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    Picture viewing programs are very popular in the marketplace. In searching the Internet, I came across over 35, and I'm sure there are dozens more, with more being written every day. As you might expect, the quality varies immensely. Some appear to have been thrown together as an "Introduction to Graphics" project, with too little thought given to ease-of-use combined with real usefulness. Other efforts make you think "Wow, nicely done!".

    The purpose here is to compare PicViewPlus against its leading competition - the best of the picture viewing programs available. As the author of PicViewPlus, I of course have to be up-front in admitting potential bias. Consequently, if you have the time, I encourage you to try these programs out yourself. Links to their websites are included elsewhere. Virtually all of these programs are available for a limited-time trial (typically 30 days), and may be downloaded on the Internet.

    Based upon the number of downloads, and comments by users, it appears that the most popular picture viewing programs out there are:

    I listed Windows Picture and Fax Viewer simply because it's free (bundled with Windows XP), has a nice zoom capability, and is fast. In fact, if you have Windows XP, I recommend setting it up as the default viewer. On the downside, it is severely lacking in a host of features contained in many other programs.


    IrfanView 3.95

    Introduction IrfanView is very popular with users for two main reasons: it's free, and it has a reasonably good set of features. Plus, it has a simple interface, making it easy to learn quickly.

    Sorting Picture ordering is similar to PicViewPlus with one major exception: you can't manually specify the picture order. If you want to explicitly set the display ordering, you'll have to do it by the long and tedious process of renaming each file. Manual reordering in PicViewPlus is a simple process of moving thumbnails around.

    Picture Selection Picture selection by the mouse is very basic - Next and Previous. But you can go to the first or last picture via a keypress. Like PicViewPlus, you can bring up a resizable and scrollable Thumbnails window which lets you select any picture. The problem is that in slide show mode, you only have the ability to go forward and backward by one picture. PicViewPlus lets you use all of its picture selection abilities whether you are in slide show mode or not.

    Pan and Zoom To its credit, IrfanView does include a pan and zoom capability better than most programs on the market. But you can't zoom to a particular point, as PicViewPlus can. Instead, you press the "+" key to zoom in. But instead of zooming to the expected center (as most other similar programs do) the zoom is to the upper-left. So then you have to use the arrow keys (or window scroll bars) to adjust your view and repeat this zoom process again, until you get to where you want. A better way to zoom is to use the left mouse button to drag a rectangular area (box). But then you have to do the extra step of clicking inside the zoom rectangle. If you use the "-" key to zoom out, once again the reference point is in the unintuitive upper-left corner. PicViewPlus' point and box zooms are much more intuitive and easier to use.

    Picture Information Unlike most other programs, IrfanView does an outstanding job of showing you the complete set of EXIF information within a picture - almost as good as PicViewPlus. One problem it has is that it truncates multiline data and displays the first line only. However, when you copy it to the clipboard, all the lines are there. Another problem is that the first 8 characters of tag User Comment are dropped. But the biggest problem is that none of this EXIF data can be edited (It implies Comment can be edited, but that didn't work for me). Picture IPTC information can be displayed (and edited?), but I didn't check that out.

    Search There is no ability to search for pictures by this embedded picture information.

    Captioning The only caption capability shows up during the slide show, when the picture filename is shown in small green text above the picture, left justified. You can specify that the picture sequence number be included. Ane while it says the picture's EXIF data can also be included, it didn't work when I tried it. PicViewPlus allows multiple caption lines, where each caption line can reference picture information, and have it's own size, font, color, and effects. PicViewPlus also allows positioning it's caption anywhere on the picture. Finally, for those who don't want the caption to obscure any part of the picture, PicViewPlus can put the caption in it's own scrolling box either above or below the picture.

    Transition Effects There are no transition effects available. PicViewPlus provides over a dozen transition effects.

    Audio IrfanView's audio capabilities are very limited - just as it displays a picture file when selected, it plays an audio file when selected. However, it can't play a picture's audio file while the picture is being displayed, and it can't play a sequence of background audio files. PicViewPlus can do both.

    Background IrfanView can set the picture background to a particular solid color. PicViewPlus lets you visually select a background from a variety of colors and textures.

    Picture Frames IrfanView has no ability to display simulated picture frames. PicViewPlus offers dozens to select from, along with the ability to change their thickness.

