How not to make a new version of a product

(September 5, 2007)

If you think that I’m now going to write about the new iPod models, you’re wrong. Even though they would perfectly fit the headline, I think that everything that can be said about them has already been said already said elsewhere, so I’ll sum it up as follows: fat nano – ugly; touch – between the chairs; classic – couldn’t care less.
No, this article is about another product that was launched today: Paint Shop Pro X2. I absolutely love Paint Shop Pro, it’s my favorite image editing application. But since Corel took it over, quality seems to decrease steadily :(

Fortunately, they offer a trial version for free download, so I could go for a quick test drive, which turned out to be a series of “WTF” moments:

  • You need to register to download and install the product. Corel seems to be interested in who is daring to try their products, huh? Stop it.
  • The download size is roughly 350 MB. Yes, that’s half a CD! For a mere image editor! And I thought GIMP was fat …
  • The installer added a new icon to the crowded taskbar notification area: The “Photo Downloader” service is a tool that automatically copies photos from cameras and memory cards onto the hard disk when they are attached. Why they didn’t just add an item into Windows XP’s default “new media found” or “new device attached” dialog is beyond me. At least I could deactivate it easily.
  • Initial startup took a very long time and left me with a unresponsive application – 100% CPU load, hourglass cursor, clicking anything does nothing. I had to kill the process with the task manager.
  • Next try, better luck: It still took 100% CPU, but at least, mouse clicks were processed, although with a five-second lag. I quickly figured that the idiotic background indexing service they already had built into the previous version (rendering it totally unusable) was responsible for that. They still don’t offer to turn it off completely, but this time, excluding all drives and file types seems to work much better. After setting that up, I closed the application again and killed the background indexing service to try another fresh start of the program.
  • Paint Shop Pro didn’t start again, accusing me of having illegally modified (read: cracked) the program code. This is reproducible. No need to say that I didn’t even come anywhere near the program directory …

I usually don’t mind if a new product makes a bad first impression, but in this case, it’s catastrophic. I didn’t even come to try the new features of the program!

Paint Shop Pro was (and still is, except for the two most recent version) the best image editing application there is, from my point of view. It’s easy to use and every new version brought new, useful features. I’d really love to see a current version of this application, especially now that version X (10) starts to show its age: It isn’t compatible with Aero Glass. But Corel managed to completely destroy this excellent product – they always do that with products they buy.

The thing that makes me really sad is that I don’t see which image editing program I should use in the future: For now, I stick with Paint Shop Pro X, but after seeing the steady progression in brokenness for the two following versions, I doubt that the next version (X3 maybe?) will be any good. This leaves me with the search for alternatives. Alas, I don’t see any.
Photoshop? Expensive, fat, mediocre usability. (Photoshop’s user interface is neither intuitive nor logical, it’s just optimized for workflow speed for people who are used to it.)
GIMP? Completely and utterly unusable, every time I have to work with it, I curse it.
Krita? Don’t know if it’s good, I always quit it a minute after I started it. They f*cked up the UI font rendering so I can barely read the captions of the palettes.
Paint.NET? Seems to be the perfect image editor for beginners, at least for the Windows platforms. I need more features, though.
PhotoFiltre? Even more stripped-down than Paint.NET.
Pixel? Looks promising, but every time I tried it, it was very unstable.
PhotoLine? Seems to be the best alternative, I think I should check it out :)

Or is there maybe another viable alternative? Here’s what I expect:

  • selections, layers, masks, channels
  • a decent photo denoising and perspective correction filter
  • some “smart” extraction tool, be it a magnetic selection tool, a smart eraser, or something sophisticated like SIOX
  • a color replacer tool
  • macro recording and batch processing
  • ability to load and save PSD files
  • needs to follow some basic usability rules; the closer it is to Paint Shop Pro, the better :)
  • free or at least affordable (~€100 max)
  • decent performance (should be able to handle large images without becoming too slow)
  • if possible, lightweight and cross-platform

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