And this year's buzz phrase isI product integration. The success of Macromedia's MX collection (pound;200), which folds web-creating, digital imaging and animation tools into one package, has prompted Adobe to follow suite. Accordingly, the new Photoshop (pound;85) will not be known as version 8, but Photoshop CS - Creative Suite. Photoshop can still be bought as a standalone product, but the company feels that industry professionals would prefer to buy a complete set of graphic and web tools, hence Creative Suite (pound;180), which comprises Photoshop, Illustrator, InDesign, ImageReady, GoLive and Acrobat. Significant savings can be made on software suites and, of course, they encourage brand loyalty. Coupled with the sort of educational discounts that both software giants are offering, it's a persuasive argument.
MX and CS offer a degree of power, choice and versatility that younger students could find daunting. A more suitable option might be either Adobe's Photo Elements (pictured) or Microsoft's Digital Imaging Suite (pound;60). Both are great value and give the inexperienced user a considerable degree of support.
Not before time, software developers have responded to the need for archiving software. Schools that were quick to adopt the digital medium and will have amassed large collections of photos will surely welcome cataloguing programs that can organise photos, video clips and audio by size, specification, time taken, subject or keyword.
Microsoft's Digital Image Library is included with Digital Image Suite, while the Adobe and PaintShop Pro photo-organisers (PhotoShop Album and PaintShop Photo Album 4, pound;20 respectively) come as separate programs and, therefore, at additional expense. That said, Photoshop Album would probably be the first choice of anyone putting together a high quality classroom slideshow or multimedia presentation. Easy to configure and featuring a voice annotation, it includes photo-album templates and a selection of MP3 loops for those who like their slideshows accompanied by music.
It's a double whammy from Adobe because the most stunning education deal is its new School Collection - PhotoShop Elements, PhotoShop Album and Premiere LE for pound;30! That's incentive enough, but School Collection also contains teaching modules, support material and schemes of work supporting art and design at key stage 3 and links to education resources on the Adobe website. School Collection, on show at BETT 2004, underpins Adobe's intention to give students "core digital competences without the need to navigate more advanced programs".
PaintShop Pro (pound;40) remains very popular with teachers, not just because of its price and its compatibility with Photoshop plug-in architecture, but because it offers genuinely innovative possibilities for teachers and students. The "effects" menu in PaintShop 8 lets users apply "page curl", "kaleidoscope", "lens distortion" and "bevel" to images.
If you're at BETT and enjoy comparison shopping, the good news is that all four software packages will be on display - Adobe, Microsoft and Macromedia products will be on their respective stands and PaintShop Pro on the Digital Workshop stand. And if you still haven't been impressed, pop round to the Design Academy stand where they'll be doing some very clever stuff with 3D graphics.
Photoshop plug-ins, which can also be used by Adobe products, Microsoft Digital Imaging Suite, Macromedia Fireworks and PaintShop Pro, range in price and sophistication from basic colour correction filters that can be downloaded free from the internet to complex and expensive masking and lighting add-ons. Many of these third-party plug-ins eventually find their way into the host program ("panorama image stitching" and "page curl" to name but two), so before buying, check the capabilities of the main application. Furthermore, question whether the plug-in adds any artistic value and how often it will be used?
That said, plug-ins, sensitively applied, can certainly enhance digital images and aid productivity. Mask Pro 3 (pound;140) and Intellihance Pro (pound;150) are masking and colour correction programs worth considering.
PXL Smartscale, (pound;150) also from Extensis, is a re-scaling tool that uses software interpolation to back up its "one image, any size" claim. All three programs plus PhotoFrame (pound;150) and Portfolio (pound;120) are being bundled together as Extensis Photo Imaging Suite, which, at pound;300, is far cheaper than buying the constituent programs separately.
Fur, Glass, Bevel, TV, Raindrops, and Tessellation from third-party companies, such as AlienSkin, Auto FX and Xaos, will cater for your wildest digital desires. For an exceptional collection of filters that can be downloaded individually (from pound;20) go to the Flaming Pear website.
It's well worth a visit.
Educational discounting makes the previously mentioned imaging software hard to beat, but it's worth investigating the catalogues of budget software distributors, such as MindScape (PrintMaster Platinum and PhotoLab Express, both pound;30) and Guildsoft, which at BETT will feature the ACDSee Power Pack (pound;50) comprising editing and slideshow software, templates and stock photography.
There's also a wide range of digital imagingpainting software for primaries. It's bold and ambitious and assumes only one thing - that anything is possible with enthusiasm and encouragement.
Fresco (pound;49), Dazzle3 (pound;79) and Black Cat Designer (pound;39) - all from Granada Education - are image editingpaint programs that combine the tool bar configurability necessary at this level with creative tools that would not be out of place in a fully fledged editing application. Fresco - an instant success in education - Jhas charcoal, crayon or pastel effects that can be applied to a number of differently textured virtual canvasses. The latest version of Dazzle adds more curricular relevance to an accomplished painting and drawing program.
Softease Paint (pound;40), which comes as a standalone or as part of the Textease Studio Plus Suite (pound;199), will be on the Softease stand at BETT and has been designed to encourage creative skills and foster an understanding and appreciation of colour.
Aspiring film directors, however, might prefer the multimedia capabilities of ImageBlender2 (pound;30), VideoBlender (pound;40), KidPix Deluxe3 (pound;25) or HyperStudio (pound;70), which when used with a sound editing program, such as Sound Companion (pound;40), allow pupils to create, edit and publish in a wide variety of formats.
Multimedia projects, web publishing and digital video editing at primary level? You'd better believe it!
Adobe Stand W70
Tel: 020 8606 4000
Tel: 0800 039 1010
Design Academy M40
Tel: 0161 439 5002
Digital Workshop G32
Tel: 01295 258335
Tel: 01604 636300
Black Cat E40F40
Tel: 020 8996 3632
Tel: 01752 241465
Tel: 01344 458600
Tel: 01235 826000
Tel: 01335 343421
TAG Learning F50
Tel: 01474 537886