NWA-PCUG Newsletter Article, September 2006
Free Image Utilities for Your Computer
By Ira Wilsker,
APCUG Director; Columnist, The Examiner, Beaumont, TX; Radio & TV Show Host

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Recently, on one of my forensic email lists was a discussion of a variety of image viewers that can open almost any known image format for viewing, as well as provide basic image editing and enhancement. While some participants extolled the virtues of a several hundred dollar utility well known for its capabilities, a few others proclaimed the superiority of a hundred dollar utility. There was a groundswell of opinion in favor of two free utilities that may lack the pizzazz and marketing of the high price commercial products and some of the less-well used functions, but are quite capable of most image management tasks.

The clear leader in the non-scientific opinion poll was a popular free image utility, IrfanView, http://www.irfanview.com . IrfanView is a powerful but free image viewer and editor that can open and edit almost all known image formats. For users of digital cameras and other sources of digital images, IrfanView would be a good choice. Personally, I have used IrfanView for several years as my primary image viewer and editor. It can easily crop and resize digital images, making them more manageable in terms of both image size and file size. With a mouse click or two, images can be sharpened and color corrected. Hue and contrast are controlled by a slider if desired, with side-by-side images showing the unaltered original image adjacent to the corrected image, with the slider clearily showing the impact of any changes prior to saving the revised image. For those who like to imbibe with special effects, users of IrfanView will not be disappointed with the selection of special effects included in the “Image – Special Effects” menu. A “color swap” function allows the user to selectively change the colors of objects in the image. Images can also be read and converted into any other format, making it even easier to utilize those images in other products.

I do a lot of scanning using my digital scanner. I scan photos, pages of books and newspapers, receipts, and documents to fax. IrfanView is capable of importing scanned images directly from any “TWAIN” compatible source, with the images being capable of being sharpened, edited, color corrected, and cropped. Once the image is in the form desired it can be saved or printed. IrfanView also has a copy function which will effectively make a scanner into a component of a copy machine, where the image can go directly from the scanner to the printer.

IrfanView has many other noteworthy functions, including the ability to make slideshows that can be saved, played, or emailed without any special software, as the slideshow may be saved or sent as a self-executing file with integral viewer. I recently took several of the hundreds of photos recently taken overseas by one of my daughters, and created a slideshow for the relatives. The process was quick and simple, and done by selecting the images from a menu, and then deciding on the speed and pace of the show. One more click, and the slideshow is created. This is a surprisingly powerful function for a free program.

In writing these columns I frequently incorporate some images of my computer screen, nominally known as a “screen capture”. IrfanView includes a “Capture/Screenshot” utility where once set, a keystroke combination will record the image of the screen. This image is automatically opened in the IrfanView editor for cropping and editing, and can then be saved in any selected format.

IrfanView, while best known for its ability to manipulate images, also offers “plug-ins” for other types of media, in addition to images. The “All Plug-Ins” is a single file available from the IrfanView website which adds the ability for the program to play almost all video and audio formats, greatly expanding the functionality of IrfanView.

With these features, IrfanView is one of the most popular downloads on the major software sites, including Tucows, and Download.Com. As a free product, the user will not likely find a greater value than this most useful program. On my computer, IrfanView is probably one of the five most utilized programs.

The second most widely recommended program in my online forensic discussion was another free image utility, available for download from http://www.faststone.org . The premier utility available is FastStone Image Viewer. As described on the FastStone website, Image Viewer is, “An image browser, converter and editor that supports all major graphic formats including BMP, JPEG, JPEG 2000, GIF, PNG, PCX, TIFF, WMF, ICO and TGA. It has a nice array of features such as image viewing, management, comparison, red-eye removal, emailing, resizing, cropping, color adjustments, musical slideshow and much more.” In addition to these functions, the latest versions (versions 2.7 Beta 3 and later), also include a screen capture utility.

I found FastStone Image Viewer a powerful, comprehensive, and easy to use utility virtually as powerful as its competing products that sell for over a hundred dollars. Several of the major download sites have recognized the quality and features of this fine program earning “5 Stars” from CNET, a perfect score of 5 as a “Softpedia Pick”, and a “Five Star – Excellent” rating from snapfiles.com. For those concerned about what they receive when downloading this free software, Softpedia had determined that this software is “100% Clean – No Spyware, No Adware, No Viruses”.

FastStone has three other free utilities, which are basically a subset of Image Viewer. These include FastStone Capture, a small but capable screen capture utility; FastStone MaxView, a tiny utility that can display all major image formats; and FastStone Photo Resizer, which can convert and resize digital images, as well as rename, crop, rotate, edit, and text to images. These FastStone utilities are a valuable adjunct useful for digital camera owners, and others who use computer images. As free utilities go, these are excellent in quality and features, and would be a useful addition to the software library of computer users.

Excellent quality and highly functional software does not have to be expensive. In fact, it can be free. That is hard to beat.

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