Rocky smooths way to printing at home
Andrew Bungey discovers the easy way to write Christmas cards and even avoid
It's Christmas time again, and Microsoft wants you to stuff Bill Gates' stockings by purchasing its newly released Greetings Workshop Deluxe software.
Developed in co-operation with Hallmark Connections, the huge gift card makers, Greetings Workshop Deluxe offers everything you need to create and print professional-looking cards.
With more than 15,000 graphics and 5,000 messages from Hallmark Connections, the software gives plenty of scope for creativity.
I've been a loyal fan and long-time user of The PrintShop, a competing home-printing application. I was sceptical as to how Microsoft's latest offering would compare.
The good news is that Greetings is far easier (and possibly more fun) to use than The PrintShop, although I feel that The PrintShop gives more flexibility and power.
Greetings' interface is purely graphical, with a cute animated dog called Rocky leading you through each step of creating a home-printing project. Rocky also offers helpful hints and suggestions as you work, making it easy to experiment with your designs.
Unfortunately, this assisted navigation is just a way of covering up the vast number of menus and steps needed to complete your work. Power users may feel stifled: there are too few Windows 95 short-cuts to help you move directly to the functions you wish to perform.
Where Greetings really shines is in the breadth of different projects you can work on. You can create cards, invitations, signs, posters, stickers, labels, banners and even multimedia messages that you can e-mail or post to the Web.
Each type of project comes with dozens - sometimes hundreds - of pre-configured templates to lead you through the creative process. For example, if your friend is having a birthday, you can simply open up the birthday cards project catalogue and select a beautiful and witty card.
It then leads you through the steps to customise the card, such as changing names and text. In this way, you can produce a professional, personalised Hallmark card in just a few minutes.
As could be expected, Greetings does a good job at producing general cards, invitation cards and announcement cards.
This is mostly due to excellent content from Hallmark, including attractive graphics and witty anecdotes. Among the gems is an invitation card for a boy's birthday party which reads 'It's a birthday party for Andrew! Eat cake! Play games! Make someone laugh so hard milk comes out their nose!' Kids love this sort of humour, which adults can rarely dream up.
In addition to the basic type of cards, you can also work on photo cards which merge digital photos and artwork for some excellent effects. If you have installed Microsoft PictureIT 2.0, you can also edit and manipulate digital photographs while working within Greetings.
When printing cards, Greetings offers four basic formats - vertical single fold, horizontal single fold, vertical double (or French) fold and horizontal double fold.
Creating and printing long-running horizontal or vertical banners is a breeze, although I felt the available backgrounds and options were limited.
However, posters can cover multiple printed pages and be almost any size. Imagine creating a poster nine printed pages wide and tall. That's big enough to wallpaper my flat! Greetings also allows you to print a wide range of signs and fliers on standard paper. This is ideal for small businesses or schools who want to promote themselves at minimal expense.
Perhaps the weakest part of Greetings is creating awards and certificates. The artwork provided is less than professional, resulting in certificates that may be amusing, but are in no way formal. The application also lacks the ability to create printed watermarks and formal seals, a useful feature found in The PrintShop.
Producing labels and stickers is also time-consuming and cumbersome with Greetings. Each sticker or label must be manually positioned over specially provided templates that match Hallmark or Avery stationery. No database integration is provided, which means lots of re-typing if you change label formats.
Microsoft has included the ability to create multimedia cards that can be e-mailed to friends or posted to the World-Wide Web. Messages can include multiple pages of animations, sound effects and music.
However, don't expect your multimedia message to quickly zip over the information superhighway. A simple multimedia Christmas card which included two animations and Santa laughing compiled to 700 kb and took almost five minutes to send (albeit via a poor dial-up connection).
The cool thing with multimedia greetings and cards is that procrastinators can leave sending Christmas and birthday cards right up to the last minute and avoid long queues in the post office.