    Printing Rudimentary printing is only available from the Thumbnails window. First, select a number of thumbnails. You can then print them as a contact sheet (thumbnail-sized pictures on a page) or as multiple pages, one picture per page. In contrast, PicViewPlus offers numerous print layouts containing multiple print areas per page. You can choose what picture goes into what layout box, its orientation, and how to fit pictures that don't match the box's aspect ratio. PicViewPlus gives you the same captioning you see during a slide show, as well as displaying any simulated picture frame. Basically, when it comes to printing in PicViewPlus, what you see is what you get.

    In summary, IrfanView's strong points are its simple interface, reasonable picture display ability, good picture information display, and the fact that it's free. But, compared to PicViewPlus, it is lacking in picture selection, pan and zoom, captioning, audio ability, picture background choices, and printing. Finally, it doesn't have PicViewPlus' ability to do manual picture sorting, picture searches, transition effects, and picture frames.


    ACDSee 7.0

    Introduction From what I gather, ACDSee 7 is one of the most popular picture viewing programs out there, in spite of the fact that it's cost is $49.99, making it perhaps the most expensive picture viewing program of them all. On the other hand, it's extensive feature set may justify it to many users. But I find its interface somewhat confusing, more so than any other picture viewing program, making for a steep learning curve.

    Picture Selection In it's "Viewer", ACDSee provides no way to go to the first or last picture by using the mouse - the keyboard must be used. Unlike PicViewPlus, you also can't skip forward or backward several pictures. Instead, to select a random picture, you have to close the Viewer window and double-click on another thumbnail. PicViewPlus lets you keep a Thumbnails window open all the time if you wish.

    Sorting Both ACDSee and PicViewPlus have extensive abilities to sort pictures, both automatically and manually.

    Pan and Zoom ACDSee is a bit weak in this area compared to PicViewPlus. While ACDSee's Zoom Tool will let you zoom to a specific point, that point doesn't always end up in the center of the screen, but it does as expected in PicViewPlus. You can't zoom out using the mouse, as you can in PicViewPlus. While ACDSee has the very handy rectangular zoom, it's awkward to use, since you first have to click the Select Tool icon, then drag a box, then click in the middle of the box. In PicViewPlus, you simply drag the box.

    Picture Information Picture EXIF data (called metadata) can be viewed and edited, an important but unusual capability shared only with PicViewPlus. But like the few other programs that let you edit this EXIF data, ACDSee cannot handle multi-line tags, such as the EXIF tags Image Description and User Comment, severely limiting the ability to fully document a picture. On the other hand, it does allow you to enter information such as Caption, Notes, Categories, and Keywords, putting this data in it's own proprietary database (which, as I've said elsewhere, has potential limitations).

    Captioning ACDSee also has the rare ability to show this EXIF data on top of the picture at various locations, within a "Header" or "Footer". Each may consist of multiple lines and have a colored background. And the font, color, and size of this text may be specified. No other program except PicViewPlus beats this. PicViewPlus allows each caption line to have its own size, font, color, and effects. PicViewPlus also allows positioning its caption anywhere on the picture. Finally, for those who don't want the caption to obscure any part of the picture, PicViewPlus can put the caption in it's own scrolling box either above or below the picture.

    Audio ACDSee will play an associated audio file. But it has a problem - if the audio file play time is longer than the display time, the audio file gets truncated in slide show mode. In that case, PicViewPlus simply extends the display time until the audio finishes. ACDSee also lacks the ability to play background sound files. PicViewPlus can play a variety of background audio files.

    Search Like PicViewPlus, ACDSee allows you to search for pictures based upon the content of EXIF tag data.

    Transition Effects ACDSee has more transition effects (30) compared to PicViewPlus (17), and has a nice preview mode so you can see them. PicViewPlus has no transition effect preview mode.

    Background ACDSee can set the picture background to be a part of the currently viewed picture, which seems strange. PicViewPlus lets you visually select a background from a variety of colors and textures.

    Picture Frames ACDSee has no ability to display simulated picture frames. PicViewPlus offers dozens to select from, along with the ability to change their thickness.

    Printing ACDSee is weak in printing. Only six print layouts are available, a picture can't be rotated for a better fit, the header and footer cannot contain metadata, and the layouts specify only one print box per page. PicViewPlus offers numerous layouts containing multiple print areas per page. You can choose what picture goes into what layout box, its orientation, and how to fit pictures that don't match the box's aspect ratio. PicViewPlus gives you the same captioning you see during a slide show, as well as displaying any simulated picture frame. Basically, when it comes to printing in PicViewPlus, what you see is what you get.

    Cost ACDSee is more that twice as expensive as PicViewPlus.

