CorelDRAW Graphics Suite
Manufacturer: Corel Corporation
Price: $199 US
Reviewer: Choong Ng
Corel's CorelDRAW Graphics Suite 9 is the first major commercial graphics package for Linux, combining both the object-oriented drawing capabilities of CorelDRAW and the bitmap photo editing capabilities of Corel PhotoPaint. If Graphics Suite 9 can provide end users and artists with good paint and draw capabilities, this will be a major step forward for Linux as a desktop operating system. Let's see how it measures up.
GS9 requires kernel 2.2 or higher and glibc 2.0 or better running on a 200MHz processor with 64MB of RAM and 255MB of free disk space. My test box substantially exceeded all of the requirements, but this actually ended up causing problems. Installation via the installation script went without incident, but due to incompatibilities with both XFree 4 and Red Hat 7.0 the FontTastic font system was not correctly installed. A short call to Corel's technical support, manual installation of the FontTastic software took care of the problem (I recommend calling Corel technical support for instructions specific to your system). Once the initial font problems were resolved, both Draw and Paint loaded without problems.
For a user migrating from Windows, both CorelDRAW and PhotoPaint should have comfortingly familiar interfaces. This is in part because Corel chose to use the WINE Windows compatibility layer (http://www.winehq.com/) to enable their applications to run on Linux with minimal changes. This approach has several implications from a technical standpoint, but from a user's perspective it simply means that you can expect Graphics Suite 9 for Linux to have the same features in the same places as Graphics Suite 9 for Windows.
While the user interface may be the same as it is on Windows, that by no means guarantees that the interface will be good. In fact, both CorelDRAW and PhotoPaint tended to have clunky interfaces and features that don't work quite the way one would expect. They also don't offer much in the way of key-stroke compatibility with their Adobe counterparts—that is the keyboard shortcuts in the two sets of applications are different and the Corel products are missing shortcuts to some often-used features. While their product may be targeted at a different market, Corel has attempted to duplicate all of the features and most of the interface of two applications (Adobe's Photoshop and Illustrator) that are targeted more at the graphics professional than the home user.
There are both good and bad points to the effort to provide a duplicate feature set. On the good side is the relative ease of learning CorelDRAW and PhotoPaint once you know their Adobe counterparts. Most of the menu options are familiar and function much the same as they do in the Adobe apps, and PhotoPaint includes a complete set of functionally identical filters. CorelDRAW and PhotoPaint will even open .psd and .ai documents produced by their Adobe counterparts. On the downside is the fact that trying to replicate the working environment of someone else's software is rather difficult and, in this case, not very thoroughly done.
The biggest problem areas that I encountered were in PhotoPaint's relatively awkward handling of layers and layer transparency (the bread and butter of any image editor) and CorelDRAW's lack of keyboard shortcuts for many common functions.
Despite these deficiencies, Corel does do a fairly good job of adding features that a home user will appreciate, such as a helpful splash screen offering options to do common tasks such as creating a new document, opening the last one you worked on, viewing a tutorial or scanning an image. They also developed some of the best file load/save dialogs that I've seen in any Linux application; by default they open with your home directory as the root directory, but they still offer the option to look at other drives and everything under the root directory via a drop-down menu. These and other features help make Graphics Suite 9 (and in particular the CorelDRAW portion) a worthwhile option for many people.
One of the most interesting things about Corel's Linux products is that they use WINE (the GPL'd Windows compatibility layer) to run what are otherwise essentially the same applications as Corel's Windows-based products. This isn't really a good or bad thing; there are several distinct advantages to this approach, but there are also major problems. I noted earlier that using WINE ensures that the Windows and Linux versions will function essentially identically, but WINE isn't perfect. I ran into problems with the main windows expanding beyond the bounds of the screen in both Corel applications. While easily fixable, a new Linux user would most likely not know the solution (holding down the Alt key and dragging the window to a position where a window border is visible, then resizing). Both packages also had problems rendering fonts on-screen, and I suspect that this too is at least partially a result of running through WINE. Though this is ultimately not a big deal in CorelDRAW—the visual artifacts do not appear in printed documents—it does present a problem in PhotoPaint where fonts get rasterized at screen resolution. These and other similar glitches make Graphics Suite 9 appear a little rough around the edges, but the glitches are for the most part offset by the features that Corel offers.
If you don't plan on doing a lot of graphics work—perhaps you are doing some lightweight graphics for your web site or building custom widgets for a GUI-based application—then Corel's Graphics Suite may be for you. On the other hand, if you plan on spending more than a few hours working with vector artwork or web production, you should consider looking for another solution such as The Gimp (http://www.gimp.org/). This is unfortunately one of those situations where retaining a copy of MacOS or Windows or a utility enabling you to run software for one of the former (such as Win4Lin, VMware, Plex86, WINE or Mac-on-Linux) may be necessary.
Choong Ng (firstname.lastname@example.org) is the product reviewer at Linux Journal and a teriyaki connoisseur.