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The Willies

By Daniel Will-Harris

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the Willies. Yes, itís again for the awards. Donít worry, theyíll not only be painless, theyíll be informative, with no commercial interruptions. Iíll make a deal with you--I wonít bore you with a bad opening number, nor will I tell you what famous designer made my tux or my lovely wifeís dress. In exchange, you wonít throw popcorn at the screen or ask if I dressed in the dark. Agreed?

Every year for the past eight years, Iíve given out my Willie awards to software (usually graphics related) that deserves special mention.

>Hardware

WebTV. Iím not kidding. If youíve seen one of these TV-top boxes, you have seen a big part of the future of computers. The current version is surprisingly good, and surprisingly fast. Future versions will be even better. The truth is that letting you surf the web on TV is the least of what these boxes will do. In short order youíre going to see companies renting you software, by the use for by the month. Simple word processing, accounting, and graphics editing will be done by people with keyboards on TV-trays. Power users will keep their computers. Most users will be more than content with these, especially when they contain built-in CD-ROM/DVD drives. Buy the box to watch high-quality movies. Get the web, and simple computing as a bonus.

And it will be a good thing, too. Because it wonít be long before almost anyone can rent their software this way. That means more software choice. With small companies able to market their own software without getting mired down in what it takes to go retail we should see more software from more sources. Users are better off, too, because they can try programs for free before they buy them.

You may laugh at this idea now, but you may not be laughing when it appears on your credit card statement each month (you could be cheering, or weeping).

>Software

Special Award: Bitstream TrueDoc. This clever, compact font embedding system has found its way into a number of applications and now it's finally found its way into Netscape. Communicator 4 will include TrueDoc technology so that web designers can embed compact, secure fonts that will display on their site. For safety, these fonts use "direct rendering" which means they're never converted into font files on a user's disk. This is going to help the web experience become richer and more enjoyable for everyone. Bitstream should be congratulated on their technology, and Netscape on their good sense for including it now, rather than waiting for OpenType. OpenType from Microsoft and Adobe was supposed to be in browsers by the end of 96but now it seems as if it won't be in browsers until the next generation of operating systems, and that's still somewhere in the future. www.bitstream.com

This year there are several software winners. Microsoft Office97 is absolutely worth the upgrade. While some complain about its size and RAM requirements, if you consider your computer essential, then you just may consider this suite to be the best software tool youíve ever used.

Itís all beautifully integrated with the web so you can save anything to HTML or create links between docs on your hard disk or anywhere on the web. All the pieces really fit together neatly and tightly, and if you have 16 MB of RAM it performs well, too.

Word lovers will love Word97its graphic handling is vastly superior with irregular text wrap around graphics and the ability to adjust contrast and brightness of images. Gone are those odd, pesky frames, replaced with text boxes that can easily be placed anywhere. Also new are great Drawing tools for things like org or flow charts. If youíre wordy (as I can be), try the new AutoSummarize feature at about 70% to help you edit yourself, logicallyit works almost frighteningly well!

And donít turn off the new Office Assistants, even though the default ďPaper ClipĒ character is unattractive and annoying. Try Einstein or PowerPup or Shakespeare or Scribble, the origami cat. They all feature clever and amusing animation that reacts to what youíre doing in the program (yes, sometimes itís distracting, but itís so well done that itís enjoyable), and all do a great job of answering questions posed in plain English. Tip: Right click on these guys and choose ďAnimateĒ if you want to see them perform.

Once again, Word is not just a good program, but a great one, and certainly the best word processor in the world (despite its competitors claims). www.microsoft.com

NetObjects Fusion was a winner last year, and their new 2.0 version is a winner again this year. The programís excellent design helps you not just create sites, but better sitesbetter organized and designedand in less time. This is great software design, and the new version does a fine job importing existing sitesso perhaps itís time to think about taking all those pages you call a site, importing them into Fusion, and then being able to work on your site as a site, rather than just a bunch of pages. Yes, at around $500 street price itís more expensive, but you can save enough time in the first week alone to pay for the differenceitís worth it. www.netobjects.com

Microsoft Front Page97: While a lot more technical and less streamlined than Fusion, technical users and anyone with an Intranet that uses Office97 documents will want this value-packed package. Just the wonderful Microsoft Image Composer ďbonusĒ program is worth the price of the package alone. Based on AltaMira Composer technology (the first bitmap image editor to treat bitmaps as objects), which allows each image object to have its own alpha-channel, transparent backgrounds and layering are a piece of cake. It includes over 500 different artistic filter effects that are dazzling and realisticturning photos into illustrations. This is one terrific image editing program, whether or not you decide to use Front Page. Front Page 98, currently in beta, is even better, with lessons learned from Fusion (such as automatic navigation generation), and inventive ideas of its own. Itís still too complex for users that arenít techno-savvy, but for those who are, itís power. www.microsoft.com/frontpage/

Xara 1.5: Another of last yearís winners makes the cut again this year. Xara 1.5 keeps the programís wonderful speed, WYSIWYG anti-aliasing, and unmatched ability to handle transparency (even gradient transparency to bitmaps) and adds process and spot color separations; animated GIF support; and a new compact vector file format called .WEB thatís zoomable to 25,000%! A new paragraph text feature lets you set longer blocks of textand still fit them to curves for entire paragraphs of curved text. The programís simple ďShow printer colorsĒ mode requires no complex set-up and yet still manages to do a better job showing accurate print colors than Corel Drawís complex, slow color matching that hasnít worked for anyone I know. www.xara.com

