XnView: Light on the Wallet But Not on Functionality

By Adam Stone | Posted July 19, 2007

When it comes to freeware we try to set our expectations low. At zero cost we feel greedy asking for more than basic functionality. Every now and then, though, a piece of freeware will exceed this minimal threshold.

In this case that application is XnView, a combination photo viewer and editor that packs surprising muscle.

XnView handles over 400 graphic file formats for import and 50 for export

XnView screen shot
XnView handles over 400 graphic file formats for import and 50 for export.
(Click for larger image)
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XnView's chief claim to fame is its ability to manage an amazing number of formats, including 400 graphic file formats for import and 50 for export. That covers every format we have ever heard of and then some. For anyone working in a broad range of formats this capability alone makes XnView worth a good hard look.

Moreover, XnView manages this avalanche of formats with speed and simplicity. Among its primary attributes, for instance, is the super-simple batch conversion capability. A single button click takes the user to a conversion page where thumbnail views make it easy to add files to a list headed for conversion. Alternately, entire folders can be added with a single click. A drop-down menu offers format options for converting the entire batch.

It's as fast, smooth, and easy as one could hope such a function might be.

Such ease of use is characteristic of XnView, which invites the user to manipulate and edit photos efficiently and, for the most part past, intuitively. A Windows Explorer format keeps interactions familiar and simple, with all the usual File and Edit menu functions.

That said, there are a few quirks. In order to perform certain editing functions, for example, one must make choices off the Image menu. But the Image menu itself does not exist, at least not until a photo has been opened for editing. It's a bit of a surprise to see whole top-line menus come and go, but it's nothing a reasonably savvy user cannot grasp after a short learning curve.

XnView screen shot
XnView offers more image editing muscle than one might expect for a freebie application.
(Click for larger image)
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Edit Away
XnView offers more image editing muscle than one might expect for a freebie application

As for the editing functions themselves, XnView again comes through with more muscle than one might expect for a freebie application. A simple operation converts a photo to gray scale. Basic adjustments can correct for hue, brightness, contrast and saturation. Rotate it, flip it: All the fundamentals are here.

Then XnView goes beyond the basics with a number of useful effects; drop shadowing and 3D bordering for example help to frame a photo, "slice" creates a mosaic effect, and "swirl" adds a literal twist to an image.

By and large these effects are easy to use. Some operate via a simple on/off function, while others allow for varying degrees of adjustment to the intensity of the effect.

It is fair to say that these effects are nothing compared to the massive array of image manipulation tools packaged into some of the big-money photo editors. Those seeking a really high-end lineup of editing tools likely will look elsewhere; that said, XnView offers the ability to quickly and easily apply the basic fixes to brighten up photos and bring out the best results in terms of color and contrast.

Users can also crop photos, but here again the program gets a bit quirky. Efforts to section off an area for cropping deliver a variable parameter: Dragging the mouse makes the sides long or short with no constraints. Want to keep the basic ratio for a 4x6 or 8x10 photo? You'll need to hit the letter "D" before indicating the crop area. No menu, no key combination, just hit the letter "D" before cropping.

We dug that out of the Help menu. It is one of the stranger and least intuitive functions we have run into lately. Still, freeware is freeware, and once you figure out the trick it isn't really all that hard.

(This might be a good time to mention that XnView is available not only as freeware but also in a commercial version. A single license costs 26 Euro, or about $35US.)

Putting aside the minor quibbles ("D"?), this software wins generally high marks for its ease of use. A screen capture utility for example offers a clean and simple interface for capturing screenshots from the desktop or from a Window into XnView or into an existing folder. It's a lean function, nothing terribly elaborate, but most importantly, it gets the job done.

More sophisticated is the search function, which will ferret out files according to a range of criteria including file size, date modified, and image format. If you have assigned image descriptions to a file, the search function can track these images down by searching out specific descriptive text. All told, that's a lot of intelligent searching.

As to nuts and bolts, it is worth noting the slim profile of XnView, with a lean install file and a fast and easy installation process. The browser view itself is likely a model of simplicity: A directory runs down the left-hand side, with folder clicks bringing up thumbnails on the right.

These mechanics may sound basic, but we take nothing for granted in freeware. An eye toward the basics usually says a lot about the software overall.

All told, we're pleased. The fundamentals run nicely and it even has a few extras. Most significantly, though, XnView delivers on its promise of format flexibility. If you need to move images effortlessly between formats – virtually any formats – this product will do the job will minimal fuss.

Pros: Easy management of virtually any image format, freeware, easy to use interface (for the most part)

Cons: A few quirks here and there (but nothing major), not as feature-rich in terms of image editing capabilities as a commercial app like Photoshop, interface could use a bit more polish

Adapted from wi-fiplanet.com.

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