If you're not happy with the photo-editing and -archiving software that came with your digital camera--and really, who is?--consider Microsoft's easy-to-use Digital Image Suite 9.0, which rolls two titles into one. Digital Image Pro 9.0, which is also sold separately, houses all the basic editing functions, while Digital Image Library handles your organizational and archiving tasks. The application's list price is $120, but folks upgrading from version 7.0 get a $30 mail-in rebate.
Comprising two programs, the 1.3GB Digital Image Suite can tax your system resources. The Typical install pares down the size to 380MB by leaving out clip art and image samples, which you then access on CD. If you don't need Library's organizational features, we strongly recommend opting for the standalone Pro.
Friendly wizards guide you from import to output.
When you first launch the software, a user-friendly wizard guides you through basic tasks, such as importing photos; tweaking pics; and creating albums, slide shows, and other projects. From Pro's left-hand panel, you access editing and formatting tools through a list of quick links; viewing them as icons without text enlarges your work space.
Library looks like a dressed-up version of Windows Explorer. When you click a photo in the main window, basic information, such as image data and file size, appears in a window at the bottom of the screen. You can rate your shots on a scale of 1 to 5 stars, just like with tunes in Windows Media Player. The Library interface also includes Photo Story Lite, which lets you combine pictures, text, and audio into a personalized short feature that you can easily burn to disc.
Pro 9.0 brings a few new editing tools to the table. Want to eliminate your ex from a shot? The Smart Erase feature removes offensive objects at just a click of the mouse. While we like the idea, we got mixed results. As you'd expect, this function works best with solid backgrounds; it seems to simply clone an area of its choosing. Also new is the Blending Brush, which smooths out boo-boos and blemishes. This fix, too, employs cloning, so you have to be very selective about your source. Microsoft threw in a few Photoshop standards, such as Gaussian Blur and Unsharp Mask, as well. While we appreciate the additions, the modal interface quickly becomes annoying. When you choose a mode, no other mode's operations are available until you click Done. And you often can't revert to a previous setting; once you've moved a slider, there's no backing out with Ctrl+Z. Furthermore, completing some tasks is abysmally slow.
Digital Image Suite 9.0 has basically the same photofinishing and sharing options as earlier versions. Image-display templates include digital albums, flyers, calendars, and frames. You can resize and save shots for uploading to your Pocket PC or Palm. If you run into trouble, refer to the built-in video tutorials and their accompanying step-by-step written instructions, or search Microsoft's &siteid=7&edid=&lop=txt&destcat=ex&destUrl=http%3A%2F%2Fsupport%2Emicrosoft%2Ecom%2Fdefault%2Easpx%3Fscid%3Dfh%3BEN%2DUS%3BKBHOWTO">knowledge base. To get help from a human, you can place a toll call to tech support, which is available 5 a.m. to 9 p.m. PT on weekdays and 6 a.m. to 3 p.m. PT on weekends.
While it's clearly no Adobe Photoshop Elements, Digital Image Suite 9.0 is fine if you just want to make light edits and you value fun effects over precision. And since picking up the interface is simple, this program is best for newbies. However, we wish Microsoft would come down a bit on the price. While they may not have as many nifty tools, cheaper photo editors/managers, such as Picasa, can do the job, too.