Corel Painter Essentials 5“Corel Painter Essentials 4” can turn photos and drawings into pieces that look very much like paintings. It’s not the only program that can do this, but it’s based on one of the earliest. It has been seven years since the last version and with this version the company has managed to take a giant step backward,

It’s not that the program’s new tools aren’t fun. Most of them are. It’s that the previous version from seven years ago had outstanding videos that practically held your hand every step of the way as you learned. You worked along with the guidance of a professional artist and the results were great. The company dumped all of that. Now if you click on “tutorials,” it takes you online to fast-paced YouTube videos with no audio instructions. Blink and you miss a crucial step.

The old version also had rich menus with many choices; the new one cut some of those. You could choose to make a photo look something like a painting done by Van Gogh, Georges Seurat or John Singer Sargent. Van Gogh made the cut. Seurat got dumped.

It is obviously significant that the old version, Painter Essentials 4, sells for $68 on Amazon, $18 more than the new version. That’s people voting with their wallets. There’s a free 60 day trial of the latest version for Windows and Mac at Corel.com.

Now we get to the thumb-sucker part. That’s where we muse about the meaning of it all – kind of like editorial writers. The question is … why do companies do this? Why take a perfectly good program and mess it up with bad changes. After all it happens over and over. Ask the guys at Microsoft who designed Windows 8. Or people at Corel itself, who own WordPerfect, once the most popular word processing program on the planet, until they junked it up with unnecessary features.

Why do they do it? To sell product, of course. Because once you’ve put out a program that’s totally great, as they say, why should anyone dump it for the next version? WordPerfect reached its best in version 5; it was all downhill from there. Users who loved it, miss the old one so much that the new version, which now comes in a whole Office suite of programs, has a feature that lets you turn the program back to WordPerfect 5.  Just because something is newer doesn’t mean it’s better.

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