Xara can trace its personal computer software origins back to the early 80s, with the initial release of its Wordwise word processor, followed by the Impression desktop publishing software and graphics products in the ’90s for the Acorn RISC computer. Xara Studio, a Windows-based vector illustration application, was marketed by Corel Corp. as CorelXARA in the late 90s, with the rights later reverting to Xara Corp. It subsequently developed the more advanced Xara X and then Xara Xtreme iteration. Xara went on to release the application’s code as open source in 2006 and then split the product into Xtreme and Xtreme Pro versions before being acquired by MAGIX early in 2007.
The latest release continues in the tradition of providing two versions, Xara Photo & Graphic Designer MX and Xara Designer Pro X. The first is geared to graphics enthusiasts, small companies or academic users that need a general-purpose photo and graphic design tool. The Pro version piles on additional functionality and provides support for essential pro usage as PANTONE, CMYK, color separations, PDF/X and multiple processors. The last point is significant because Xara has always claimed to be the fastest vector illustration program available.
While Xara is at heart a vector graphics-based illustration application, it has long provided an extended range of functionality in the form of photo editing, 3D capabilities, animation, page layout and even website authoring. This release maintains its focus on providing users with a method to create complex vector illustrations that can contain an unusually large bitmap image component, thanks to Xara’s longstanding dedication to speed. But Xara’s page layout and site authoring capabilities have also been enhanced. Is Xara getting to the point where it’s now a budget-priced alternative to one of Adobe’s Creative Suites? For some Windows users, the answer is probably yes.
Xara, in any case, certainly thinks so, to judge by the words of Managing Director Charles Moir: “The Adobe approach of selling separate, expensive programs to perform the common creative editing operations is fundamentally wrong in our opinion. Modern documents (whether printed, PDF or web document) should not need separate tools to edit the text, the graphics or the photos. This is not just a costly process, in time and money, but totally inefficient. Xara’s approach offers not just dramatically better value, but we believe it makes the software considerably faster and easier to understand and learn.”
Releases of Xara always provide significant new functionality and version 8 is no different. New for both editions is a Color Erase/Selection capability to enhance (change color, adjust brightness, blur) or make parts of photos transparent, based on the selected color; a Photo hue adjustment to change the color tint of any part of a photo; a Shape Erase tool that can perform both vector erasing or path adjustment, as well as ‘soft mask’ painting to perform detailed soft-edged erasing of vector, text and photo objects; a Text Styles feature that controls the global appearance of text and generates CSS-compatible styles; Inline Graphics for embedding symbols and icons into text; and Photo tool improvements, such as an integrated panorama stitching tool.
Xara Designer Pro X 8 for Windows XP, Vista and 7 can be purchased on the Xara site for $299. Xara Photo & Graphic Designer MX 8 is priced at $89. Trial versions are available for download.