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Portable graphics freeware

Take a free, full-featured graphics editor along with you.

Graphics editors need an angle to compete with Photoshop. Many hit Adobe's pricey program where it's most vulnerable by taking the freeware route. Others offer portability, or an emphasis on photographs, or different methods. Hornil StylePix Portable does a little bit of all of that. It's a full-featured desktop graphics application in the Photoshop mode, with layers, highly customizable tools, multiple undo, browsing, batch processing, histogram, slideshows, filters, and effects. It's also totally portable and compact enough to run from a USB drive or portable PC; in fact, it's designed to be light and speedy enough for netbooks and laptops. We tested it on a desktop as well as a netbook. While it has some quirks, we largely found it to be not only a competent performer but also easy on a system, even less powerful ones.

StylePix resembles Photoshop and similar tools, since form follows function in complex apps, and graphics editors are nothing if not complex. This tool's interface has its toolkit on the left and actions (undo), hierarchy (layers), and other tool panels on the right, per form, but it has a useful tabbed navigation console to the left of the main view, with a browser, tree view, thumbnails, batch processing, and tool options. The tool options themselves offer a unique method: clicking any tool opened its settings in this tabbed panel, making detailed adjustments very quick. Naturally, StylePix does other things differently, such as its copy-and-paste steps and the way the selector tools worked, and the tool's layering technique is slightly different from Photoshop's. Yet it can still edit, flatten, and merge layers with similar results. With a little practice, StylePix's ways became familiar. Even graphics pros will find a use for it as a portable yet capable (and free) tool.

StylePix's start-up screen declares "It's light and powerful image editor," grammatically incorrect but accurate nonetheless. The only real difficulties we encountered with it were such "translational" clangers and some occasional clunky functionality that reminded us that StylePix isn't Photoshop. StylePix seems perfectly capable of doing whatever the average user would want it to do, though, and it sure delivers the smackdown on price.

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