A Guide to Web Image Compression Software: SmartSaver

Software type:  GIF/JPEG optimisers

Company: Ulead
URL: http://www.ulead.com/
Program: Ulead SmartSaver 3.0
Program URL: http://www.ulead.com/webutilities/ssaver/noslip.htm
Platform: w95
Type: JPEG/GIF/PNG/Animated GIF image compressor, resampler and palette optimiser. Plugin and standalone.
Price: US$39.95


With version 3, Ulead SmartSaver has now become a single package, with the user selecting what output file format is wanted. The options are GIF, PNG and JPEG.

It has, in my view, the best interface of any of the compression/optimisation programs. The user is presented with two windows, showing the before and after images, along with the control areas and toolbars. The windows can be zoomed into and out from, and the images moved within the frame with an Adobe-style hand cursor. Different menu options become available when the different output formats, appropriate to what is needed (eg compression type and level for JPEGs, palette type and size for GIFs etc). The interface is clean and very effective. It also installs as a Photoshop plugin, though I use it mostly as a stand alone program. And it creates PNG images, if and when they take off on the Web.

The before and after windows are computed instantly a change is made to palette, compression level etc. This is invaluable in allowing the user to see exactly what's been achieved by the last move, without infesting the disk with multiple trial copies of the compressed file. The zoom capability is valuable in inspecting the compression artifacts in JPEGs. The program allows cropping and resizing of the image, ideal for web graphics, even though these features are standard in any of the graphics editing programs like Photoshop or PaintShop Pro.

The JPEG compression is effective and the level of control is excellent. The GIF palette editing is good, with a variety of palettes available, including Windows and web-safe.

You can edit, add or remove GIF and JPEG comments. The registered version adds nothing to the file unless you allow it to, while (at least in version 2) the demo version inserts a short advert. into the hidden text area.

A really simple but highly useful addition that no other program has (even though it's very simple to do) is to access the program via the right-click menu. So one mouse movement from within Windows Explorer and you can be viewing and modifying the image. You don't need to find the relevant icon to run the program, or fire up Photoshop

From this, you'll gather I like SmartSaver's interface. It does a good job of JPEG compression and a pretty good job with GIFs. In neither case (in my applications) was it the best at its task, but its ease of use means I often invoke it first except where I'm working on really fat files that I want to tweak the size as far as possible without losing quality.

I have found that when you're trying to eke that last bit of palette reduction out of a GIF, Ulead SmartSaver doesn't always make the best choice of colour. But if you're prepared to allow a bit of leeway, it does a perfectly satisfactory job.

It can be purchased alone or packaged with some of Ulead's other tools in WebRazor. These other tools include an animated GIF editor (which does a very good job) and a buttons maker called Cool 3D which makes some amazingly cool 3D GIFs. And a few other things like a large supply of animated GIFs if you really want them. All in all a very tempting package.

The biggest problem I've had with Ulead is trying to navigate around their neon nightmare of a web site. It's very confusing, with a myriad of trial and upgrade and purchase options. Installing the program is usually efficient, though under some circumstances - this may now have been fixed - you need to uninstall the demo program before installing the full version. On the whole, upgrades are smart and can detect that you are a registered user. How they do this is unclear as Ulead makes extensive and very messy use of the Registry. Uninstalls seem to be effective, however.

I've had occasion to email Ulead about the odd problem, and while they take a while to reply, the responses are helpful and accurate.

A very tempting package from Taiwan that you should look at.

Links to information about web graphics compression, palettes and related matters of interest.

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This information is Copyright © 1998 David Nicholls. These pages may be linked to, provided you don't embed them in frames, but may not be reproduced in any form without permission in writing from the author.