Uleadís GIF Animator does a great job bringing GIFís to life. It has a simple interface, but one that makes it easy to create compact animated GIFís. You can use onion-skin features to ease animation, and the program deftly handles Netscapeís pesky color palette problems. While the program has a good built-in preview, a bug in Navigatorís handling of animated GIFís means you still better preview in Navigator, just to be sure (Microsoftís Internet Explorer displays them correctly, and handles colors more deftly, too). GIF Animator doesnít just make it easy to make animations, it makes it easy to make efficient and compact animations. www.ulead.com

>Web Sites

One web site that has nothing to do with pushing, but all to do with printing is iPrint (www.iprint.com). This cleverly conceived and designed site lets inexperienced users create their own business cards with full WYSIWYG accuracy. Once they have them the way they want them on-screen, they can choose paper and order the cards at very low cost, from $9.99 for 100 cards on standard paper, to $52.99 for 2000 on deluxe stock. Future version of the site will let users build letterhead, sticky notes, forms and other business documents, and may eventually even allow you to send in your own camera-ready art for printing. This is a great example of how smart people have made a web site into more than just a web sitebut a real application. Theyíve also not just transferred a business to the web, theyíve created a way to really use the web to improve the processletting users see exactly what theyíre going to getsomething unavailable at most normal walk-in print shops.

As I write this, if youíre a normal person with a normal budget and normal skills, your chances of finding an on-line payment system you can get to work are next to nil.

Hopefully, that will be changing within weeks. First Virtual (www.fv.com) has had an on-line payment system running for several years, but it could require 4-6 weeks of work from an experienced programmer to get it up and running on your site. They say their new system, which will be up in March, puts all the hard stuff on their server. You just add some HTML to your page and it sends customers to their site (which can use your background and graphics) where they can get their FV number approved, then sent back to your site for delivery. If it works, FV is going to be very popular (not to mention profitable). Some new credit cards will even be coming with FV PIN numbers, built-in. Letís hope they get it right, at last.

WaveSysís WINPublish (www.winhome.com) system sounds promising. Publishers send digital items for sale to WaveSys, which encrypts them into a special package that can only be opened using a browser-plug (that can even operate off-line). This allows for micro-payments, payments as small as a penny. Users download a special plug-in, then fill it with money from their credit card, any amount they choose. (This is not unlike a postage meter metaphor, where the machine gets filled with money, then dispenses it in the form of postage when you need it.)

Anyone can download the encrypted packages, but they canít be opened without the plug-in, which then deducts the price of the item from the userís electronic wallet. This money then gets credited to the right publisher. The problem with this system is that users are wary of putting their money into an electronic wallet, since they donít know what they want to buy, how much money theyíll need, or if thereíll even be any place they can spend that money for something they want. There are also concerns about software problemswhat if you load your wallet with electronic money then have a hard disk crash or just a software glitch?

Hopefully electronic commerce will be easy for all by the end of 97. But thatís what we were promised for the end of 96.

>Fonts

This year a special award goes to ITC (www.itcfonts.com). While ITC has been a leader in licensing new type design for the past 25 years, in the past year itís integrated Letrasetís FontTek line and is now releasing about a dozen new typefaces, three or four times a year. This makes ITC the clear leader among the major type houses, and numbers donít begin to describe the quality of these new typefaces. New families such as Tempus and Humana (which both include serif and sans versions, while Humana also includes a script), Obelisk and Kallos wonít be confused for any traditional faces. Theyíre all warm and calligraphic, personal yet professional. British designer Phil Grimshaw should take much of the credit for these personable new faces. ITCís display faces are first rate, too, with a great diversity in style and feel. ITCís faces are useful, unique, beautiful, and important additions to the world of type.

Another great addition to the type world is Adobeís (www.adobe.com) new original, Adobe Jensen. As Adobe has done with Garamond and Caslon, this new Jensen revival is a multiple master with weight and optical size controls so it looks beautiful from 6 point to 72 point. While it lacks some of Centaurís gorgeous idiosyncrasies at larger sizes, at smaller sizes its more regular and is easy to read even at 10 point. Adobeís other new original, Kepler, is a warm serif face with controls for weight, width and optical size.

One of my personal favorite new fonts from the web is GMnanogram, designed by Gary Munch. Find his site at http://members.aol.com/GMajuscule/index.html.

The final font award goes to the many independent font foundries that have grown up on the webnow individual designers can sell their own new faces right from their web sites. The most up-to-date index of these sites can be found at http://members.aol.com/typeindex/

Won'tie: Font Piracy on the web. This is getting to be a serious problemso if you see a commercial font being offered for free on a site, write to the webmaster to tell them that they're violating copyright laws, and hurting the person who designed the font. Read more about this problem and possible solutions at www.typeright.org.

So itís been a busy year. Itís hard to get bored in the computer industry. Overwhelmed, perhaps, dizzy, certainly, but bored? Hardly.

 

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Daniel Will-Harris is a designer and author whose work can be found at http://www.will-harris.com. His site features TypoFile Magazine and Esperfonto, the webís only typeface selection system. He may be reached via e-mail.

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Copyright Daniel Will-Harris, 2001, All Rights Reserved