Like it or loathe it, Photoshop is the image-editing program by which all others are judged. The release of Version 6 has upped the ante again. If you're a professional you'll probably have a copy already but if you have to spend your own money is it worth than sombre price tag?
Photoshop has been honed over the years to provide a comprehensive set of tools that is lacking in virtually nothing. Those tools are also designed to be used in the most expedient way. It's hard to think of any changes that could be made to make operation any slicker.
One of the drawbacks of this superb and comprehensive functionality is that for most users there is a lot of 'baggage' that is irrelevant to them. For these Adobe have periodically released 'LE' or 'lite' versions of the program where much of the prepress elements have been stripped out along with some of the other, more mainstream, functions.
However this should not put off those with the desire and potential ability to be 'power users' - there was a time when Photoshop was the only practical tool available. Those newcomers or novices that want to take the Photoshop route will find some tutorial support and a comprehensive help feature. The latter though is geared towards the experienced and a good beginners' manual (of which there are many) might provide a better introduction.
Neither the LE version (which is based on Version 5, and will be superseded by Photoshop Elements) nor the full make any concessions for the newcomer. The interface is very workmanlike comprising menu bar and toolbox, conventionally ranged down the left edge of the screen. Numerous option palettes are provided for each of the tools for making all necessary settings. Further palettes give very clear views of layers, history (a listing of the editing actions performed) colour selection and more.
With Photoshop 5 Adobe introduced a parallel product (bundled in for free), ImageReady. This Photoshop junior was introduced for image editing of images destined for the web. Much of the basic functionality is similar but with additional web-specific features. ImageReady 3.0 that includes some new features accompanies Photoshop 6. But the divide between web image editing and 'conventional image editing is blurring: even Photoshop itself now features tools - such as image slicers - designed purely for web graphics.
This dichotomous approach is clearly intended to provide a demarcation between the two image types. But with that distinction blurring more all the time it is less clear how long these two products will progress in the future.
Version 6 also introduced vector-based tools. Now Photoshop can also be used as a design tool and - more practically - vector graphics and pixel graphics can be combined in one image.
Unbiased users of this and Paint Shop Pro will find only limited differences between the programs. The Photoshop controls and tools are logical - both in action and position - and slickly implemented. But whether that justifies the price difference is debatable.
OVERALL RATING: 8/10
These figures are based on our experience of the respective programs and do not necessarily agree with the manufacturers' recommendations.
Power PC, 64MB RAM (G3, 128MB RAM recommended 130MB hard disc space OS 8.6 or later
Pentium 266, 64MB RAM (Pentium III, 128MB RAM recommended) 130MB hard disc space Windows 95 or higher, NT4.0 (SP4) or higher.