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CorelDraw 8 LE

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After years of being considered an also-ran in the Macintosh graphics arena, Corel has rewritten the rules of the game with a bold move: CorelDraw is now available for free. That's right, for the time it takes you to make a 54MB download, you can own CorelDraw 8 LE. What's the catch? Well, the "LE" stands for "Limited Edition," and this free version of CorelDraw 8 is indeed somewhat limited in comparison to the full version; nonetheless, it's still an extremely capable package. By offering this much power for free, Corel redefines the concept of "value" in graphics software.

When you download CorelDraw 8 LE, what you end up with, confusingly, are two applications: CorelDraw 8 LE and Corel Photo-Paint 8 LE. CorelDraw is a vector-drawing application similar in purpose to Adobe Illustrator and Macromedia FreeHand. CorelDraw for the Mac is being promoted with the familiar-sounding phrase "Draw Different," and it's an appropriate slogan. CorelDraw's approach to vector drawing is quite different from either of its competitors, with most activity centering around the Property Bar, a browser-like strip of buttons that changes according to the tool selected. Current FreeHand and Illustrator users would no doubt be put off by CorelDraw's one-of-a-kind tools and strange terminology (see "Habla Usted CorelDraw?"), but there is an underlying logic to the program that should make it just as easy for a vector novice to learn as either competing program.

Habla Usted CorelDraw? While CorelDraw's bezier drawing tools and Property Bar give you great control, its unique vocabulary may take some getting used to.

The other half of the package, Photo-Paint, is a direct competitor to Adobe Photoshop. The full version of Photo-Paint 8 (see Reviews , March 1999) is a sophisticated program, offering most of Photoshop's features while adding some exciting ones of its own. The LE version is based on the recently released 8.0.3 version of the software, and other than some minor screen redraw problems, the bugginess and slow performance that Macworld reported earlier seem to have been eliminated. Photo-Paint's approach to image editing is quite similar to that of Photoshop, but it can't compete with Photoshop's superior interface and flexible workflow. As an image creation tool, however, Photo-Paint takes the prize, with Painter-like "image-spraying" abilities and a wide variety of brush shapes that are a blast to experiment with (see "Let Us Spray").

Let Us Spray In addition to a dynamic set of painting tools, Photo-Paint has an Image Sprayer with fun settings like Foliage, Nuts, Clouds, Rain Drops, and Sunflowers.

Corel isn't completely giving away the farm with CorelDraw 8 LE; there are limits to this free version's functionality. Photo-Paint 8 LE only lets you keep two files open at the same time, while CorelDraw 8 LE allows just one open file. This is a relatively minor annoyance to put up with in a free application, however, as you can always copy selections to your Mac's Clipboard. More inhibiting is the fact that both programs can export files in only three non-Corel formats: GIF, JPEG, and PNG. Only basic printing options are available, and both applications are also limited in the number of bitmap effects they offer. The full version also boasts an impressive number of other graphics-related applications, plug-ins, fonts, and clip art, plus over 1,100 pages of excellent documentation.

These limitations are hardly severe when you consider what Corel's competition has to offer for the same price. The Adobe Web site has free trial versions of Illustrator 9 and Photoshop 5.5 available for download. There's one minor limitation, though: you can't save, export or print from them, so unless you can make do with a screen capture, they're worthless for doing real work. Macromedia does much better by offering a fully functioning free trial version of FreeHand 9. The catch is that it expires after 30 days, so ongoing projects are impossible.

By releasing CorelDraw 8 LE for free, Corel is obviously counting on people to upgrade to the full version. The price is certainly right: LE users can upgrade for only $149, compared to over $1,000 for purchasing Photoshop and Illustrator together. But for Mac graphics professionals, CorelDraw 8 LE doesn't offer a compelling argument to make them switch from the standard programs they're currently using. Illustrator and FreeHand have recently been updated to version 9, while CorelDraw 9 is available only for Windows. Mac users will have to wait for an upgrade until Corel releases version 10 in the first half of 2001.

On the other hand, those with a budding interest in computer graphics should make a beeline to Corel's Web site to download CorelDraw 8 LE, if they haven't already clicked away from this review to do so. Both applications come with helpful tutorials to get you up to speed. Unfortunately, Photo-Paint's tutorial utilizes three bitmap effects that were left out of the free version. You'll want to search the excellent online Help with the Index panel rather than the Find panel, which tends to cause system crashes. These help-related problems aside, this is an excellent opportunity to experiment with professional-level software, and the upgrade price is a small one to pay for unlocking the full power of CorelDraw.

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