Fresh Paint Windows Store app: in equal parts great and frustrating

Now that the initial shock of “where is the Start menu” is wearing off, some of the real issues and points of interest in Windows 8 are coming to the surface (ha!), one of which is what a good Windows Store (also known as Metro) app is meant to look like. Microsoft has not been helped by the fact that most apps in the Store are either simplistic, or poor quality, or both.

In this respect Fresh Paint is worth a look, since it comes from Microsoft and is the outcome of considerable work and research. There is a post about the history of the app on Steve Clayton’s blog which is good reading.

The title cleverly combines the sense of a new approach to Paint, the Windows app from way back, with the fact that this is a simulation of paint (the liquid stuff). I have not found much in the way of documentation, though there is a FAQ here, but even a few moments playing shows that this is a sophisticated painting tool, especially on a tablet where you can paint with a finger or stylus. It works on both x86 and ARM devices such as Surface RT though performance is laggy compared to that on a modern x86 PC, and the pencil and pastel tools are missing.

This is an example of immersive UI. While painting, few tools are visible. As a concession, there are five faint tools at the bottom of the screen for undo, redo, show template, centre artwork, and dry. Right-click or swipe in, and you get tools for selecting the painting tool (pencil, brush or pastel), a colour palette that really is like a palette, with the ability to mix your own colours, an eraser, a dropper tool which I have not fully figured out, and a dry paint tool that picks up wet paint from the canvas.

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Click or tap surface and you can select the canvas type and background colour. The camera button lets you use an image as the background.

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Paintings are saved automatically every five minutes or when you return to the home page. You can also export paintings as .PNG files.

You can zoom in and out using the mouse wheel or pinch gestures.

The app is free, but Microsoft offers paid-for add-in packs which provide templates. You can paint over the template, then use the template tool mentioned above to remove it from the canvas. There is a free Fun Pack to get you started.

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This is not a replacement for the desktop Windows Paint. Features missing in Fresh Paint include selection, fill, cropping, resizing, rotation, clipboard support and printing, to name a few.

Concerning Fresh Paint, three things are obvious.

One is that this is innovative, bold, and excellent in the way it lets you paint in a manner that is much closer to the real thing than most computer graphics software.

Second, users are having real difficulty figuring it out. Some users have not worked out how to get the menus and tools showing at all, hence this is explained in the FAQ mentioned above. Others are like Terry Odell who says:

The problem I have is there’s no "help" or "right click to figure out what things do" in the app. It’s total trial and error, and perhaps if I were 5 like my grandson, I’d be able to figure it out. There are choices on the top of the screen, and more choices/icons on the bottom. The camera on the bottom opens up the ‘real’ camera on my computer, but there’s no ‘click here to take a picture’ (not to mention I have no idea what to do with one.  I’d rather see a tutorial of some sort than have to keep wading through forums to get a question answered. As for ‘dropdown’ I have no idea where that is? The top menu? The bottom menu. Windows 8 is hardly intuitive, and the apps, while great in theory, don’t have enough information provided for how to use them.

It is as if not having documentation is a point of pride, because the app should be so easy to use that documentation is not needed, and if the user does not get it, it is the user’s fault. It puzzles me, since it in a few hours the team could provide some simple documentation that would help users get the best from this app.

Third, it is not stable. I got several crashes in the course of playing around briefly to write this post.

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Why is it crashing? There are hints that it may be to do with graphics drivers. I have the latest NVIDIA drivers and other apps and games are solid. It would be interesting to know the reason why it falls over so much, and whether this is caused by buggy app code or problems in the Windows Runtime itself. It is not just my system; take a look at the reviews in the Windows Store for more reports.

I do not mean to be snarky; in many ways this is a brilliant app both for children and for anyone with some artistic talent. It just needs a little more work, and seems to say a lot about the state of Windows 8 apps right now.

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5 comments to Fresh Paint Windows Store app: in equal parts great and frustrating

  • Nico

    Shouldn’t these issues have… surfaced in tests with users? Actually, that’s the same question I have WRT the Metro (or whatever is called now) interface.

  • Jason Agostoni

    My kid has been using this on my Surface for a while now and while our version has never crashed I do see her get a little frustrated sometimes trying to pull down the menu. Otherwise, she has not had and issue using in.

    This is certainly something Microsoft will need to tweak kong forward, some users just aren’t going to get the new gestures on Wndows 8.

  • it’s not a concession to have hints for icons; it’s a deliberate design decision to concentrate on the canvas as a surface for paint and have affordances for opening tools. Have you looked at Autodesk Sketchbook and ArtRage on iPad – very similar choices to give you a painting area that’s not cluttered with tools. In general, Windows Store apps ‘hide’ secondary functions because the principle of Metro is to put the primary tools and functions on screen because you’re doing one thing at a time, and to put the other, secondary things in the app bar and Settings charm – they’re discoverable because they’re always in the same place, they’re not in the way of the main function.

  • Hi. I’m on the Fresh Paint team. Thanks for your post, and for highlighting what you love and where we could do better.

    I saw that you ran into a problem running Fresh Paint. Would you mind sending mail to fpfeedback@microsoft.com with the details of what happened when you got the error? We’d love to look into that. Also, if you haven’t already, would you check to see if there are any updates for you in the Store. That may fix the issue.

    Thanks,

    Aaron

  • Niclas Lindgren

    Here you can see it in action

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BTmeXL8T6TQ

    On a quite interesting slate as well