A Guide to Web Image Compression Software: WebGraphics Optimizer
Software type: GIF/JPEG optimisers
This is an amazing program. It fits between programs like Photoshop or Paintshop Pro and the Web. It duplicates some of what you can do with the bigger programs, but targets what you are likely to want to do for the Web. It is a JPEG and GIF optimiser and palette manager. It also does a very effective job of shrinking animated GIFs (better than anything else I've tested so far).
The user interface is good. It allows you to configure up to five separate, parameter-configurable views of an image, so you can compare the appearance of different levels of compression. Very handy. The program will accept images directly from a scanner, and then lets you apply a range of filters to the image, as well as to resample/resize it and crop it. In other words, you can do many of the more straight forward things to images you are likely to want to, by way of importing and preparing them, and then you have at your disposal very effective compression and palette management tools. All in all, pretty nifty.
The program accepts several different graphics file formats, for digestion into web-ready formats. WebOptimizer uses the Lead Technologies graphics library. These seem to work pretty well.
Its GIF palette manipulation options are very good: you can set the number of pixel bits (either 1,2, 3 etc bits or an exact number of colours), which is very flexible. When it comes to choosing a palette, the choice is: fixed, Netscape, optimised or Windows. With version 3, you can now edit the palette: if one of your colours is not quite right, change it. You have direct access to the Windows palette editing tool. You can select the colour by sight or by hexadecimal code. This is very handy. It's the most useful GIF palette control of any software I am aware of.
As far as JPEG compression goes, WebOptimizer is good: not the absolute best but certainly very competitive. It gives you three levels of sampling so that you can determine how much colour detail is retained, trading off against file size. The compressed file sizes for images I've tested it on are close to the other good programs. I have not yet subjected it to really demanding tests - slowly varying colour combined with sudden sharp edges - but so far it's performed well.
The program originates from Germany, from Johannes Plenio. The good news is he's not trying to squeeze the market for all he can get (unlike some of the larger corporations I could mention), because at $39 for the basic program, it's very good value. There's also a mailing list you can subscribe to for help and tips.
There's a more expensive version that allows batch processing of images. Depending on your own needs, this may be valuable. For me, the ability to hand tweak each image is more important, so I don't need the batch feature.
If you already have Photoshop, one of the several plugins is an option for compressing graphics. But if not, WebGraphics Optimizer is an excellent all-in-one package. And if you do have Photoshop and other plugins, you may well wish to use WebGraphics Optimizer as well (I do).
It's quite a big download (4.6 megs - though now a meg smaller than version 2), but the Website download page gives you an idea how long it will take at different connection speeds.
One comment I should make is that it loads a large number of DLLs into your system directory, and these are also fairly registry intense. (The uninstall works well). Some of the other good programs are much more parsimonious with how much they splatter around your hard disk. Mind you, that's probably only a major worry for someone like me with 25 different graphics compression programs all on disk at once! (Some people collect stamps, others....)
If you already have version 2, you need to uninstall it before installing version 3. The new program uses a new directory name, so you need to shift your licence file (which is not deleted by the uninstall) into the new directory before the new version knows that it is registered.
A nice program.
Links to information about web graphics compression, palettes and related matters of interest.
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