Return to Main Page
Create 4.2
By Thomas McCarthy
July 30, 3:23pm EST

Create, like its maker Stone Design, is one of the old-timers of the NeXT world. Stone Design shipped the first commercial, third-party app for NeXTstep back in 1989. It was a text manipulation program called TextArt, and it was the forerunner of today's Create.

When it comes to cranking out code, Stone Design is always first in line. Create was the first OPENSTEP app (meaning it ran on Windows NT and Solaris OpenStep in addition to NeXT's own NEXTSTEP/OPENSTEP), and it is also the first Rhapsody app, displayed on-stage during Apple's World Wide Developer Conference as an example of the cross-platform possibilities of OPENSTEP.

Create is a 2D drawing program that has all the basic drawing tools one would expect out of a midrange package. But it is also a vehicle for Stone Design's experimentations with new features, such as HTML, animation and video support. Create performs admirably in its primary role, but its new features need more polish, and its interface can at times be downright confusing.

The Basics

Create provides the usual complement of basic drawing tools: lines, curves, ovals, rectangles, bezier spline and paintbrush. In addition, there are two kinds of text: regular RTF and "Supertext," which is text that can be manipulated like a drawn object and treated with a wide range of effects. These and other tools are available in a tool bar located at the top of the document window.

Effects are Create's standout feature. Objects can be given shadows, solid and patterned fills, and they can be reproduced multiple times, skewed, rotated, scaled, flipped and drawn in neon. The effects have many options, and in combination with other effects, the range of what the user can produce is virtually limitless.

Create also provides the expected interface features: zoom, grids, rulers, alignment and distribution tools, layout guides and undo.

The Fun Stuff

One of Create's most useful tools is the Layers Inspector. Create allows the user to create as many levels as needed, and items on a particular level can be locked down, hidden or moved to another level. Layers can also have short notes associated with them (in the text field at the bottom of the panel). The screenshot shows that this Inspector is not yet bug-free, but it still functions correctly.

A group of effects can copied and pasted from one object to another. More interestingly, groups of effects can be named and applied later using drag and drop. Create has a panel for just that purpose:

Recent additions to Create's bag of tricks unfortunately show their lack of maturity, but are nonetheless interesting and potentially useful. Probably the most useful is the new ability to generate animations from drawings. Select an object in a Create document, and it is possible to animate that object in a variety of ways using the Animator panel. Create will save the animation as a series of TIFFs, which can be converted and used on a web page.

Also new in the 4.x version of Create is support for HTML. With the web as important a medium as is it, and very likely to grow more important in the future, apps must be able to save in HTML or another web-friendly format. Although Create can save in HTML, it is unlikely that anyone would use Create as a serious web design or layout tool. It has a strange way of saving multipage documents with a thumbnail image of each page on the Table of Contents page (although this can be changed), and HTML output does not always look quite the way one might expect. This is due partly to the inherent limitations of HTML itself, and not necessarily Create. However, until cascading stylesheets come into common use (and Create supports them), a drawing app like Create just will not be a good web content development tool.

The exception to that statement is in the realm of tables, which can be a real vexation to web designers. Create allows the user to arbitrarily lay out objects on a page, save the document as HTML and get a reasonable approximation of the original through the use of tables. Tables can be made with low or high precision, with more precise web pages loading more slowly. Table layout preview is an option from within the Create document, and a warning panel alerts the user to any overlapping images, which are not allowed in the current incarnation of HTML.

Another major new feature in Create is its ability to display videos right in a Create document, and to export those videos as part of an HTML document. It works, but performance is somewhat less than stellar (on ancient NeXT hardware), and the display is occasionally partly blacked out.

Create: Quicktime movie in document
The QuickTime movie on the left has been inserted into a Create document

User Interface

Overall, Create has a good interface. Object manipulation takes a mostly direct, grab it with your cursor approach, although that model breaks down in unexpected places, such as in rotation and skewing, which must be done through a panel. The tool bar is useful without being an eight story, 15 family mansion, the way tool bars tend to be in the products of a certain, unmentionable software company based in Redmond, WA. And the drag well, located in the upper right hand corner of the document window, is a pleasure to use. When you want to drag a selected object as a particular image type (such as .gif, .jpg or .eps), the type can be selected from a pop-up list, and the object dragged in that format from the drag well. This feature is a real boon to folks who use Create to generate artwork for use in other apps.

Create: Drag Well
The Drag Well

At the bottom of the document window is an element selector that will cycle backwards and forwards through all the selectable objects on a page. This is useful for getting a hold of those objects that just seem to elude your mouse, such as objects that are underneath other objects.

Create: object selection via arrows
The arrows at either end of the object's
title will cycle through selectable objects

User interface is often a matter of personal taste, and in my opinion Create has some very rough edges, almost all of which can be found in the Inspector Panel. A vast number of effects is contained within this small panel, but the downside is that its organization can be very confusing, to the point of preventing Create from being as useful as it can be. It is jam packed with a morass of buttons, sliders, and other widgets that sometimes leaves me scratching my head. In addition, not all options are visible at all times. Create's Inspector Panel will not display certain options until they are actually useful. This goes against the OPENSTEP convention of "graying out" menu items, buttons, and other non-selectable UI elements, and I find it disconcerting.

Head Start

Create has an enormous head start on the competition. It is eight years old, was converted to OPENSTEP last year, and is the first third-party app for Rhapsody. In addition, it is backed by a company that codes faster than I can write and can hack PostScript with the best. (Create even leaves a backdoor for PostScript hackers.) Create and Stone Design have a bright future ahead of them on Rhapsody, and it is well deserved.

Thomas McCarthyis President of minus9, a micromachine company, and Webmaster of SumoWeb!, the Internet's #1 site for Sumo information.

Copyright 1996 Scott Anguish. All rights reserved. Stepwise is a trademark of Whitelight Systems, Inc. Other trademarks are the property of their respective holders.[Powered by NEXTSTEP]