It's been well over a year since I set up these pages on graphics compression software for the Web, and several months since I last updated them. When I started, there were only two or three programs aimed at this software market. Now there are two or three dozen. Keeping the pages up to date is becoming quite difficult, and I apologise for my tardiness in this regard. It is, of course, not done for profit, so other things intrude on my good intentions.

I've been asked several times by email what program I'd recommend. I've tried to present a balanced answer in these pages, as it depends very much on what you like and what your needs and budget are. I would suggest you examine all the software and visit all the web sites to see for yourself.

If you insist on an answer, I can only tell you my own favourites. But before I do, I need to state where I'm coming from. First, I don't do enough compression to need batch processing, so, while several of the programs do allow this, I don't value them because of that. Also, I'm prepared to take a little extra time to tweak graphics, but not so much as to waste a lot of time: so a balance between the default quality of the graphic that comes out of the software, and the opportunity to tweak bits of the image, is something that concerns me.

Having said that, the interface is the most important thing to me, and it is of course a personal viewpoint. Because I use Adobe Photoshop, I'm used to its interface, so Adobe ImageReady is very easy for me to use, and I do use it as my default program. Against that, it's darn expensive. But as it does a very good compression job, I tend to use it a lot. If you've not used Photoshop, you may dislike the interface.

If you want a sophisticated program with a different interface (but one that's also very expensive), take a look at Macromedia's Fireworks. (But see also my comments below on the new program, Ignite).

The simplest package, and one that's very convenient to use, is Ulead Smartsaver. It has the advantage of a good interface, convenient access via the right-click menu in Windows Explorer, and it's very cheap. But there are many others that are every bit as good, which may appeal to you more. Make sure you take a look at them.

Since the last update, one program in particular has come onto the market that merits attention but is not (yet) reviewed on these pages: Ignite. It is worth taking a look at it, if you're serious about web graphics compression. Their home page is here. Ignite is a medium price program with many excellent features - just about anything one could wish for. If I were Adobe or Macromedia, it's the program that I'd be most worried about. I'm coming to the view that it is among the very best on the market. Perhaps the ne plus ultra?

David Nicholls
17 March 1999

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