Adobe Photoshop 7
The long awaited Photoshop 7 has arrived! The people who have been chomping at the bit for it most are those who find it key to their migration from MacOS 9.x to OSX. The lack of an OSX compatible version of Photoshop is the main excuse I have heard for not upgrading. However, this site is about Web design not OSes and I will look at Photoshop 7 from a Web design perspective.
Version 7 now shares the new 'soft look' interface introduced in Illustrator 10. The toolbox palette sports a series of buttons with very subtle rollover effects which glide from greyscale into color and immediately communicate 'quality' through elegance and restraint.
At first glance, and the casual flicking through menus and palettes that usually satisfies my curiosity and inherent loathing of manuals, there were no major surprises or obvious 'new features' until I hit 'File Browser' in the Window menu.
File Browser is a palette that, with the snap of a finger, displays previews of all the graphics files in any selected folder. There is such a facility in my digital camera software, but it is slow and very specific. Photoshop 7's File Browser not only provides an adjustable sized thumbnail of any file type supported by the program, it also gives a list of the files attributes and lets you add further information such as captions, keywords, categories, credits. etc. It is not a full-featured image database by any means, but having it there at your fingertips when you are working within Photoshop is very convenient.
Having found the File Browser, I have to admit to resorting to the 'What's New' section of the manual to see what else was of interest. Well yes, there are some new painting brushes that provide a wide variety of line qualities. They don't stray into the 'painter's techniques' brushes like the ones in Painter but are a welcome addition nevertheless. Then there is a new 'healing brush' that makes retouching blemishes in photographs even easier than before - but I'm looking for things of more practical use to a Web designer.
Ah! That's more like it. 'Weighted Optimization'. If you have ever been frustrated by the fact that you could only apply one global compression value to a JPEG file or one color reduction value to a GIF, your prayers have now been answered.
We have all used JPEGs for photographic images and GIFs for graphics and text. If you had an image that contained both text and a photo you were stuck because you couldn't get crisp type and high compression at the same time, you had to go for one or the other – or neither.
With 'Weighted Optimization' you can have different compression setting in a single image. The text, or main subject can be high quality and less compressed and the more superfluous areas pushed to the optimal compression. The effect can be gradual, using a continuous tone mask or more tightly controlled using a shape mask.
Similar variable compression can be applied to sections of GIF and PNG-8 images using lower color depths or lossy settings for the less important areas.
Why, oh why, did we have to wait so long for this?
Web Transparency. Quite a few years ago, I discovered that I could simulate partial transparency in a GIF file by using a dithered solid/clear pattern and I have used it many times since when I needed something like a shadow effect. This has now been added to Photoshop 7 as a feature with attitude. 'Dithered Transparency' is now an option in the 'Save For Web' options palette and lets you blend Web graphics into the background effortlessly.
Digging around, I found a few more things of possible interest to Web designers. Support for the black and white, dithered WBMP (Wireless BitMap) format often used in PDAs and cellphones evoked warm, fuzzy memories of MacPaint, circa 1984.
The new 'Pattern Maker' is handy for creating tiled background images from image selections and shows what the effect looks like when applied to a larger area.
'Web Photo Gallery' is a quick and easy way to post a gallery of images on a Web site with optional security features such as copyright information and watermarks, but we have to move over to Photoshop's kid sister, 'ImageReady 7' to find the rest of the stuff.
ImageReady is Adobe's solution for keeping the more specialised functions of Web graphics away from the mainline features used by everybody else. The two main reasons to use ImageReady are animated GIFs and rollovers.
Once you get the hang of the layer-based animated GIF feature, it is difficult to imagine a better way to do it and I have few complaints in that department.
With this palette, you can create, modify and view simple or fairly complex animated rollover buttons. The program then generates all the necessary sliced-up image files and code so that it can be imported into your favorite Web page editor.
All told, Photoshop 7 is a fairly worthwhile upgrade for Web designers but especially for Mac users wanting to move up to OSX. For those who are still not convinced about OSX or who use Windows, the File Browser and Weighted Optimization are the main enhancements you are paying for. Whether those warrant the version jump from 6.0 to 7.0 or the $149 upgrade price tag, you will have to decide for yourself.
|Adobe Photoshop 7|
|Ease of Use||80%|
|Value for Money||85%|
|'Must Have' Factor||85%|
|Price||Full product from $609, upgrades $149 - Mac OS 9.1 to 10.1.3, Windows 98 to XP|
|Summary||Probably more accurately labelled 6.5 rather than 7.0|