Tablet PC Software: Corel Grafigo 2

The beginning of a new category of Tablet PC software (November 2003 issue)

The launch of Grafigo 2 in September 2003 makes Corel the second company to market an updated version of a major, horizontal, Tablet PC-specific application (FranklinCovey was the first, with versions 2.0 and 2.1 of TabletPlanner in March and June 2003). Although Corel is a chronological second, Grafigo 2 may have jumped them into first place in the competition for the Tablet PC's "Killer App."

When Corel created Grafigo 1 for the launch of the Tablet PC in November 2002, they had a vision of a "graphics tool for business users." The initial release had an almost entirely graphical user interface, perhaps influenced by Corel's other graphics products such as CorelDRAW and Corel Painter. The functionality of the initial release, while on the primitive side, was certainly graphics-tool oriented - it included a shape recognizer, sketching and annotation tools, an overlay (layering) tool, and a symbol library. My initial mini-review of Grafigo 1, published in the December 2002 issue of Pen Computing, observed that Grafigo 1 seemed "more like a demonstration platform for Microsoft development tools and Corel's development skills as an ISV than a serious commercial application."

With the launch of Grafigo 2, Corel has created what I believe may be the beginning of a new category of Tablet PC software - general-purpose, broadly applicable, document review and annotation programs. Grafigo 2 doesn't just fulfill Corel's initial vision of a graphics tool for business users, it goes well beyond it. There's really nothing else like it on the market. It allows the average knowledge worker (a business user, not a graphics expert) to annotate, add content to and collaborate on the review of any document, graphical or not. Grafigo 2 makes Grafigo 1 look like a crude prototype.

Corel continues to promote the fact that "Grafigo 2 is written in Microsoft's C# [C-Sharp] programming language, which provides diverse opportunities for the application to be customized, to be connected to Web services and to create enterprise-based solutions." In other words, they haven't given up on applying Corel's Tablet PC technology in vertical applications, they've just concluded that developing a really good horizontal application may be a necessary step along the path to enterprise adoption of the technology.


In developing Grafigo 2, Corel did extensive research with Grafigo 1 users to discover what was missing and what needed to be improved. One of the fundamental results of the research was a decision to focus on "workflow" rather than on individual features. In Corel-speak, "workflow" means making sure that the program does everything the user needs to get his job done. As an illustration, consider shape recognition, which was an individual feature in Grafigo 1. The average business user doesn't actually want to recognize shapes, he just wants to get his drawing done ("complete his workflow"). Recognizing a hand-sketched square or circle and making them into clean shapes is "cool," but it's only a fraction of the user's real problem. The real work is in cleaning up the details so that the drawing "looks nice" when you're done. It's more than just squares being square -- objects should line up, lines should be parallel, lines should terminate cleanly on their target without extending too far, etc. In Grafigo 2, what was "shape recognition" is now "drawing assistance," and the new function does all of this and more.

The enhancements in Grafigo 2 can be categorized into five areas: (1) document import, (2) creation and annotation capability, (3) special features, (4) user interface, and (5) collaboration. The following sections examine each of these areas in more detail.

Document Import

In Grafigo 1, the only file types that could be imported were raster (bitmap) files (JPG, TIF, BMP, etc.). This was very limiting, since it often meant having to find a way to convert your desired target file into raster format. In Grafigo 2, you can import files from any program that (a) supports standard Windows print functionality, and (b) is installed on your Tablet PC. Part (a), the "print functionality" requirement, is because Grafigo 2 uses a "print driver" mechanism to import files (this is the same mechanism that's used in FranklinCovey's TabletPlanner electronic data store). This is a very general and powerful way to import files, since almost every program has a print function. Part (b), the "installed on your Tablet PC" requirement, is so that Grafigo 2 can use the originating program's print function to generate the file to be imported. This could be seen as a significant limitation, except that software site licenses are relatively common in the enterprise environment, so getting a copy of the originating software on your Tablet PC may not be particularly difficult or expensive.

