Author: Mitch Patenaude
Date: November, 1993
Keywords: Equilibrium Technologies utility graphics conversion converter program review software
Text: Anyone who's been 'surfing cyberspace' for a little while, has come to appreciate the problem of working with the myriad of file formats used. From the format of the physical media to the way each computer system stores graphics, no two computer systems seem to speak the same language. This keeps people using different systems from doing useful work together. As more and more work is done on computers, the need for translators to ship data from one platform to another will increase greatly. Into the melee of competing and incompatible graphics formats comes a program from Equilibrium Technologies named DeBabelizer, after the biblical tower of Babel. DeBabelizer can read and write an impressive array of over 50 graphics and animation formats, including 16 labeled as read-only, and one labeled (puzzlingly) as write-only. It can be further extended with new translation modules which will allow you to read yet more formats, and can even use many third party Photoshop* plug-ins. (The module to read Phillips CD-I formats is an additional $150, also from the publisher.) The program is fairly easy to install, shipped as a self-extracting archive on a 800K floppy, and installation takes only a few minutes. Once installed it takes up only a little over a megabyte. It requires System 6.0.7 or later but is System 7 friendly, supports Apple Events, and is 32 bit clean. It requires a minimum of 700K to run, but is much happier with 2,500K and as with any graphics program, it is almost impossible to have too much memory. It seems to run conflict free with my myriad of extensions and control panels, and generally seems to be what is called 'bulletproof' in the programming community. My experience using DeBabelizer was somewhat less smooth however. My frustration begins with the manual. The manual is organized by menu items, making it easy to find out what a particular menu item does, but making it difficult to find out how to do something without knowing the particular menu called for. This system lacks a good way to answer a question like ''How do I get it to process all the frames of a QuickTime* movie as a batch?''. I never did figure this question out, although I'm sure it must be possible. Perhaps DeBabelizer's biggest flaw is it's complicated, very un-Mac-like interface. The open file dialog is a good example of a very un-Mac-like feature. It occupies almost the entire screen on a 14" monitor. It has a preview area which occupies over half of the dialog window; in the small remaining strip are check-boxes and buttons that allow you to not only open files, but also delete, preview, change type and creator information, as well as pop-up menus that allow you to select batch processing scripts and input filters. Other commands are equally complicated. Many commands have 4 or more sublevels of dialogs to configure various features and capabilities. This complication is mitigated somewhat by the fact that many of these configuration dialogs can be set semi-permanently with 'skip this dialog next time' check boxes. On the plus side, many dialogs have a Help button which will bring up a dialog describing the various buttons and options confounding you. Also, the interface to write scripts has a easy ''Watch Me'' mode which allows you to write a script without wading into an arcane scripting language. And of course, one of the most power features for a production site is the ability to write scripts and apply them to batches of files in an automated, or semi-automated way. A common example is to open a set of '.bmp' (Microsoft Windows* Bitmap format) and rescale them all to a Mac aspect ratio (adjusting for the different shape of the pixels on Mac's and MS-DOS machines), and write them back out as PICT files. This is an invaluable tool for graphics shops where much time is used (wasted) doing menial repetitive tasks. While useful, DeBabelizer's batch processing interface is cumbersome and difficult to use at first. I was able to dig up a number of rather bizarre image formats to try it out with. It read without a problem: TIFF files, MS-Windows bitmap files, Targa (TGA) format, Sun workstation rasterfiles, X windows screen dumps, and even an Atari ST format called Spectrum. Perhaps the most unusual format was the Silicon Graphics RGB format, and it was the only converter that didn't work as well as I expected. The image came out with colors misaligned and with horizontal lines throughout. (When I called the Technical support to see if they had an updated converter for SGI formats, they said that the files were probably just damaged in transport-I was sure they weren't-but after I asked him a few questions he admitted that all the test runs they'd done with SGI RGB files had the same problems.) All in all, DeBabelizer is an indispensable tool for a professional who spends much time converting between different graphics formats, but is too cumbersome for the person who can't spend the 3-4 months it takes to figure out the quirks of the interface. Debabelizer is currently only available from the publisher for $299.
Contact: Equilibrium Technologies 475 Gate Five Rd. Suite 225 Sausalito, CA 94965 (415) 332-4343.
Copyright © november, 1993 by Mitch Patenaude