If a developer were to set out to design the friendliest, most capable, backwards compatible, best documented vector drawing program on a Mac, they'd arrive at EazyDraw 3. Not only does it use modern Mac OS X technologies, but remains true to the Mac heritage of drawing apps.
Many of us have been distracted over the years on the Mac. I know I have. The Internet has immersed us in Safari, e-mail, RSS, Twitter, virtualization, and security. It's all too easy to gloss over technologies that have that distant ring, that legacy feel of something we used to do, but don't do much anymore. Especially with the pressures of modern life.
EazyDraw Technical Drawing
It's rare to find a first class Mac application that doesn't require Internet access. Indeed, one that focuses on the solitary art of something very basic -- drawing.
When I saw the EazyDraw booth at Macworld, I had that feeling. Something tickled my fancy, however, so I lingered and chatted with the people in the booth. In a few minutes I realized that I had lost something in my Mac journeys: awareness and skills with a first class vector drawing program. VP Jay Pedracine gave me a copy and a license and invited me to explore EazyDraw 3.
I have been delighted ever since. This is a program after my heart.
Really good software excels at all the ambitious goals set for it. Reviewers like myself are constantly exposed to software that does a few things well, then drops the ball in other areas, either because the developer didn't have the time, expertise or resources to fill out the product profile. For example, if one were to establish some goals for really good software, the list might look like this:
- Have complete documentation. Include even the anecdotal. Inform rather than address. Include historical notes. Provide tutorials and examples.
- Have a simple user interface (UI) but include imbedded power, leveraged off Mac OS X advanced technologies.
- Do things in a Mac-like way where everything just works and the program instantly becomes a candidate for a WWDC Apple Design award. (EazyDraw hasn't been submitted for that award.)
- Include great backwards compatibility with long gone predecessors, even it it requires painstaking reverse engineering.
- Remain mindful of printing, color and import/export issues and explain those to the customer.
Another mark of a great program is the affordance for the user to install easily and start using the program right away in a productive way, thanks to intuitive design and legacy Macintosh principles. Then, as the user wants to dig into details or get an explanation, a nicely laid out manual can be referenced. This is exactly what EazyDraw does. I've seen all too many programs that scare the wits out of the user during installation, (with an unnecessary Admin password request or onerous logs) then present such an opaque interface that the user feels a sense helplessness and disappointment. Not here.
If you've ever used AppleWorks, ClarisDraw or even MacDraw, you'll be right at home with this program. In fact, you probably have some old ClarisDraw or AppleWorks files sprinkled on your hard disk, but have relegated to them to a dusty past because you despaired of ever reading them again -- let alone being able to edit them. Again, EazyDraw does this with ease. The manual explains:
"To the best of our knowledge the deﬁnition of these ﬁle formats is lost information. Certainly, none was available to our company. The EazyDraw project for these ﬁle formats was reverse engineered -- a daunting task. Unlike the depiction in a Movie or TV show, the 'hacker' doesn't tap away at the key board for a few minutes and proclaim 'I'm In.' The process is actually months of drawing (in the old application), comparing binary content of two slightly different drawings, deciphering differences, and ﬁnally writing code."
I found that particularly refreshing and informative in these times of cryptic and obfuscatory speech.
The first thing I did was to import an old AppleWorks file that had an engineering drawing of my TV system. After a flawless import, I started editing the drawing to get a feel for the UI elegance. At every step I was pleased with the design of the program. I especially like nuances such as a small, red block in a text block that indicates that some of the text has been obscured. The red circles that terminate lines make aligning easy. As one might expect, holding down the shift key constrains lines to be horizontal or vertical.
One thing I didn't find was alignment guides such as those found in Keynote, a program that I had been using for simple diagrams. (Dumb idea.) I can see how alignment guides might be hard to implement in a more intricate drawing built with EazyDraw, but perhaps they can figure it out some day.
Here's another quote from the manual about rulers:
"The size of elements on the display depends on the physical properties of the display and your resolution settings in the system preferences. So don't place a ruler on your screen to check that a 2 inch line is actually 2 inches long, it really has no meaning and you'll just scratch your screen."
This is not just a manual. This is guidance without condescension in plain talk. Refreshing.
One feature I found annoying, however, is the long delay after one presses the icons for Text color, fill color, or patterns. One has to hold that mouse button down for a few seconds to bring up the palette. I also wasn't expecting the palette to go away on its own after I made my choice, but then I realized that is a nice touch.
After one gets accustomed to the program, the truth sets in. There is a lot of detail and power in the program, enough to keep a savvy Mac customer busy for several weeks of evenings exploring the tools: the special math and Greek characters, alignments, various tools and functions, and the SaveTo:, a feature that allows the user to save a named version while continuing to work on the original.
I didn't explore these in detail, but I did poke around enough to find that just about every function you can perform has a fine-tuning element that provides exact control over the image. That's especially helpful when one cross the boundary from technical work like this:
EazyDraw Sample File, (c) 2008 EazyDraw/Dekorra Optics LLC
EazyDraw Sample File
The author, Dave Mattson, told TMO that the program is 90 percent Cocoa with some lower level Carbon code for performance.
"Core Data was avoided in favor of an open xml native file format. This has proved out well, a file saved with version 0 6 years ago will read into our newest version, and a file saved by the newest version will open with any old version with the only caveat that newer graphic object forms are not loaded. Our native file format is a pList compliant file that is English Human Readable.
"I did not hook up the Core Image filters as that again tends to get too complicated for the normal user. And EazyDraw is a vector drawing app, so the design goals do not encompass a great deal of bitmap manipulations."
I mentioned above that the documentation is superb, not just because it is extensive, but because it explains, informs, and provides a rationale for everything done. The reader feels, especially those who've lost some of their drawing skills form the days of Classic and ClarisDraw, that he's being "updated" along with the software itself. That's no doubt an important consideration in migrating the users and their data to a modern Mac OS X program.
In addition to the 373 page manual, nicely organized, and in PDF format, the purchaser of the CD version has access to the "Additions Pack" which has additional examples, including various calendars and maps as well as tutorials.
Even though the manual is very detailed, the built-in help menu dispenses with the background and guidance and gets into even deeper details of the operation. Here's just a piece of the whole thing:
The Bottom Line
EazyDraw comes with a smart range of licensing options that I don't see with other software. You can buy a nine month license for US$20. You can do an Internet download for $95, but without the Additions Pack. You can purchase the CD only for $119 or you can buy the entire boxed product with CD and a printed manual for US$139.
At first glance, over a hundred US dollars seems like a lot of money for drawing software, however, the price is justified by the excellence of the product on every level. For those who are doubtful, a nine month license for $20 is more than adequate to evaluate whether this product should be a permanent part of their software portfolio.
Art and drawing is what got the Mac started. Before there was anything else on the Mac, there was Microsoft Multiplan, the father of Excel and there was MacDraw. And as I think about all that, and the act of drawing, for fun or profit, I think about what Steve Jobs would have said about the most fundamental of concepts, brought to life on the Mac in 1984: "This is why we do what we do."
EazyDraw Sample File
The solitary act of interacting with the computer, one on one, to create drawings, indeed art, has been relegated to the professionals who spend thousands of dollars on their tools. EazyDraw gives a lot of that power back to us mere mortals -- when we're not immersed in life on the Internet and Safari.
Mac OS X Tiger or later, Intel or PPC. There are separate versions for those using Jaguar and Panther.