In general, it’s not worth switching programs just because one costs less or is easier to use. The amount of time it takes to become familiar with any large program is worth far more than the money saved in going cheaper, and the same arithmetic applies to learning time. Which brings us to CorelDraw.

A

lot of businesses have standardized on CorelDraw for graphics and publishing. And a lot of hard time has been spent by users learning it. Well, they’re going to be happy with the latest upgrade: CorelDraw 12 is out, and we are here to tell you, it’s easy to use.

Corel 12, as we’ll call it, is actually a suite of three large programs: CorelDraw, Corel Photo-Paint, and R.A.V.E., an acronym for Rave Animated Vector Effects.

CorelDraw is the main program. Use it to create logos, advertisements, manuals, and complex publications up to 99 pages long. Many users like the new “smart draw” feature that smoothes the lines of any rough sketch. A set of “dynamic guides,” as they call them, add the kind of precision tools that are so attractive in Deneba’s Canvas professional drawing program. You can snap objects to predefined grids and set up baselines. This is important for page layouts: You can make sure that the base of a picture lines up exactly with a line of type, for example, or a series goes to a vanishing point.

When working on part of a large drawing or page, little on-screen text boxes let you know when you’ve reached an edge or are next to another drawing. As you move the cursor around, other text boxes tell when you’re at a centre line or whether you are now working to the right or left of centre.

The three-program group is enhanced by a number of utilities, like Corel Trace, which lets you turn a bitmap illustration into a vector drawing. Why would you want to do that? Well, a vector drawing can be scaled up or down – enlarged or shrunk – without loss of definition. If you enlarge a bitmap drawing you quickly begin to get “the jaggies” -the staircase effect that makes lines appear jagged. As you go up in size the whole picture becomes “pixilated,” which is not to say that it’s drunk, but that the dots making up the image get larger, resembling little coloured bricks. A vector drawing substitutes mathematical formulae for the lines and pixels, and the formulae remain the same no matter what the final size of the image. So pull a bitmap picture into CorelDraw 12 and turn it into a vector drawing.

Corel 12 has its own screen-capture utility. You can bring any screen into a project and make it part of that project. It’s also a good starting point for using drawings or photos that catch your attention to make new illustrations.

Photo-Paint has a nice “eyedropper.” Eyedropper tools let you sample the colour of any point on the screen and duplicate it somewhere else. Corel’s eyedropper can also drop the properties from one drawing to another. You can copy size, rotation and colour-fill effects from one object to other objects. You can take a Corel “drop” from any picture on the screen, including Web pages.

We’ve seen many of these features in other programs, some of them years ago, but it’s wonderful to have them all in one place. To top it off, Corel has added great tutorials, good enough to make you an expert in a few days.

One final point: CorelDraw 12 is for Windows only. With this upgrade, Corel abandons the Macintosh market. (www.corel.com).

DRIVE, THEY SAID

“Driver Magician” is a terrific utility for backing up all the device drivers in a Windows system. If you have ever hunted in despair as we have, knowing you have the driver for that printer somewhere, then you too are human and need this utility. It’s a lot easier than finding the drivers on the Web.

Consider for a moment, the problem of restoring a system by reinstalling the operating system. Does anyone ever have to do this? Are you kidding? Are frogs waterproof? So now you have to reconnect the printer and the scanner and the external hard drive and the photo reader – and just where did you put the driver disks for those things? Ha!

Driver Magician can also back up and restore the Outlook Express address books, Internet Explorer favourites, mail files, registry changes, etc. It’s US$30 from www.drivermagician.com.

SYNCHRONIZATION

Synchronize is such a wonderful sounding word, it’s only fitting that it’s part of a great program. That’s “Directory Synchronizer,” from AJC Software. What this does is synchronize the files in one computer with those in another. It examines the directory tree in each machine and compares them side by side. Colour coding provides a quick guide to differences. It’s a lifesaver for people who use a desktop at the office and a laptop on the road. It also makes it easy to install a new hard drive and transfer all your files, including database and Outlook files.

Directory Synchronizer has received rave reviews from users. It’s US$29 from www.ajcsoft.com, which also offers a free full-working trial version.

BOOKS

“Corel Draw 12, The Official Guide,” by Steve Bain; US$50 from Osborne/McGraw-Hill (www.osborne.com). More than 400 pages of tips, tricks and advanced tutorials from an award-winning illustrator.

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