In preparation for the coming Luddite revolution, I am training myself as a mentat.

Xara Xtreme - a Test Drive

Date/Time Permalink: 08/04/07 10:57:54 am
Category: Reviews

Xara Xtreme is a graphics drawing application which has been available on the Linux desktop for about a year now. But I just now got around to trying it. For the obvious reason, and I'm sure many of you familiar with graphics on Linux would concur, that I didn't think yet another vector graphics editor was anything to jump out of my chair for. "Ho hum", I sighed, "we have Inkscape, Sodipodi, Karbon14, OpenOffice Draw, Scribus, and Skencil, to name a few. What can they possibly show me with a vector path that I haven't seen already?"

Well, I wish those words were now printed on chocolate, because I'm eating them. Xara Xtreme is mind-blowingly good. Not to say that it's perfect - I have a few quibbles, but fer Chrissake this is a 0.7 alpha release we're talking here. Let's just deal with the short-comings upfront. At this point:

Saving to SVG format is not possible yet; you can save in their format or - my favorite choice anyway - export an image to a transparent PNG or other image formats. The free port does not include the Xara Photo Editor yet, in case you were drooling over it in the video demo they have on the site; so for red-eye correction and such, you'll still have to rely on Google's Picasa or Gimp. Live Effects haven't been ported yet. Small bits and pieces are still coming through the pipeline. But the program already has much of the functionality of the original Windows version. Finally, the UI is a *leeetle* bit less intuitive than most of us are used to on Linux, compared to Inkscape (which has spoiled us rotten that way), but who am I to stone casts?

Does it do everything that Inkscape can? Almost yes, albeit some of it in different ways that take some investigating; notably missing is the whole tiled clones dialog and the calligraphy tool, not to mention the special Inkscape plug-ins. However, as far as features go, Xara Xtreme usually meets other vector graphics editors on Linux and in some cases smokes them off the road.

screen shot 1

How many vector editors have you seen with their own built-in noise generator? You want clouds? Draw a rectangle, pick the paint-bucket fill tool, pick blue and white colors, select "fractal clouds" for the fill gradient. Done.

screen shot 2

Enveloped vector objects! We finally have them on the Linux desktop! Shape and warp any object, even text, using the dragable box or the pre-set shapes. No more having to manually edit the paths or export it to Gimp to use the perspective tool.

screen shot 3

Would you like a bevel to go with your shaped text? Use the bevel tool. Click. Drag. Pick from a dozens styles of bevel, each tunable with the little widgets.

screen shot 4

Here's a little stunt I discovered already which I thought was pretty cool. Get the "line gallery" open, set the defaults to a shape you like, a wide line pt. width, and join and cap. It will pop up a dialog asking if you want to set these as default attributes if you have no object selected. Now use the freehand pencil to draw lines. It will keep the same attributes automatically. Even if you draw really shaky it will still smooth out to a couple of curves.

screen cartoon example

screen shot 5

Lastly, you've seen gradients before, but how about a feathered-edge gradient? It's easy with the feather tool. Just move the slider.

Oh, yes, one more thing. Xara Xtreme is also the fastest vector editor I've ever used.

There's much more to tell about - heck this was all I discovered in a few hours. But let me make one thing perfectly clear: do not delete your Inkscape! There's still plenty yet that Xara Xtreme can't do and Inkscape can, and features that are downright missing from the pipeline (remember that fractal plug-in I showed you a couple tutorials back?). In fact, I'd say that I've never seen it cut so close between two applications before - each of them have reasons to keep them as essential tools. To get the best of both worlds in the same drawing, I'll have to draw in one, export it as a PNG, POTrace it in the other, edit it, export it back...

Merge them! Merging the two projects together would be interesting. Or at least getting SVG going in Xara Xtreme would even be useful.

But I'm glad I came anyway, because Xara Xtreme is hella sweet.

Before you all ask: It has a binary auto-installer, which will put it in the menu for both Gnome and KDE. For users not living in the Age-Of-Only-Two-Desktops, the executable answers to "xaralx" and now you can drop it into whatever menu on whatever WM you deal with. The documentation installs to /usr/share/xaralx/ and the start page for the HTML manual should be "file:///usr/share/xaralx/doc/en/xaralx.htm". Have fun with your new toy, playful penguins!

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