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How to view (and even alter) any kind of image, for free
technofile  by al fasoldt
Columns and commentaries in a life-long dance with technology
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IrfanView: How to view (and even alter) any kind of image, for free

Technofile for Aug. 30, 1998

By Al Fasoldt

Copyright © 1998, The Syracuse Newspapers

Does your PC balk when you try to view images you get as attachments in the mail? Do you wonder what to do when your Web browser asks what to do with a graphics file you're trying to download off the Internet? What if you want to crop the picture or improve it?

If problems like this bother you, you're in good company. Graphics files—pictures of any kind that you can see on your computer screen—come in hundreds of varieties. A program that is designed to view one kind of picture may not be able to deal with another kind. And Windows itself is usually no help unless the pictures are Windows bitmaps, a kind of picture Microsoft helped invent.

An easy way to view the most common Internet images is to use your browser. The current versions of Microsoft's Internet Explorer and Netscape's browsers know how to show JPEG and GIF pictures. (They're pronounced "jay-peg" and "jif." Don't say "ghif" or people will think you're a weirdo.)

Modern browsers automatically show you JPEG and GIF images contained on Web pages. To force your browser to show you a JPEG or GIF that's stored by itself on your hard drive, use the drag-and-drop trick. Open the folder that contains the image file, click on it once with your left mouse button and drag it over to the browser's main window, then let go.

But do this only in an emergency—when you're visiting someone who has no idea how to view a JPEG or GIF. For your own PC, get smart and get a good viewer. You can a good one free.

If you scour the Web, you can find a lot of free graphics viewers for Windows 95 and Windows 98. But don't waste your time. The best free viewer I've come across —and one that is far better than most viewers you pay for—is IrfanView32, created by independent programmer Skiljan Irfan of Jajce, Bosnia. It is very fast, can display images in more than two dozen formats, can display a slide show of all images in a folder, will convert images from one format to another, displays animated GIFs (the kind you see on Web pages), and is very easy to use.

IrfanView32 is serendipity itself—a free program with many more capabilities and a much simpler (and easier-to-use) interface than any commercial viewer you can find at any price. IrfanView32's home page can be hard to get to, so use this link at WinFiles and then look for IrfanView32: (The author does ask for a small donation if you like the program, but IrfanView32 is still classified as free.)

IrfanView32 is much more than a viewer. It also lets you browse images in a folder, showing you a thumbnail view of each image in a list. From that list (or while viewing an image life-size), you can copy, move or delete images. Pressing Enter when in this list puts the selected image on the screen. Pressing Enter again creates a full-screen view. (I found no easy way to return to the browser view once I had a single image on the screen, however.)

IrfanView32 is an ideal viewer for anyone, professional and casual image-collector alike. It's also a reasonably decent image editor, able to crop, rotate, flip, resize and resample images. Each one can also be enhanced with controls over brightness, contrast and gamma (the relationship of tonal values), and you can turn poor-quality color images into grayscale ones, often with excellent results. Images can eb turned into negatives, too. And, of course, you can save the revised image in the same format or in a different format. It will also convert all images in a folder from one format to another in one operation.

This sounds like a lot. But next week we'll look at five full-featured image editors that will do this and much more—at a price.

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