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A Review of IBM PC and Macintosh Compatible Image Manipulation Software

Brian Boullier & Sue Gollifer


This software review was commissioned by the Advisory Group on Computer Graphics who requested a written report on `image editing' software. The broad range of software subsequently reviewed was secured by Chris Whitaker of the Combined Higher Education Software Team (CHEST).

Powerful workstations, both networked and `standalone', have become increasingly accessible to university staff and students in recent years. Current `entry level' personal computers, as often purchased by students, are now capable of running relatively sophisticated graphics-intensive software. Consequently there are many programs available which are suitable for image manipulation and which cater for a wide range of budgets and intended purpose.

During recent months this software review has been referred to as an evaluation of `image editing', `image manipulation' and even `image analysis' software. In actual fact this apparent confusion simply reflects the broad range of applications for which many of the products tested are commonly used and none of the aforementioned descriptions is wholly inaccurate. For the purpose of the following report the description `image manipulation' software seems most appropriate.

Some of the software tested, most notably Adobe PhotoShop, provides a comprehensive range of tools which will meet the needs of most forms of digital image manipulation. However, such software usually comes at a price, both with regards to initial purchase and any subsequent upgrading but also with respect of specific hardware requirements (actual and more importantly recommended minimum). In contrast, some of the software tested is best suited to particular applications, for example creative `painting' as opposed to the editing of existing images, web page design or graphics file conversion, and hence may be more affordable and tolerant of host machine specification.

Two members of university staff performed the software evaluation and compiled this report. Thus the report aims only to provide a brief review of different programs which facilitate the manipulation of digital images - we have largely avoided comparing applicaitons on a value-for-money basis, since so many additional factors, including those mentioned above, are likely to influence purchase decisions. The authors contribute the benefits of quite different, but complementary backgrounds. Brian Boullier began this review as a lecturer in Cellular Pathology. However he recently became the Learning Technoogy Manager in the Computer Centre at the University of Bradford. He has acquired a working familiarity with a wide range of software and hardware essential to the development ad implementation of computer-aided learning materials, which includes image manipulation software such as reviewed here. In contrast Sue Gollifer is a practising artist and researcher whose work is exhibited regularly in the UK and abroad. She is a Senior Lecturer in Fine Art, and Subject Leader in Printmaking in the Faculty of Art, Design and Humanities, at the University of Brighton, and recently became Art Co-ordinator for the recently established CTI in Art & Design. She has been using Apple Macintosh computers for the last eight years, both in her own work and as a medium for teaching.

The authors also have complementary experience with regards to preferred computer platforms. Brian Boullier evaluated the software on IBM-compatible PCs with either a 166 MHz Pentium (non-MMX) processor or 200 MHz Pentium Pro processor, both with 64MB of RAM a 4MB Matrox Millenium display adapter providing 32bit colour density at a screen resolution of 1024 x 768. Sue Gollifer used a Power Macintosh 7200/90 MHz Mac, with 32MB of RAM.

We hope that this report will provide useful information to those in higher Education seeking to invest in new image mnaipulation software, and perhaps the prerequisite hardware. However any recommendations, implied or otherwise, must be considered in the context of individual circumstance. Factors such as intended purpose, budget constaints and special pricing, available hardware etc. will often have a major effect on the correct choice.

This report is available as a PDF file.