To import a file, the user just opens the original file in Grafigo 2. Grafigo 2 automatically runs the originating program, creates the print file (in Scalable Vector Graphics [.SVG] format), and opens it. Screenimage #1 shows a Word file that's been opened and annotated in Grafigo 2. The user can also create an .SVG file in the originating program by printing to the "Corel Grafigo Writer" printer, and then opening the resulting file in Grafigo 2. Screenimage #2 shows an image of the Excite webpage that was created and imported this way.

For programs that don't have a print function, Grafigo 2 has a "Grab-It" function that works much the same as Microsoft's Snipping Tool. When the user clicks on the "Grab-It" icon in the Grafigo 2 tool bar, an always-on-top dialog box appears that instructs the user to (a) choose either the "lasso" or "rectangular" selection tool, (b) make the desired application window active, and (c) click the Start button. While the user is making a selection, the unselected portion of the active window is dimmed, which makes it very clear what is being selected. Once the selection is complete, the selection is immediately brought into Grafigo 2. It's quick and easy. Screenimages #3 and #4 on the next page show a source webpage and the captured portion in Grafigo 2.

Output or Export files written by Grafigo 2 can be of type SVG, JPG, PNG (Portable Network Graphics), GIF, TIF, BMP or EMF (Enhanced Windows Metafile). For the compressible file types, one of three levels of compression can be selected - 0%, 25% or 75%.

Creation and Annotation

The following paragraphs briefly describe Grafigo 2's tools for creation and annotation. Screenimage #5a, #5b, and #5c show Grafigo 2's three Preferences screens, where settings for many of these tools are made.

Selection Tools: Grafigo 2 provides the standard Windows click-and-drag ("Pick") selection tool as well as a "Lasso" selection tool. When using the Grab-It function, a rectangular selection tool is also available.

Pens: There are three standard pens and one standard marker on the toolbar, each of which can be made pressure-sensitive, set to any color (marker ink is semi-transparent) and set to one of seven line widths from 0.25 mm to 16 mm.

Resizing, Rotating and Erasing Ink: Any ink stroke can be resized, stretched, rotated, or erased whole or in part. When resizing ink strokes, you can choose whether to have the line weight change proportionally or not.

Exporting and Importing Ink: You can select ink in Grafigo 2 and drag it into any other application. If the destination program supports ink (such as Microsoft Journal), the ink strokes will be inserted as ink. If the program doesn't support ink (such as CorelDRAW), the ink strokes will be inserted as a raster (bitmap) image.

Underlays: The ability to put an image (called an underlay) under the workspace has been expanded considerably in Grafigo 2. Underlays can be moved, resized and deleted. You can bring in multi-page documents as underlays; each page is brought in as a separate underlay and is added as a thumbnail to the View Manager.

Onionskins: Onionskins are translucent overlays used for annotating or marking up documents without modifying the original; they can be used like tracing paper. Onionskins can be shown or hidden, locked or unlocked. Separating the viewing and locking functions allows you to keep an onionskin visible while you're actually drawing on the original document.

Zoom: Clicking on the Zoom button and then clicking on the workspace zooms in by 200%. Holding the pen barrel button and clicking on the workspace zooms out by the same amount. You can also select a rectangular area to be zoomed in. Clicking on the Zoom flyout control brings up a slider that allows adjusting the zoom to any amount between 25% and 400%.

Gestures: Grafigo 2 supports seven gestures: Erase (the standard Tablet PC scratch-out gesture), Undo / Redo (upside-down semicircles), Zoom In / Zoom Out (upstroke and downstroke), and Up One Onionskin Layer / Down One Onionskin Layer (chevron-right and chevron-left).

Text: Text can be added to a Grafigo 2 document in several ways. Once you create a text frame, you can type on the keyboard or use the Tablet PC Input Panel. You can write ink anywhere in the workspace, select it and convert it to text, or you can write directly in a text frame and Grafigo 2 will automatically convert the ink to text. You can copy and paste text from another document. (Grafigo 2 uses standard Tablet PC handwriting recognition technology; there is no enhancement of the recognition or the user interface.)

