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Lost in Cyberspace

Fun photo suite an inexpensive way to jazz up your Web site

This column was originally published on October 5, 1999 by SignOn San Diego and Copley News Service.

Most of us with Web sites of our own, even just family or hobby sites (like mine, at, would like to be able to jazz up our sites with fancy graphics or even a little animation.

Lacking the hundreds of dollars (or even more) for top-end products like "PhotoShop" or "Director" (and lacking the kind of innate artistic talent that would allow us to take advantage of those programs) we kind of schlep along with clip art and whatever rough designs we can come up with on whichever software was pre-installed on our computers.

Which makes the "TriVista Suite" ( a neat little product. Only $49.95 for the download version or $54.95 on CD-ROM, the "TriVista Suite" includes five specialized programs that can help you add some color and (drumroll here) multimedia to your site.

Easily the most impressive program in the suite is "3D ImageScene." This VRML-based program uses a Windows-based menu to allow you to create online photo galleries. The program takes your existing photos, creates small thumbnails of them, and then displays the thumbnails as clickable hyperlinks in a variety of settings, from art gallery (with the thumbnails hanging on a rotating wall) to billboards (you drive down the road and click on the images that interest you) to a carousel (you click on the images as they slowly spin past you; you can view one I built by going to my Web site above and clicking on the "Trageser Family Golf Outing" link).

It does all the VRML (which stands for Virtual Reality Modeling Language) work for you; while not a true VRML editor (you're limited to the half-dozen or so models for your gallery), "3D ImageScene" creates the thumbnails, posts them to a JavaScript that will call up the VRML scene, and creates all the html> documents for your exhibit. All you need to do is create a link from your site to the new pages. (And, yes, visitors will need a VRML plug-in for their browser to view your new exhibit, but TriVista includes a link to the Cosmo VRML client in the html> pages for those who don't yet have it.)

"3D Image Cube" is a more limited but still cute VRML application. It takes six images of your choosing and turns them into a spinning cube for your Web site. The photos aren't hyperlinked – i.e., you can't click on them to view bigger (or at least still) versions of the photos – but visitors can grab the cube with their mouse and take control of its spinning. It's a clever enough bit of animation to add to your page (and there is a sample I built – click here).

The "Ultimate Online Photo Gallery" may be the most useful of the programs in the suite. It allows you to create just what its name says: Online photo galleries. (I created one using their included sample photos; you can find it by clicking here. You can have up to 27 pictures per gallery, and as many galleries as you like. For those of us with relatives all over the country, it's a great way to share holiday or school photos with each other.

"A Smaller Image"is slower than Moses and lacks the features necessary to make this a truly useful program. While it's touted as a quick and easy way to make your digital photos ready for the Web (i.e., smaller file sizes) other, nearly as inexpensive programs such as "PhotoImpact" from ULead Systems or Adobe's "PhotoDeluxe" are much faster at doing image reductions, if not quite as intuitive. And both give you more options – "Smaller Image" forces you to use a slide bar to resize images, instead of allowing you to simply type in the new size you want. The same goes for sharpening or changing the brightness. Since you have to wait a half-minute or so (on a 350 Mhz Pentium II) for the image to resize before you can change it again, getting a graphic to just the size you want can be frustrating and time-consuming.

"Paper PhotoCube" isn't really a Web application at all, but it's included with the Suite. It allows you to print out a cube (six photos, of course) that you can then fold into a decoration – the kind of thing that, if you use pictures of your rugrats, you can put on your desk to impress your co-workers with your cute kids.

While each of the titles in the suite has its strengths (excepting perhaps "A Smaller Image") the software remains kind of buggy – not unusual when dealing with small, independent software developers.

In "Paper PhotoCube," for instance, there is no menu option to clear out any previous photos you've grabbed. And the "Ultimate Online Photo Gallery" doesn't allow you to change the output directory, forcing you to save each gallery to a TriVista subdirectory and then move everything by hand (which means you only want to put copies and not original digital photos in there). Plus, the transfer option (a built-in ftp client for moving the newly created gallery to your Web site) didn't seem to work. Finally, try – just try – to put together the Paper PhotoCube without using any tape on the outside. The instructions say you can – and maybe YOU can. I couldn't.

Fortunately, each of these bugs is something that anyone with even a little experience can easily work around. The programs that do work – such as the "Online Photo Gallery" and "3D ImageScene" – are well worth the effort to get around their shortcomings.