Review: eClick 1.0.1
Developer: Kinetic Creations (product page)
Price: $29.95 (+$5 s/h—no download option)
Requirements: Mac OS 8.6, CarbonLib 1.3.1.
Trial: Feature-limited (limited number of buttons)
According to Apple, there is no step three when it comes to assembling an iMac. Whether or not you agree with that statement, there is definitely a step three when creating buttons with Kinetic Creations’ eClick. Along with steps one, two, and three, there are also steps four, five, and six. Considering ATPM’s own button tutorial contained 20 steps, this is definitely an improvement.
eClick under Mac OS X
Click, There It Is
I used the ATPM tutorial on a few of my earlier Web sites. The result were, admittedly, rather bland. Using eClick, I am able to create much nicer buttons in a fraction of the time. Also, it’s far easier and less expensive than Photoshop.
Each of eClick’s six steps is straightforward and makes sense in the grand scheme of things.
For step one, you select your button out of the 900-plus styles that are included with eClick and select a size. Every button starts off at 100% and can be scaled down to 10%. Some of the buttons can scale above 100%, but they are only stretched length-wise. If you want a button that contains two lines of text, you’re out of luck. Also, it seems that if the button is filled with a pattern instead of solid color, it can’t be enlarged beyond 100%.
Step two gives you some control over the coloration of the button—here, you get to modify the button’s hue and brightness. This doesn’t give you full control over the button’s coloration, but it gives you more freedom than having the developers choose which colors they will support.
The third step lets you choose a background color. This is really important for any non-rectangular button, since the resulting image will be rectangular. Of the three file types eClick supports, only PNG supports transparencies. Unfortunately, Internet Explorer 5.5 for Windows does not support PNG transparencies, so you really need to set the transparency color to match your background.
The fourth step is whether or not you want a drop shadow. This is just a checkbox, so you can’t specify the size or color of the shadow.
Fifth, add your text. You can choose any font installed on your system, use any of the standard text styles, choose your font size, and choose your color. You also have the option of anti-aliasing your text or adding a drop shadow. Finally, you can move text around using a set of arrow cursors.
Aside from more robust color selection, I think the text tool is most in need of help. First off, text properties are all or nothing for each button. You can’t mix or match fonts, colors, or styles in a single button. This may not seem like a huge thing, but it is somewhat ironic, considering there’s a button with mixed font colors on the eClick home page. Also, the text placement controls could use some work. If you move the text, there’s no way to get it back to the starting position, aside from trying to remember how much you moved the text and working backwards. The application doesn’t support Undo, so that’s not an option. Something along the lines of a Recenter button would be nice. It would also be nice if text could be justified to the left or right side of a button. Using the arrow tools, it’s just too hard to consistently line up text across multiple buttons.
The sixth and final step is saving your button. eClick gives you the option of PNG, JPEG, or PICT. PNG is an upcoming standard for Web graphics that combines high quality images with small files sizes. JPEG is one of the more common standards for images on the Web. PICT, of course, is the standard Macintosh image format in OS 9.
You’ll notice that GIF is missing from the list of files. This is because Unisys holds a patent on the compression algorithm used in GIFs. As a result, there’s a significant fee involved if a program saves GIF files. PNG is intended as a replacement for GIF.
One of eClick’s major advantages is that it’s intelligent about saving files. As far as your Web browser is concerned, a PNG created by eClick is just a plain PNG. The same goes for JPEG and PICT. Your drop shadow, text, and other settings are just pixels. If you reopen the file in eClick, though, the settings are all preserved. You can edit your text, change the button color, do basically whatever you want. eClick accomplishes this by storing its information in the file’s resource fork. Most programs just look at the file’s data fork, so this extra information doesn’t hurt anything.
If you move the file to a Windows or Unix system, this feature disappears because the resource fork gets stripped away. So, if you think you’ll be editing buttons you created in eClick, don’t just rely on the button stored on your Web server (unless, of course, it’s a Mac)—keep a backup copy on you Macintosh for editing.
…But it’s Still Version 1.0
Version 1.0 software almost always needs some work. eClick is no exception.
I try to work almost exclusively in OS X. Fortunately, eClick is Carbonized, so it runs natively in OS X. From time to time, the software crashed on me. I didn’t see this happen during the time I tried using the software in Classic mode.
The controls for size, hue, and brightness are a little rough. They are sliders that cover the range of available options. The hue slider covers the largest range: 0°—360°. With a fairly small slider and a large range of numbers, accuracy isn’t really possible with a mouse. Kinetic Creations could deal with this by making the arrow keys move a single percent (or 0.1% for brightness) or letting the user type in her desired value.
I recently bought a 19" monitor because I wanted more screen space. As a result, I usually don’t have windows fill the whole screen. However, I do like to resize my windows. With eClick, I’d like make the window taller so I can see more buttons without scrolling. This isn’t possible, though, because the eClick window has no grow box.
Finally, it would be nice if users could add button styles to eClick. I think these additions would fall into two categories—buttons distributed on the Web for the general public, and buttons created by users who import them into eClick for access to its consistent text and shadowing options. I don’t know how this would impact eClick’s technique for recognizing saved buttons, but support for button plug-ins would be nice.
As much as I like designing Web sites, I’ve never been good at creating intricate buttons. This may not seem major, but well-designed buttons can really tie a site together. eClick makes it possible for anybody to have professional looking buttons at a fraction of the time and cost it would have taken in the past. There are still some things that could be improved for the next version, but eClick is a quality piece of software that definitely does what it promises.