corel Corp., Ottawa, Ontario, Can.; tel. 800-451-5151


Price: $695; $249 to upgraders

Overall grade: A

[+] Context-sensitive property bar and Hints window

[+] Excellent, easy-to-follow Tutors

[+] Bit map manipulation

[-] Internet publishing features need beefing up

Real-life requirements:

Windows 95 or Windows NT PC with at least 16M RAM and 250M free on hard drive

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