    In summary, PicViewPlus and ACDSee are similar in features. Both are comparible in sorting ability, the display of picture information, and picture search. ACDSee has the edge in picture transition effects. PicViewPlus has the edge in picture selection, panning, zooming, picture background selection, the editing of multiline EXIF data, and audio capability. ACDSee is very good at captioning, but PicViewPlus is even better. PicViewPlus has a clear advantage in its simulated picture frames, printing, and cost.


    Jasc Paint Shop Photo Album 5 (formerly Jasc After Shot, and before that Image Expert 2000)

    Introduction Program Photo Album 5 is another top-of-the-line picture display program which is loaded with a variety of features. A basic form of it was offered free on PCs sold by Dell. It may still be included on Dell systems. The full version goes for $29 boxed, $27 downloaded.

    Sorting Picture sorting is similar to that of PicViewPlus. Even manual picture ordering by thumbnail is almost identical in operation.

    Picture Selection Picture navigation isn't quite as easy in Photo Album 5's slide show mode, since you can't use the thumbnail views to go directly to the picture of your choice. In fact, in slide show mode, you only have controls Previous and Next. PicViewPlus additionally gives you First and Last. Also, PicViewPlus allows you to skip up to 10 pictures backward or forward.

    Pan and Zoom Like ACDSee, Photo Album 5 has several modes to display a picture in. "Enhance" mode give you a bigger view, while "slide show" mode gives you a full-screen view. There is no pan and zoom in slide show mode, but there is in Enhance mode. Neither mode offers a rectangular zoom, and there doesn't seem to be flexible keyboard callup of pan and zoom operations. PicViewPlus has no such mode restrictions, offering point and box zooms, mouse-drag panning, center-here pans, and numerous keyboard equivalents.

    Picture Information Photo Album 5 handles a variety of picture information. Image Title (one-line) and Image Description (multi-line) are stored in it's custom database. PicViewPlus doesn't use a custom database - it keeps picture information within the picture. Photo Album 5 displays EXIF data. But the important EXIF tag Image Description is mislabeled "Image Title", is limited to one brief line, and can't be updated. PicViewPlus doesn't have these limitations. Photo Album 5 allows you to insert the following keywords into a picture: Location, Occasion, Photographer, and Subject. But these keywords go into their custom database. PicViewPlus doesn't use these keywords since it doesn't use a custom database.

    Captioning During a slide show review of the pictures in Photo Album 5, the title replaces the file name, which overlays the center bottom of the picture (so you can't display both). The Image Description appears separately in its own resizable window. You have no control over the appearance of this Image Description text. PicViewPlus allows multi-line captions, where each line can contain a separate item of picture information (e.g., EXIF tag Image Description). Each line can have it's own size, color, font, and effects. The entire description can be placed in any of four standard locations, or it can be placed in a custom location. If you choose not to have the caption overlay the picture, it can be temporarily hidden, or placed in a scrolling textbox above or below the picture.

    Transition Effects Both Photo Album 5 and PicViewPlus offer a random set of transition effects which can be enabled or disabled.

    Search Both programs also offer the ability to search for pictures by their tag content.

    Audio Both Photo Album 5 and PicViewPlus play associated sound files the same way. However, while both also play background sound files, they differ in implementation. Photo Album 5 plays the background file while the picture file is playing - PicView doesn't. Photo Album 5 only allows one background file - PicViewPlus allows multiple background files, played in succession. In Photo Album 5, if you manually advance to the next picture while the picture file is playing, it will continue to play while successive pictures display. PicViewPlus stops the picture audio when you manually advance to a different picture. In short, PicViewPlus behaves as you would expect.

    Background Photo Album 5 has no way to change the picture background. PicViewPlus lets you visually select from a variety of colors and textures.

    Picture Frames Photo Album 5 has no ability to display simulated picture frames. PicViewPlus offers dozens to select from, along with the ability to change their thickness.

    Printing Both Photo Album 5 and PicViewPlus are very good when it comes to printing your pictures. Both offer numerous templates to best fill a printed page with pictures. Both also allow flexible fitting of the pictures to the template boxes. Both allow you to choose what picture goes in each template box. But they differ in picture captioning. Photo Album 5 displays an optional header and footer, and a small picture description below each picture. PicViewPlus offers no header or footer, but gives you the full captioning ability you normally get when viewing pictures. Also, if you have chosen to use picture frames, these picture frames will print. Basically, when it comes to printing in PicViewPlus, what you see is what you get.

    Cost Photo Album 5 costs 50% more than PicViewPlus.

