Because I'm a Macworld editor, I've got an embarrassment of software riches piled around my desk. We receive just about every piece of Mac software under the sun to evaluate, and working the Web beat means that I have all the players installed on my hard drive and can use them with impunity.
Now, I realize that not everybody gets the chance to use these tools. Things have changed a little bit in this regardyou can download a demo version of just about every major Web tool, which is a great way to get your feet wet. But a lot of people don't take advantage of those demo programs, or are hesitant to download all of them (at several megabytes a pop) and put them through their paces. Since I've spent a long time with each one of them, I thought I'd write a bit about each one, what I've used it for, whom it's appropriate for, and whether you should download the demo or buy the software.
Anyone who's been working on the Web for awhile has used shareware graphics tools such as Gifbuilder and GraphicConverter. But for people who design professionally for the Web with any real frequency at all, it's probably best to leave the shareware behind and buy a commercially-developed software package.
I don't want to sound like a shill for big software companies, but the fact is that even when I was using those shareware programs, I was using Photoshop. I can't envision designing Web sites using no commercial software at all. Sure, you can do itbut in my opinion, it's not worth it.
That said, let me also argue against using Photoshop as your only Web graphics tool. If you already own Photoshopespecially version 5you can do some great tricks and create lots of attractive Web graphics. You may not think you need another tool. I have to disagree. Photoshop is woefully short on Web-relevant featuresprobably because Adobe's packed all of that stuff into ImageReady, a separate product I'll discuss in a minute.
If you own Photoshop and can't envision buying another Web application, let me suggest that you at least consider GIF and JPEG Photoshop plug-ins. I still swear by PhotoGIF and ProJPEG from BoxTop Software ( http://www.boxtopsoft.com ). With these or similar plug-ins, you can get control over your final GIF and JPEG files that Photoshop's built-in capabilities just can't deliver. In fact, the Photoshop-BoxTop team was what processed almost every Web graphic I did up until about a year ago.
But since Macromedia released Fireworks and Adobe released ImageReady, I've never looked back.
***Ready or Not
The existence of Adobe's ImageReady presents an interesting problem. Adobe is the leader when it comes to image-editing software. Everyone who's anyone uses Photoshop. So what is Adobe to do? They can point their Photoshop programmers at the Web and let 'er rip, but what would their print-publishing and TV people do when the latest version of Photoshop comes out and offers only Web stuff for the upgrade price? They wouldn't buy it, that's what. And Adobe would feel the pain.
Adobe could've taken another stab at the Web, offering a different version of Photoshopmaybe with all the really print-oriented stuff taken out, and Web stuff added into its users who work on Web graphics. That would sell to the Web users, and the print people could stay on the other track. And Adobe could also offer a hybrid versonfor more moneythat provided both sets of features.
Nah. Too complicated. So what Adobe decided to do was to stop adding Web features to Photoshop altogether and build a side product, ImageReady, that was designed just for the Web. But the company didn't want to risk all those pricey Photoshop sales to Web professionals! So they did what is, in my opinion and from the users' perspective, a Bad Thing.
They crippled ImageReady so that anyone who's serious about image editing will have to buy both it *and* Photoshop. Essentially, ImageReady is a post-Photoshop tool for Web people, rather than a full-fledged image editor. Want to use the airbrush tool? Forget it it's not in ImageReady. How about the excellent, all-purpose, savior-of-artists'-butts Rubber Stamp? Nope. Pony up for Photoshop.
Is ImageReady a bad tool? Not at all. It looks and actsto a certain extent, as I saidlike Photoshop. If you're comfortable in Photoshop, you'll be comfortable in ImageReady. ImageReady gives you solid control over the colors of your GIFs, lets you preview what your images will look like on Windows PCs with ease, and offers animation features that make it quite easy to create GIFs featuring moving text and fade-ins.
If ImageReady were the only Web graphics tool out there, I'd advise you to pay Adobe's toll and get both ImageReady and Photoshop. But I think there's a better option.