Conferences have a way of splitting their attendees into two groups, and the Seybold San Francisco Expo was no exception. In the conference rooms, executives and managers hypothesized on the future of publishing, debating standards for electronic document distribution and high-fidelity color halftone screens. But on the floor, dashing from display to display, were the users. The users work in the trenches, pushing the machines and software everyday – for hours and hours – and they wanted a peek at their future. They wanted to see the products that could make their work easier, more productive, and more creative.
A number of vendors offered faster imagesetters with an increasing number of features. Others lauded direct-to-plate printing from the desktop for short-run color printing jobs. But the most excitement focused on none other than the Macintosh and related products. It’s refreshing to see that our beloved machine still has a stronghold in the publishing industry.
Of interest mainly to publishers were a number of companies offering high-end solutions to age-old printing problems. It seemed that at almost every second booth, another software firm offered WYSIWYG trapping applications (programs that deal with the interface between colors on a printed page). On-screen imposition programs were quite popular as well. [Imposition programs print multiple pages of a publication on a single piece of film in the proper sequence and orientation for going directly to the press to facilitate final folding and bindery, bypassing the film stripping process, which involves pasting individual pieces of film onto another piece of paper. -Adam] But all eyes continuously turned to graphics and design applications.
Instant Images — The obligatory new product buzz was alive and well at Seybold. The honor fell this time on HSC Software with their announcement of Live Picture, a product that promises to change the way we edit images. The $3,495 software package is similar in concept to Adobe Photoshop but with a marked difference: you don’t touch the image.
When you open an image in Live Picture, the program creates a mathematical representation of the data. This process, known as FITS Technology (Functional Interpolating Transformation System), allows real-time editing and correction of any size image. HSC Chairman and CEO John Wilczak proved the power of the software during live demonstrations throughout the conference. Using a stock Quadra 840AV, Wilczak opened a 150 MB file, resized it three times, rotated it twice, and adjusted the contrast – all in less than 15 seconds. He then zoomed into the image more than a dozen times (instantly) and edited the shape of individual pixels to prove his point: there is no data here.
Once you manipulate the image into a finished product, the real work begins. Since the changes have been made only virtually, saving your work can take some serious time – from a couple of minutes to a few hours, depending on how drastically you altered the image – since Live Picture must now update the data file. Once it completes the calculations; however, you have a finished product and something called a FITS file. This file, containing only the changes you made to the mathematical model, can then be compressed and sent to a client, who can apply it to her copy of the original image. This means that instead of sending a SyQuest cartridge overnight, you send the changes via modem in ten minutes.
The importance of Live Picture was immediately obvious. Now, when editing high-resolution images on the Mac, the focus can be placed entirely on the creative process. No more waiting for screen redraws and filters to calculate. A designer can experiment with many different choices and still meet his deadline.
Of course, this means little to the majority of Mac users who can’t shell out over three grand for an application, not to mention that the program needs a Quadra with 32 MB of RAM. But it is the first step in a new direction and competitors will most likely follow suit with similar technologies.
The technology for Live Picture was developed by Paris-based FITS Imaging and is being ported to the Mac by HSC, who hope to have the product shipping early next year. The company offered an early adoption program, where professional users could help beta test the program. As awed audience members lined up after the demo, Wilczak said he had sold nearly $100,000 worth of Live Image by the third day of the conference [which is actually only about 30 copies… -Tonya].
Freedom for FreeHand — Aldus pushed the illustration software envelope a bit further by announcing FreeHand 4.0. The program boasts a completely overhauled interface including an "Inspector palette." This new feature will come as a blessing to those previously frustrated with the way the program buried many of its most powerful commands under layers of dialog boxes. Now, you can access everything from page size to text formatting to measurements from one central location.
The new version offers drag & drop transfer of colors and gradients between palettes and objects as well as between different palettes themselves. The text handling features of the program have been greatly improved as well, including – finally – the ability to enter text directly on the screen. New kerning controls, column features, and text wrap options have been added to make you wonder why you even need PageMaker.
The upgrade will be available by Christmas and will cost $150 no matter what version of FreeHand you currently use.
XPressing Apologies — Quark busily hyped XPress for Windows during the conference but had little to say about version 3.3 for the Macintosh. Expected to ship soon, the new version comes only weeks after XPress 3.2 hit the shelves. Quark explained that they rushed version 3.2 so it would coincide with the release of the Windows version, ensuring immediate cross-platform compatibility. The update to 3.3 will include additional features planned for 3.2 but not included when it shipped. Quark will concurrently release both the Macintosh and Windows upgrades of the program.
In the continuing melee between XPress and PageMaker, Quark continues to both push ahead and catch up, offering a number of new features to the package. Mimicking a new addition to PageMaker, XPress will now recognize colors in an imported EPS image. Text boxes will act like picture boxes, offering any number of variable shapes. The document layout palette, which Quark modified in version 3.2 to the horror of many users, has been "enhanced," meaning that it will most likely look more like it used to.
The upgrade will be free to 3.2 users; $195 for everyone else.
News from the Top — Apple’s display hummed with talk of the Power PC. The new machines were there, too, but you couldn’t see them. A number of demos were running, but each consisted of a monitor and a mouse with cables running behind the scenes. One showed a 486 based PC displaying a fractal-rendering program. Next to it was a Power PC-based machine drawing 20 to 30 of the same fractal in the same time. [Hmm, that’s the same demo Apple showed at Macworld Boston. -Adam]
Apple showed off its new QuickDraw GX, which features desktop printer icons for drag & drop printing and queue viewing. A new print dialog box offers different page sizes for different pages in a document as well as printer selection without going to the Chooser. Text attributes have been revamped from the old bold/italic/shadow/outline days to include a slider for tracking, a pop-up menu for special characters like swash caps, and Multiple Master-like scaling of width and weight. QuickDraw GX will also ship with "smart fonts" that automatically space and weight individual characters based on their size and placement in a particular word.
Apple’s two recently-released LaserWriters gathered a lot of attention, in great part due to their Postscript fax options. Apple will offer an internal modem for both the LaserWriter Pro 810 and Select 360 that will enable anyone on a network to send a high-quality fax as simply as printing the document. The 810 stands as a monolith to printers with three paper trays, 800 dpi, and a 20 page-per-minute print speed. The 360 offers two paper trays, 600 dpi , and 10 pages per minute. Both printers are based on a RISC processor and run Postscript Level 2.
After the Storm — If a trend were to be found at Seybold San Francisco, it was the shift in power from hardware to software. It was obvious that programs will soon offer new techniques that leave processing for later and put creativity first. With virtual editing just around the corner and scripting of repetitive tasks already in place, we may soon find that we no longer wait for our machines to catch up to what we see in our minds. Look for a wide application of these concepts, and start looking for them soon.