Elsewhere, Xtreme 5 incorporates the snazzy web creation features we liked so much in Xara Web Designer and comes with a bunch of good-looking templates on the CD which makes it a fine way to knock up sites quickly.
It also includes the Object Gallery, which divides large sites and documents into pages and layers so you can zip around and drill down into them more easily; this replaces the old, rather cumbersome Layers Gallery.
Another key new feature is content-aware scaling which allows you to change the aspect ratio of a photograph (for example changing it from landscape to portrait) without stretching or squashing those elements of the content that are most important. Thus, if you've got two people playing guitar on a porch with dead space between them, Xtreme will squeeze out that space while keeping the people intact; it's even possible to mask a section of the picture so that it's not affected at all during re-scaling. Used judiciously, this is a cracking feature and a real time-saver.
Add a selection of small but useful improvements to the way Xtreme handles text (font embedding for swapping files with other Xara users, anchored graphics that are ‘joined' to a particular section of text, tidier general text handling all round) and you've got a fine, competitively priced all-round graphics program, and one that's a worthwhile upgrade (£29 inc. VAT) for existing Xtreme users.
The Pro version (£199 inc. VAT) adds several meatier features like support for colour separations, Pantones, PDF/X export, and the ability to save files as Microsoft XPS documents; and there's also support for multi-core processors, HD photo import and a utility for stitching panoramas together. Even so, it seems a hefty leap in price from the standard version and you'll need to consider if you really need those extras; upgrading from Xtreme Pro 4 for £49 inc. VAT is a less difficult decision.
For reasons best known to itself, Xara has missed yet another opportunity to re-think the various Galleries which still look like they were designed by a VisualBASIC trainee in about 1950 and remain bizarrely difficult to use. Similarly, some of the buttons on the horizontal toolbar - why should the Design Gallery be represented by a pair of scissors? - could do with a makeover to drag them into 2009.
For the price of the standard version you get a program that will create pro-level graphics quickly and precisely (even if you can't draw for toffee) can handle most photo editing jobs, make simple DTP-style newsletters and create web sites. The Pro version is a harder buying decision, but Xtreme 5 gets an unequivocal thumbs up.
To get your full, free copy of Xara Xtreme 5, first point your browser at the DownloadCREW Giveaway website. You won’t need an account or login to download, although you will need to register Xara Xtreme 5 after installation.
To get your serial code, click “Register immediately online” in the Welcome splash screen which appears on first launch. A browser window will then open at the registration page; follow the instructions, and you’ll be emailed an “unlock code”. Copy this into the Welcome screen, click Start Program and your full licensed copy of Xara Xtreme 5 will launch.
Please note, this offer is only valid from 00.00 Friday March 16 to 23.59 Saturday 17 March 2012, Central European Time (CET).