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Ulead updates photo software

PhotoImpact 8, a new version of its digital imaging editing suite, is important for the company as it tries to recapture market share from competing products.

Software maker Ulead on Wednesday released PhotoImpact 8, a new version of its digital imaging editing suite.

The product is important for Ulead as it tries to recapture market share from competing products, such as Jasc Software's Paint Shop Pro 7 and Adobe Systems' Photoshop Elements 2. At one time, PhotoImpact was one of the few software choices for consumers editing digital images. But that situation has changed dramatically in recent times.

At this point, Ulead has no bundling deal that might place its product with new digital cameras, scanners or PCs sold to consumers. PhotoImpact 8 largely will be sold at retail, where earlier versions of the product have taken a beating from competitors.

"Adobe, Microsoft and Roxio are all pretty even in terms of market share," said NPDTechworld analyst Stephen Baker. "They're the big three in this category without any question." Baker estimated each company commands about one-third of retail sales of consumer photo-editing software, with Microsoft's Picture It slightly ahead of Adobe's Photoshop Elements 2.

Ulead is hoping its new product will change its current standing. PhotoImpact 8 is available for immediate download from Ulead's Web site, for a discounted $79.95, or $44.95 for the upgrade. The company expects the product to reach store shelves by Oct. 1, where it is expected to sell for $89.95, or $49.95 for the upgrade.

Ulead targets PhotoImpact 8 to small-office and home-office users and professionals creating Web graphics.

"This product is for people who have graduated from Picture It," said Colwin Chan, Ulead's product marketing manager.

One of the biggest enhancements is the inclusion of Ulead's Photo Explorer 7 SE software, which is used to acquire digital images and manage, enhance or share them. Some features are similar to Apple Computer's iPhoto, such as the ability to organize large numbers of digital images via categories. But PhotoImpact 8 lacks iPhoto's handy "roll" mechanism, which organizes imported images into virtual rolls of film.

Many other features focus on using software to manipulate images in the way that professional photographers might do so with expensive hardware. PhotoImpact 8 serves up a variety of filters, such one that adds a starburst to an image's bright areas, such as lights. Photographers typically use camera lens filters to create such an effect.

Like some other competing products, PhotoImpact 8 also can create slideshows that people can play on a TV or DVD player. For Web designers, the new version adds a JavaScript feature for creating photo slideshows that can be embedded into Web pages.

Consumers continue to embrace digital imaging at a rapid pace. During the first half of the year, manufacturers shipped 3.5 million digital cameras, which was a 50 percent increase over the same period in 2001, according to market researcher IDC. The research firm noted that 40 percent of annual digital camera shipments take place in the fourth quarter, with the year-to-date numbers suggesting big growth this year.

Sony commanded the largest market share for the period at 24 percent, followed by Olympus at 17 percent and Eastman Kodak at 13 percent.

Already, digital camera makers are prepping new models for the holidays. On Tuesday, Olympus announced the new Camedia C-50 Zoom. The 5-megapixel camera is expected to go on sale in October for $599. Last week, Canon unveiled the PowerShot G3, a 4-megapixel camera that also will go on sale in October for $899.