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First Looks: NeoN 2D Vector- by Chris Wright


Shoot-out at the OK Corel

For a long time, OS/2 has been sadly lacking in vector drawing packages. In fact, until recently users had two choices: CorelDraw 2.5 which is no longer sold, and Freelance Graphics 2.1 which is a very weak and underpowered program. This changed with the introduction of Photo>Graphics, which combined strong image editing and vector-drawing capabilities into one package. But Photo>Graphics isn't, strictly speaking, a vector drawing application, and there are many things you can't do in it that you would be able to do in, say, CorelDraw.

Lately, we've been rewarded with a number of new vector drawing programs (both released and in development). Freelance 96 is now available, the StarOffice suite has a very capable vector drawing program, the LogoArt beta shows a great deal of promise, and finally Compo Software will soon be releasing NeoN 2D Vector.

Of these four, NeoN 2D Vector shows the greatest promise. Freelance 96 and Star Division's StarDraw (to be renamed StarImpress for the upcoming version 4.0 of their cross-platform office suite) are mainly presentation packages, and while they have a solid basic toolset, they are encumbered by other features and lacking in the higher-end vector drawing tools. LogoArt looks promising, but is still in beta. NeoN 2D Vector is a full-featured, stand-alone vector drawing application that is complete (the German version is complete, the English version is still being translated and "cleaned up"), compact, fast, and powerful. While it does not look like it will match CorelDraw on a feature-for-feature basis, it will have a very thorough set of drawing tools that should be able to see you through most of your vector drawing needs.

My preview copy of NeoN 2D Vector is not a final release. I'm told that Compo is redesigning the user interface, and is adding some more functionality to the program. Because of this, you should take all of my comments (both praise and criticisms) with a grain of salt: at this time, I don't know what will be changed in the final release (which should be out in a month or two). It's possible that all my complaints will disappear in the final release -- and it's also possible that new ones will be introduced. This article, however, should give you an idea of the basic features and functionality of the future product.

The preview copy itself is a bit incomplete: there are no help files included, and a few of the settings dialog boxes are still in German (making exploring some of the areas a bit awkward). I assume the final release of the English version of the product will be completely translated. Aside from the few German dialog boxes and the help files, however, it appears to be a fully-functioning product.

Using CorelDraw as a comparison, I would describe NeoN 2D Vector as "trimmed down and supercharged". While it doesn't have many of the "extra" features found in CorelDraw (such as the ability to add textures to a vector application or the ability to modify your 2D vector drawings to show perspective), it's a lot faster and more responsive to user commands.

User Interface

I have mixed feelings about the way NeoN 2D (GIF, 20.7k) is laid out: on one hand, it is set up to provide a large amount of customizability, and to minimize the need to search through the menu to access tools. On the other hand, it doesn't let you completely customize the toolset, and it can clutter up low-res monitors.

At the top of the NeoN 2D Vector screen are two rows of text and object formatting controls (GIF, 3.6k), where you can modify line and type size, fill, and fill pattern. While these tools are incredibly useful to have at your fingertips (otherwise, you'd have to find the menu command and work with a dialog box) they are limited to being displayed in their default positions or being turned off. I'd like to be able to line them up, single file, across the top of my monitor, which would take up less space.

At the bottom of the screen is a color strip (laid out similarly to the one that comes with CorelDraw) and an area of space that will display specific object information (GIF, 3k). While this area is also useful, it takes up more space than is really necessary, especially on higher-resolution monitors. If it were about half the size it is, it would be able to relay the same amount of information and leave more drawing space.

To its left is a strip of 8 buttons (GIF, 2k) that determine what "mode" of drawing the program is in -- whether you're selecting an object, creating an object, modifying an object, zooming in and out on the page, viewing a complete or wire-frame version of the object, deleting an object, or undoing an action. This is fairly typical of most drawing objects, though you can specify whether the icons are "large" or "small" (small icons take up less screen space).

You also get four tool palettes, which are highly customizable. Each tool palette has a specific set of tools that you can choose to display or hide. One palette contains every tool and function that deals with modifying a polygon (including more than one type of bezier manipulation), one contains basic object formatting tools (align, group/ungroup, copy, join, etc.), one contains generic copy, save, cut, paste tools, and one contains page setup tools (defining page size, ruler, grid alignment, etc.). These palettes can be modified to include only the tools that you habitually work with, allowing you easy access to them without having to discern them from tools you never use. On the other hand, the palettes can not be dragged out of the workspace window, which limits where they can be positioned.

All in all, I like the UI more than I dislike it. There are some things I'd like to see modified in future updates to optimize it, however.

Toolset

The tools that come with NeoN 2D Vector are very complete. Again though, they won't match some of Corel's higher-end functions -- for example, you can't define a perspective for an object, and you can't define a bitmap texture for it. On the other hand, you can save the object in a format that can be opened in NeoN Grafix, Compo's 3d modeling application, and use it to create an actual 3d ray traced figure.

One of the things I'm most impressed with is NeoN 2D Vector's ability to modify a polygon by deleting or adding points, converting lines to bezier curves, converting bezier curves to lines, etc. Most graphics programs have these tools, but NeoN 2D Vector arranges and groups them in such a way as to provide them all at once, which makes it a lot easier for me to create very complex shapes out of simple squares and rectangles. The process reminded me a lot of taking a block of wood and whittling away at it until I got the shape I wanted, which was a way of going about it I picked up on very easily.

Another thing I really like about this program is the ability to save your work in a huge array of different formats -- including Adobe Illustrator and Aldus Freehand formats. Unfortunately, it doesn't let you save your work as a CorelDraw file -- a curious omission, and one I hope will be rectified in the future.

NeoN 2D Vector comes with standard tools for arranging objects, including object guides (GIF, 4k) that help you line things up with the ruler. It also allows you to define and work with objects on different layers -- good for large-scale, complicated drawings (especially when you don't want to change anything you consider finished). This is something other graphics packages for OS/2 are lacking.

Using NeoN 2D Graphics

Using this program is fairly straightforward -- with a few notable exceptions. For the longest time, I couldn't figure out how to change the "draw object" icon from a rectangle to anything else. NeoN 2D Vector allows you to create the standard selection of shapes -- rectangle, ellipse, text object (GIF, 2k), connected line, and freehand -- but while most vector programs require you click on the icon, causing a cascading list of your choices to appear, with NeoN you must right-click on the icon to choose your tool. This wouldn't be a problem if right-click functionality were consistently implemented on the toolbar, but it isn't. In fact, this is the only object on that toolbar to have any right-click functionality at all.

Final Comments

Again, this is not the "officially" released version -- it's still being worked on right now, in fact. When it is released, users should have a lot of information I didn't have access to (most notably, a help menu) that will make it a lot easier to use. Still, at this point, NeoN 2D Vector is a very capable, speedy program that you can do a lot with. The nits I have with it are, in my view, minor compared with what you can do with it -- you just have to keep them in mind to work around them.

All in all, it's a much needed, and much welcome, application for OS/2.


 * NeoN 2D Vector
by Compo Software
MSRP: US$129.00
Christopher B. Wright is a technical writer in the Northern Virginia/D.C. area, and has been using OS/2 Warp since January 95. He is also a member of Team OS/2.

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