There is one serious, major limitation in Grafigo 2's handling of text: all font settings (font, size, style and color) apply to all text in all text frames. There's no way to make some text different (e.g., larger) than other text. Even if you create text externally with the characteristics you want, when you bring it into Grafigo 2, the single set of global text properties is applied to it. This limitation may seriously affect the product's usefulness for some applications and is likely to frustrate some users.

Special Features

Navigation: One of the more difficult aspects of Grafigo 1's user interface was figuring out where you were on the "endless canvas". In Grafigo 2, this problem has been solved in several creative ways. First, the Pan tool lets you drag the window around the canvas. Second, if you press the pen barrel button and then move within proximity (or touch the screen), a pop-up window (called the Navigator) appears that contains a graphic of the entire canvas and a blue outline indicating the current window position. The blue outline can be dragged anywhere within the Navigator window; when you release the pen button, the current view moves to the desired location in the canvas. (Screenimage #6 shows the Navigator on top of the Excite webpage image.) Third, once you have selected an object such as an ink stroke or text frame, Grafigo 2 automatically moves the document view in the direction you're dragging the selected object (Grafigo 2 calls this "auto-panning").

Drawing Assistance: The purpose of the Drawing Assistance function is to let you apply ink strokes with precision. Drawing Assistance uses shape recognition and Bezier curve smoothing to straighten and neaten shapes (arrows, circles, squares, triangles, stars, etc.) and make them more symmetrical. The function also provides line straightening and collinear alignment (for example, automatically adjusting a staircase pattern to have exactly vertical and horizontal segments with exactly 90()() degree angles). Drawing Assistance also lets you snap lines and curves to other lines and shapes. For example, if you draw a figure where the lines don't quite meet, Grafigo 2 will clean it up so that the lines meet properly ("auto-closing"). Drawing Assistance can be turned on and off, with alignment, symmetry and snapping all individually controllable. A settable timer is included that controls how quickly Drawing Assistance kicks in after you lift the pen; this makes it easier to create multi-stroke shapes. The use of Undo with Drawing Assistance can also be quite useful, since you can keep trying until you get the result you want. Screenimage #7 shows two rows of shapes; the top row was drawn with Drawing Assistance turned off, then it was turned on for the bottom row.

Library Manager: In Grafigo 1, the Symbol Palette was a collection of graphic symbols (and nothing else). In Grafigo 2, this capability has been expanded into a much more powerful, general-purpose library function. The library can store and display any content that you want to reuse in Grafigo 2, including text, ink, underlays (images) and onionskins. You can create your own categories of content, so you can organize the content in a way that makes sense to you (for example, by subject or project, rather than by data type). Categories can be customized as needed. You can reorder them, rename them, add content (by drag-and-drop), delete content, rearrange items within them or move content between them. Library content (an entire category) can be exported to be shared by other users or imported for your own use. Screenimage #8 shows the default structure of the Library Manager.

View Manager: You can save any view of a document (consisting of a location in the document and a given magnification setting) in the View Manager. This view can be called up at any time by clicking on the view thumbnail in the View Manager toolbar. The view is saved in the properties of the file, so it is always available. One obvious application of the View Manager is in annotating PowerPoint slide presentations, where each slide automatically becomes a separate view. Jumping from slide to slide is quick and easy - just click on the thumbnails in the View Manager toolbar. New (hand-sketched) slides can be inserted by just creating a new view. Screenimage #9 shows a five-slide PowerPoint presentation that's been imported into Grafigo 2, with a suggested (hand-sketched) sixth slide inserted between the second and third slides in the View Manager toolbar.

Sending to Email: There's a button on the toolbar that brings you directly into your default email client, with the current canvas attached to a new email as an .SVG file. Corel's concept is to provide as much capability as possible in Grafigo 2, so the user doesn't have to rely on other programs. In actuality, sending to email really isn't very practical, since you can't control the size of the attached file. For example, the Word file in screenimage #1 appeared as a 2 MB attached file when Grafigo 2 brought it in as an uncompressed .SVG file into email. The same file zipped (using WinZip 8.1) was only 800 KB. User Interface

The user interface in Grafigo 2 (which you can see in many of the screenimages in this article) looks more like a standard business application and less like the "graphic artist's workspace" of Grafigo 1. Grafigo 2 provides a lot of control over the visual appearance and organization of the workspace. You can do any of the following:

