Aardvark Daily
Review: Microsoft Image Composer
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Say What?... Microsoft Image Composer? What's that?

I've had a copy of Microsoft FrontPage '97 sitting here to be reviewed for some time now (as regular readers will have seen). When I threw the FrontPage CD into the drive it fired up and gave me the option of installing several pieces of software, some of which comprise the "Bonus Pack" of trinkets thrown in along with the main application.

Well, I'd previously downloaded the beta version of Image Composer and was so enamoured I thought I'd install Version 1.0 and see how it shaped up - before I got into the serious work of evaluating Front Page itself. In fact, not to give this product its own review would be unfair, it's certainly a fairly major application which deserves a separate critique.

So what is Image Composer? It's a snazzy graphics studio that fits somewhere between PC Paint and Photoshop in terms of functionality.

Goodby Paintshop? Like many who dabble in creating simple graphics for Web pages, I've been using Paintshop for much of my work. It's simple to drive, very inexpensive (we have all registered our copies haven't we?) and has lots of support on the Web.

So is my copy of Paintshop headed for the bit-bin? Well not quite - but it's certainly getting a lot less run-time than it used to.

Some of Image Composer's nicer features include multi-layer image composition (sprites), sprite rotation, plus a good range of effects and filters. There's not a lot you can't do - except maybe 3D rendering.

You can read and write graphics in a raft of different formats including Photoshop, GIF, JPEG, TIF, BMP and others, as well as Microsoft's own MIC format. I noticed that it had some problems importing a few Photoshop images I had laying around however, even though PaintShop read them without any trouble at all.

For those who are interested, the "Click Here To Suffer From Exposure" banner at the top of this page was created with Image Composer in about 5 minutes.

Installation As seems to be the case with all Windows 95 software these days, Image Composer installs easily and quickly - no surprises or frustrations (unlike FrontPage - but that's another story).

Watch out though.. if you are silly enough to install all the graphic samples you'll need hundreds of MB of free disk space, but there's little point since you can always read them directly from the CD if you need them later.

Ease of use The FrontPage printed documentation makes no reference to Image Composer so you'll be working with the online help and tutorial.

The tutorial is pretty lightweight so don't expect to become an expert in graphic manipulation on the strength of it. Fortunately the online help is a bit better, but again - be prepared to spend a lot of time learning through trial and error.

A third-party book on the basics of computer-aided graphic design would also come in handy if you intend getting serious - but then again, if you're really serious about Web design, Image Composer probably isn't going to have all the features you'll need.

For the other 90% of us who just want to create some pretty images and fancy text - it's a near perfect compromise between ease of use and power.

Performance I tested the software on a Pentium 166 with 64MB of RAM and it (understandably) performed very well and I suspect it would still be more than acceptable even on an old 486 - providing you've got plenty of RAM. As is often the case with graphics work, you'll probably want at least 24MB and preferably 32MB to make life comfortable.

The Aardvark summary Here's the bottom line...


  • It's exceptional value.
  • A good range of features
  • Handles plenty of other graphic formats
  • Performs well
  • Quite acceptable online help


  • Tutorial could be a bit more comprehensive
  • Had problems with a couple of PhotoShop files
  • Some of the sample graphics are really bad!

I haven't seen Image Composer advertised as a separate product so I don't know the price. In fact, it may well be that it's only available as part of the FrontPage 97 package - in which case it's almost worth buying for this product alone.

Aardvark says:
Out of necessity I often end up creating graphics which have to look reasonably professional. I'm no graphic artist but I like this product. It's got all the functionality most part-time Web designers will need and it's priced right. Sometimes my comments about Microsoft products are pretty harsh, but that's because we have a right to expect them to be above average - and this one is.

Bottom line:
"Microsoft Image Composer is a DESIRABLE PURCHASE!."

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