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The Big Picture, Made Easy

New software makes it easier to manipulate and share images.

New software should make it even easier to annotate, manage, and share pictures online. The program, called Skitch, allows users to capture screen shots, sketch an idea, or muck around with photos with just a couple of clicks.

“It’s a really fast way of showing someone something on your screen,” says Keith Lang, a musician based in Melbourne, Australia, who is also the cofounder and interaction designer of Plasq, the company that developed the tool.

Some standard software tools, such as Microsoft’s Onenote, already support these kinds of features, but a user has to know what she’s doing, says Beryl Plimmer, a computer scientist who researches the usability of design tools at the University of Auckland, in New Zealand. “Joining annotations and pictures together to post into an e-mail or picture for the Web is probably beyond the average user’s capability,” she says.

“If they see something cool and want to put an image into their blog, it can be a long and consuming process,” says Lang. And depending on what tools a person has, it might even take two or three applications to produce the desired result, he says.

For example, a user might have to enlist a program like Photoshop to crop an image, and a separate file transfer program to send it.

But with Skitch, it’s much easier because the program combines all the tools a user needs in a single window interface, says Lang. “[Skitch] can do it in literally 10 seconds.”

Skitch provides everything in a single window frame, so what you see is what you get. Cropping or resizing images is carried out just by dragging the corner of the image. Changing the file format is handled by a single on-screen button.

And once you have finished playing with your image, you can drag it wherever you want without having to save or format the file because it is created automatically. Clicking a single button immediately posts the image online in your MySkitch page, and from there you can copy it into a forum, a blog, or a MySpace page–again, with just a couple of clicks.

According to Lang, Skitch was originally built to meet the needs of Plasq–a distributed organization. With members as far afield as Norway, Australia, France, Switzerland, and the United States, he found that discussing ideas was proving to be a problem. “Necessity is the mother of invention, and no one needed it as much as us,” says Lang.

“You’ve always been able to take snapshots,” he says. “It’s not that we are enabling people to do anything they couldn’t do before. But being able to show someone what you’re seeing and quickly annotate the image is a lot easier than having to type out a lengthy description.”

Plimmer agrees. “Images and annotations are very powerful and natural ways to communicate,” she says. “Making this functionality simple for the average user is a move forward.”

The program was made available as a beta version last week after being tested by Plasq members and their friends over the past year.

The company isn’t sure when it will launch the software commercially, and it’s still sorting out pricing. “We’re trying to make this as available as possible,” says Lang.

One of Plasq’s previous programs, Comic Life (which allows users to turn their photo albums into comic strips), is prebundled on Mac computers.

Skitch is likely to appeal to the increasing number of people using tablet-style, pen-based interfaces and touch screens, says Plimmer. Microsoft Vista now inherently supports this kind of “inking” function, she says. But so far, Skitch can only run on a Mac. Lang says that the company is currently working on a PC version.

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