After a smooth if somewhat lengthy installation, the program starts with a snazzy welcome screen. To begin a project, select from a variety of templates, such as calendars, business cards, stickers, brochures, albums, or envelopes. Or just open and edit a digital image by accessing files from your hard drive or acquiring new images from scanners, a camera, or your MSN Photos online photo album. If you're not sure how to get started, visit the help menu and launch one of several well-designed animated sequences that illustrate how to use various features. In fact, all the program's context-sensitive help features are superb and usually available when you need them.
Once you have chosen the image you plan to work on, Picture It brings you to the main work space. Thumbnails on the right side of the screen let you access different layers of your project. Below the main window, you'll find thumbnails of the images you've worked on recently, along with a slide bar to let you adjust the image size of your current project. On the left sits the tool panel, which offers either a clickable list of options (for tweaking, say, size, color, or depth) or step-by-step instructions on how to use each instrument. Unfortunately, Picture It sometimes uses that same side panel to exhibit a number of promotional special offers, which simply clutter the work space and are, frankly, quite annoying.
Oodles of tools
Picture It boasts a remarkable number of editing tools. Like Photo Express and PhotoImpression, Picture It makes it easy to adjust brightness, tint, and size and to correct red-eye--all you do is choose the appropriate tool and click the image. If you wish, you can add several artistic special effects, which Microsoft calls Illusions. These effects can re-create your photo as a charcoal or pencil sketch. Other special effects let you distort the image by pulling it out of shape, paint over or fill in areas with a variety of colors and brush strokes, or add a 3D look. Picture It also lets you add virtual picture frames, mattes, and backgrounds, or you can choose from a large number of categorized clip art and templates that include animals, clothing, and cartoons. When you're finished, organize your images in Picture It's gallery--categorize them, name them, and add keywords.
Unlike Photo Express and PhotoImpression, Picture It includes tools to remove scratches and dust and restore the focus and contrast of old photographs. We worked on a damaged black-and-white photo and were able to sharpen it significantly. However, oddly enough, the cloning tool, which lets you make exact copies of any portion of your image, did a better job fixing scratches than did Picture It's dedicated Remove Scratch tool.
Share it in on the Web
Once you've completed your project, Picture It lets you export it in several different formats. You can save an image in a traditional format, such as JPEG or BMP. Or, like the other two packages we reviewed, Picture It offers a free online service, MSN Photos, that lets you save up to 30MB worth of images into your own Web album. You can also order Fuji prints of your photos starting at 49 cents per 4x6-inch print from the site, a service that is not available from either Ulead or ArcSoft.
Click the Tech Support button in the "About Microsoft Picture It" menu selection to access copious help options, including numerous FAQs, Q&As, and e-mail support. For live help, Microsoft offers free phone service on weekdays from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m., Saturday 5 a.m. to 3 p.m., and Sunday 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. (PT), longer hours than those offered by its competitors. For corporate users who need after-hours help, Microsoft Professional Support is available 24/7 for $245 per incident.
Bigger and better
Microsoft has done itself proud in its latest version of Picture It. If you ignore its annoying ads, you'll find Picture It a comprehensive and useful product for tweaking, organizing, and publishing your photography collections.