Pixelmator & Acorn, Again

Note: Google seems to prefer this rather out-of-date review to my more recent comparisons.

For the sake of completeness and intellectual honesty, I decided to try the same basic task in Pixelmator and Acorn (the two most credible Core Image-based Photoshop wannabes). I couldn’t rotate individual layers in Acorn (a pretty staggering omission), the online help was useless, and I gave up. Pixelmator actually got the job done faster than Photoshop.

Pixelmater and Acorn both offer excellent support for Apple's Core Image filters.

Both Pixelmator and Acorn feature incredibly slick support for Core Image filters which are, in general, faster than Photoshop’s, but not as flexible or useful. Above, Acorn produces the halftone effect I was after in a matter of seconds.

So, I have to say, this round goes to Pixelmator, which has improved by leaps and bounds from its beta quality (and that’s being generous) 1.0 release — it’s even launching a lot faster than it used to (instantaneous on my MacBook Pro). I was very negative about Pixelmator when it came out, but it may become my new favorite “quick and dirty” image editor. Wow.

I’m very disappointed in Acorn. It’s at version 1.2 and still lacking some really basic functionality. I also discovered some really poor user interface quirks in the course of trying to figure out how to rotate the camera. For a program that various reviewers (including myself) have lauded as having a clean, simple, minimalist interface, Acorn has some remarkably rough edges. Its one strength — Python scriptability — remains, but I wonder if anyone really cares.

Don’t Treat Potential Customers As Thieves

One final strike against Acorn is that its registration nagging is over-the-top. After you’ve been using it for a few seconds it starts deliberately screwing up your image with really intrusive watermarking crap that, I assume, is intended to prevent users from using screen dumps to avoid registering the program. Seriously, anyone willing to go to this length to avoid paying for your program is going to either pirate it or use a cracked Photoshop license. Don’t punish people who’re honestly trying to evaluate your program. (The watermark behavior is so obnoxious and weird and — in some cases — buggy, figuring out what was going on actually distracted me from what I was doing.)

Final Thoughts

This hardly represents a thorough review of the products in question. To the extent that the task I was undertaking was a simple and representative example of image compositing, Acorn fails dismally, and I will stop thinking of it as a serious contender until it gets basic features properly implemented, stops treating me like a thief, and its numerous user interface annoyances are fixed.

Pixelmator did well in this test, but is still lacking some pretty fundamental functionality. Its text functions are rudimentary (it won’t even wrap text, there’s no control over letter-spacing, forget stuff like text on a path, you can’t even transform a text layer) and its selection tools are, frankly, broken. (It’s virtually impossible to line up marquee selections precisely, and when you zoom in the selection tools seem blissfully unaware of the position of actual pixels.) Finally, while Pixelmator provides a better interface to Core Image filters than Acorn, Acorn has the ability to save presets, chain filters, and supports more filters than Pixelmator does.

What I’d really like is Photoline to support Core Image since the prospect of Pixelmator adding such a deluge of functionality any time soon is remote.