  • Dock or undock toolbars
  • Hide or change the size of toolbars
  • Change the size of toobar buttons
  • Add a background color
  • Add a large or small grid
  • Hide or display the grid
  • Change the color of the grid

Difficult Layers

The most difficult aspect of using Grafigo 2 is understanding how to use and manipulate the layers. This is where it gets close to being more like a traditional graphics application. A Grafigo 2 drawing can be made up of multiple layers, each containing a portion of the drawing's contents. There can be one or more underlays (images), the document workspace itself that can include ink strokes and text frames, and one or more onionskins (overlays), each of which can include ink strokes and text frames. Layers can be moved relative to each other, for example, an underlay can be moved and placed on an onionskin. Onionskins can be hidden, made more or less transparent, or have their color changed. The rules describing where ink can be located in the layer structure, how copy and paste works between layers, how to intermix layers of ink and text, and other such topics are even more complex. Figuring out how to make best and practical use of this structure is very difficult, to say the least. The Grafigo 2 User's Guide helps a little, but not much. While most of the product is relatively simple to learn with some assistance from the built-in Help, a few tutorial exercises would be a huge benefit in this area.
SVG Viewer
Corel released an updated SVG Viewer along with Grafigo 2. The Viewer is a browser plug-in that supports SVG files, much like a PDF plug-in supports PDF files. The primary visible enhancement in the SVG Viewer is a toolbar that helps navigate multi-page documents.


Collaboration in Grafigo 1 was limited to Microsoft NetMeeting, which isn't a very commonly used application. Grafigo 2 adds support for Microsoft Peer-to-Peer (P2P) collaboration technology [ click here for a brief introduction]. Although Microsoft Peer-to-Peer (P2P) technology requires the Advanced Networking Pack in Windows XP Service Pack 1 (included in version 1.0 of Windows XP Tablet PC Edition), it doesn't require a "helper" application such as NetMeeting. Grafigo 2 users can directly connect to each other via any available medium.

In order to begin an initial collaboration session, everyone must send their User Identifier File (UIF) to the "host" user via email (or via file sharing, if the collaboration session exists on a single wired or wireless network). The UIF contains the user's display name, P2P ID and various other technical data. UIF information is stored in a "contact list" in Grafigo 2, which allows easy reuse. Once all the UIF files are received, the host user issues collaboration invitations to the "guest" users (the invitations automatically include the host's UIF). Once the session starts, the document in the host's workspace is displayed in the workspace of all the guests. Any changes made on one computer appear on all the others. During a session, only the host can open underlays and draw in the workspace (i.e., on the original document). All the guests must draw on onionskins (overlays) that they create. At the end of the session, all of the guests' onionskins become part of the original document. During a session, each user can set a "presence" indicator that shows whether he is available. A user can participate in only one collaboration session at a time.


Corel has made a big step forward with Grafigo 2. The application holds a lot of promise as a general-purpose, broadly applicable, document review and annotation program. The top three enhancements include (1) the ability to import almost any file, (2) new and improved annotation tools, and (3) expansion of "shape recognition" into a full-fledged "drawing assistance" function. With the exception of the details of the layering architecture, Grafigo 2 is quite easy to learn. Most of the creation and annotation tools work well and are suited for their function, except for the text editing capability, which is crippled by the limit of a single, application-wide font setting. Corel is one of the first, if not the first, company to implement Microsoft's latest Peer-to-Peer technology for collaboration; the resulting functionality is relatively easy to use (compared, for example, to Groove Networks' collaboration program). For an enterprise user (i.e., knowledge worker), Grafigo 2 makes sense and is worth the money.


Grafigo 2 is available today via Electronic Software Download (ESD) from Corel. A 15-day trial version is offered; the product retails for $99 (USD) or $149 (CDN).

Based in Silicon Valley, Geoff Walker is a consultant with Walker Mobile, LLC. Geoff has worked on the engineering and marketing of mobile computers since 1982 at GRiD Systems, Fujitsu Personal Systems (now Fujitsu PC) and Handspring. He can be contacted at

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