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Is Your Software Holding Back Your Hardware?

Is Your Software Holding Back Your Hardware?

When I began in the PC business, there was a clear distinction between hardware and software people. Hardware people, of which I'm obviously one, worked with chips, boards, drives, power supplies, cables, and other components; they played with software only when it came to installing or setting up hardware. Software people on the other end either designed or wrote software, or were masters of particular applications such as word processing programs, spreadsheet programs, database programs. In either case they rarely saw the inside of a PC.

Times have changed. Today you have to know at least a little of both hardware and software to get by. This is because a lot of today's most popular hardware is useless without specialized software that's provided with it:

    digital cameras need photo editors
    scanners also need photo editors
    CD-RW drives need mastering software

Are the applications bundled with these devices the best of the bunch, or can you do better? And if you can get better software, when's the right time to make a move?

The Limitations of Bundled Software

A few years ago, it wasn't unheard of for hardware vendors to package full version software with scanners. Today, though, with virtually no exceptions, any front-end program you get with a camera, scanner, or CD-RW drive is a so-called "special edition" or "limited edition" program. What's "special" about the special edition? Nothing at all, which is why most of these programs are now called "limited edition". As you'll see, "limited edition" is a far better description of how these programs compare to the full version.

What are you missing? Let's compare two popular examples: Easy CD Creator from Roxio (a spinoff of Adaptec, www.roxio.com) and Adobe's Photoshop (www.adobe.com). Easy CD Creator is included with many CD-RW drives, and is available at retail in the Easy CD Creator 5 Platinum edition. Adobe Photoshop LE is the version shipped with many scanners, while Adobe Photoshop 6.0 is now available at retail stores. What's missing from the versions supplied with hardware (often called "OEM" versions), and should you care?

Easy CD Creator 4 vs Easy CD Creator 5 Platinum

Most recent CD-RW drives ship with the standard version of Easy CD Creator 4. Here's how it compares with Easy CD Creator 5 Platinum:

Both versions contain CD mastering, DirectCD drag-and-drop file copying support, and CD copying features, but Creator 5 Platinum also features

    Sound Stream CD track extractor and processor
    Take Two CD-R disaster-recovery hard disk backup
    Video CD creator
    Sound Editor
    Video editor
    Photo Relay slide-show maker
    MP3 encoder
    Microsoft audio support
    Track and gap adjustment for making music CD's

Should you update? If you're interested in digital imaging, music or CD based backup and don't use comparable 3rd-party products already, making the change is worthwhile and not that expensive at $79 after rebate. However, the core features will be about the same.

Photoshop LE vs Photoshop 6.0

The situation is much different if you compare Photoshop LE with Photoshop 6.0.

Photoshop 6.0 and Photoshop LE can both import images from scanners or digital cameras, but the similarity ends there.

Photoshop 6.0 offers many benefits over Photoshop LE. Here are just four:

    Automation of repetitive operations with actions (similar to macros)
    Layered images (great for callouts or creating photo composites)
    History listing (enhanced undo)
    Drawing of vector shapes

Photoshop 6.0's benefits allow the user to perform the same photo-editing tasks better and faster than Photoshop LE. While the upgrade from Photoshop LE is a jaw-dropping $499, serious digital imaging users will find the time and effort saved to be worthwhile.

Time to Change Brands?

Fortunately, you can also change to a different brand of software if you're in search of better features and functions and want more options (such as spending less money).

One of the most popular alternatives to Adaptec/Roxio's Easy CD Creator series is Ahead Software's Nero 5 (www.nero.com). Many users favor it because of support for features such as overburning (jamming more data onto a 74-minute 650MB CD-R) and support for non-PC CD formats not present in Adaptec's product.

Ulead's PhotoImpact 6.0 (www.ulead.com) features layers, actions and other features that are similar to Photoshop 6.0. PhotoImpact 6.0 costs just $99.95 for the boxed or $89.95 for the download version. Registered users of earlier versions will pay less.

Cautions Before You Leap Into It

Before you pay, play! Many vendors offer 30-day downloadable trials of their software so you can see if the enhanced or replacement program has the features you need.

And before you play, think! Ask yourself these questions:

    Will I use the new features offered by the software?
    Will I be able to be more productive?
    Will the new software work with my hardware (a major issue for CD-RW drives at this time)?

If the answer is Yes, it's time to investigate the upgrade or brand-switch options available to you. As this article has demonstrated, you don't need to stay with the stripped-down software supplied with your hardware if you need the extra features and performance of full-version software.

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