    In summary, Photo Album 5 is probably more similar to PicViewPlus than any other program. Both access the full set of picture EXIF information, both handle foreground and background audio, both have full picture sorting capability, both do picture transitions, and both do a very good job of picture printing. But PicViewPlus is far better in captioning. Unlike Photo Album 5 it also allows you to update EXIF picture data, has the ability to specify picture backgrounds, and can display simulated picture frames. Finally PicViewPlus is only two-thirds the cost of Photo Album 5.


    CodedColor PhotoStudio 4 Pro

    Introduction Program CodedColor PhotoStudio 4 Pro is a picture display program you probably haven't heard about. Yet, it is one of the most powerful picture display programs out there. A 30-day free trial is available, and if you decide to buy it, the cost is $39.

    Complexity One gets the impression that CodedColor tends to suffer from bloatware - it's display window is subdivided into four panes, and some of these panes can be further divided. Once you've selected an album or folder, some of these panes are unnecessary, but hang around anyway. PicViewPlus shows you one window, with the option of bringing up other windows if you choose.

    Sorting Both CodedColor and PicViewPlus do automatic picture ordering/sorting. But sometimes you want to do the sort yourself (manually). CodedColor requires that files be renamed to do this. PicViewPlus lets you simply move thumbnails around.

    Picture Selection Picture selection can be done by thumbnail in both programs. CodedColor displays a strip of thumbnails than becomes tedious when browsing a large collection of pictures. PicViewPlus displays its thumbnails in a resizable window, so you can see more at one time.

    CodedColor offers First, Previous, Next, and Last picture navigation in preview mode, but only Previous and Next in slide show mode. PicViewPlus offers all four choices in both modes. Furthermore, it also has the ability to skip up to 10 pictures in either direction - in either mode.

    Pan and Zoom CodedColor does a better job than most programs when it comes to pan and zoom, offering point and box zooms. PicViewPlus also offers a point and box zoom, but has a slight edge in that you can easily do a best-fit zoom with the keyboard or mouse. This operation is often done while browsing pictures, and while CodedColor has it, it's difficult to access.

    Audio Both CodedColor and PicViewPlus can play an audio file associated with a picture. But only PicViewPlus can play background audio files.

    Picture Information CodedColor does a very good job of accessing EXIF, IPTC, and picture file information. PicViewPlus cannot access most IPTC picture information. But PicViewPlus has the edge in EXIF data, since it handles some tags CodedColor doesn't: Photographer and GPS data. Both let you edit the important EXIF tag Image Description with multiline data. But PicViewPlus also lets you edit tag User Comment. Almost all other programs have trouble with this tag.

    Captioning Surprisingly, CodedColor is very weak when it comes to captioning. No caption appears when you browse pictures. One does appear when you are in slide show mode, but it consists of the title, date, and filename in small yellow text at the bottom of the picture. There is no ability to change this. PicViewPlus, on the other hand, is better than any other program when it comes to captioning. You can specify what text goes in the caption, its size, font, color, and effects. This block of text can be placed at one of four standard locations on the picture, or at a custom location. It can also be placed in a scrolling text box above or below the picture.

    Transition Effects Both CodedColor and PicViewPlus offer a variety of transition effects, with little control over them.

    Background CodedColor has no way to change the picture background. PicViewPlus lets you visually select from a variety of colors and textures.

    Picture Frames CodedColor has no ability to display simulated picture frames. PicViewPlus offers dozens to select from, along with the ability to change their thickness.

    Printing CodedColor has very basic printing capability - one picture, or a "contact sheet", where a contact sheet is really only 1 picture per page. Captioning is minimal, and only available on the contact sheet. There are no templates. PicViewPlus offers many templates, allowing you to print many pictures per page. You can select the orientation of each picture box within the template, choosing among several ways to do a best-fit. You can optionally include the picture caption exactly as it appears while in the slide show. You can optionally also include any picture frame you have selected. No other program has these print features.

    Search Both programs feature the ability to search for pictures by their tag content. CodedColor offers more search options, such as the ability to search by IPTC keywords. While both have good search ability, that of CodedColor appears far more difficult to use.

    Cost CodedColor costs about twice as much as PicViewPlus.

    In summary, CodedColor is generally comparible to PicViewPlus in pans and zooms, picture information, and picture searching. But it offers no background sound, no background color selection, and no simulated picture frames. CodedColor is far behind PicViewPlus when it comes to flexible picture captioning and picture printing. Finally PicViewPlus is half the cost of CodedColor.



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