XnView Review

Everybody has some small programs that can hardly do without. Well, in my case the programs are not exactly a few good ones but a whole lotta of them and one of the really beloved ones is XnView. I have tried many image browsers over the years and the other two I used for some time were Irfan View and ACDSee but after I was recommended XnView, I almost forgot about the rest.

So, what’s it about XnView that makes it a favorite of mine? It is a fast image browser with support of more than 400 graphic file formats, which means that when I encounter a file with a strange extension, it is almost guaranteed that I will be able to open it and view it. The vast galore of extensions includes standard ones like GIF, JPEG, PNG, BMP, TIFF and a myriad of rare ones. XnView opens Adobe PhotoShop and Illustrator files, as well as AutoCAD files, CorelDRAW files, Gimp brushes, icons and patterns, Kodak proprietary files, several PaintShop Pro formats, Spectrum 512 formats, several Ulead formats, cursor and icon files and even audio formats like aif, wav, avi, vfw, and mpg, which is handy for clips and video files. XnView even has a hex view mode, in case you want to see what actually is in the file (or if the file cannot be viewed because there is nothing in it to show). The complete list of formats is very, very long. The list of features of XnView Pocket is not so long (but you will hardly need, let’s say, AutoCAD files on your Pocket PC) and includes about 15 input formats. I have not tried the pocket version, so I cannot share personal experience but if you are looking for an image browser for your Pocket PC, have a try.

I have not tested all the formats but from what I have tried, I have no reasons to complain. The image quality is high and it beats even commercial programs. XnView is fast even on a relatively slow machine, which is also a factor, especially when dealing with large files. Although the speed of reading and writing depends on the file size, my impression is that even CPU-intensive operations like batch renaming or conversion, or applying different filters are optimized for speed.

XnView runs on Windows, Linux, Mac OS X, several flavors of BSD, Solaris, etc. Well, to be honest the Windows version has the most features, while the versions for the other platforms currently miss some functionalities, especially some very important file formats, which do not exist for non-Windows platforms. Another disadvantage of XnView is that although it is free for personal and non-commercial use, it is not open source. The free library (GFL SDK) allows developers to use it for image manipulation but a special agreement is required, if the purpose of use is a commercial one.

Being an image browser, XnView allows to choose several modes (and different layouts) for viewing images. Its image manipulation capabilities are sufficient to meet the needs of the average user, who has just made tons of pictures with his or her digital camera and needs to process them a little. For instance, batch rename allows to change the cryptic filenames digital cameras use to give by default to something more meaningful, or to batch convert them to a format, which requires less space on disk. Some of the other features of XnView for processing images are cropping, rotating, resizing, setting brightness, contrast, hue, saturation and also applying various filters like blurring, enhancing details, edges, focus, sharpening, embossing, adding different types of noise (gaussian, laplacian, poisson) and effects (drop shadow, 3D border, swirl, mosaic, lens, etc.) – generally the things the average user needs for basic image manipulation.

XnView also allows to acquire images from scanner, to modify the number of colors in an image, to edit metadata and image properties and to edit IPTC data. Webmasters will appreciate that XnView creates Web pages with links to the images or thumbnails (you can select several sizes for thumbnails) in the directory. And if you’d rather prefer a plain text listing of the files in the directory, you can also have it.

XnView is not a full-fledged image editing program, as I often remind myself, when I try to use it as it it were one. XnView is good to view at a glance all images of a site, or the directory with images for the graphical user interface of a desktop application, or the images of a tutorial or manual (being a technical writer I often use it for this purpose because when I write a tutorial or a manual, I often add text or arrows to screenshots and save them as a file on disk, usually in one directory). XnView is my preferred tool for making screenshots because it allows to crop only the part of screen that is necessary, to save it in so many formats, to add text, and to process the image a little. I know that there are many other programs, which can do the same but I have had quite unpleasant experiences with other programs that tend to have their own opinion about gray being equal to green or to “enhance” the gray areas (which in the average screenshot of a dialog box can be the dominant color) with subtle reddish stains, or to save a file as a JPEG or GIF with so much loss that the file simply becomes beyond recognition.

Well, with XnView I have never experienced none of these and if it had the ability to draw arrows or circles on an image, in addition to text, I will be incredibly happy. Now I use the Gimp for arrows, circles and other enhancements to a screenshot and although I honestly don’t think that many other users will benefit from such a feature (people generally do not draw on their photos, right?) but if small editing capabilities are included in the next versions, it will not be bad.

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