Managing Photo Libraries: Part 2

This is a followup to my previous post. I’ve been taking a look at some other software applications for organising libraries of photos. This time I’ll write about ACDSee7, ThumbsPlus 7 and Adobe’s Organizer (included as part of Photoshop Elements).

First, let me state a groundrule that I have adopted: I insist that any organising software will respect any EXIF, IPTC and XMP metadata that may be stored in the image file itself. I am not interested in any image metadata being stored away in a proprietary format in the organising software itself. That way lies painting oneself into a corner down the road… However, I will accept an organiser that copies metadata from image files into its own database for performance reasons, so long as the database and the image files metadata content are kept in sync transparently (i.e. it takes no effort on my part).

So, with that groundrule in mind, I can instantly reject consideration of ACDSee 7. Yes, it can read and write EXIF metadata, but does not handle either IPTC or XMP. Instead it stores keyword metadata only in its own database. Sorry, guys, but ACDSee is not for me.

Next up is ThumbsPlus 7 from Cerious Software. I’ve actually been using ThumbsPlus 5 for years – since the days of Windows 95, when image handling by the operating system was in its infancy, and needed a boost from applications such as ThumbsPlus. Now, I quite like ThumbsPlus – it’s fast and flexible, but on balance I don’t think it’s for me. The reasons are that the program has “grown like Topsy” over the years, and now it has so many bells and whistles that I have no use for. It’s as though I can no longer see the wood for the trees. In addition, although it can read and write IPTC metadata, it does not use IPTC keywords by default, but stores user keywords in its own database. It is possible to set up synchronisation of these internal keywords and IPTC keywords. However, if you want to search on other IPTC metadata, then you need to define your own user fields in the ThumbsPlus database, and set up mapping between these and IPTC fields. While this can be done, it’s not very convenient, and it means that right from the word go, I’m having to delve into an application instead of concentrate on the task at hand.  In addition, it does not yet support XMP metadata at all. So, close – but no cigar.

And then we come to Adobe’s Organizer. First, the good thing: the editor in Photoshop Elements is excellent, so for manipulating your digital images, it is likely to have all the power that most people are looking for. But I actively hate the Organizer with a passion. I find it an appalling and clunky piece of software. Adobe should be ashamed of themselves for releasing this on to the market. And they have no excuse, it’s not as though this has been their first foray into this area. It’s clearly meant as Adobe’s Photoshop Album on steroids – but instead they have created a Frankenstein’s monster. Why don’t I like it? Let me count the ways:

  1. Browsing through the library.
    Scrolling through a library of thumbnails should be as smooth as silk. Indeed, on my PC, that is exactly the experience I have with Picasa 2. Rolling the mouse thumbwheel produces a smooth scroll of the thumbnails. With Organizer, on the other hand, it’s like strobe lights in a disco. Everything jumps around wildly leading to a deeply frustrating experience. There is no smoothness at all.
  2. Integration with the underlying Folder structure of Windows.
    If I rename a folder with the Windows Explorer, it’s instantly reflected in Picasa. Organizer remains blind to any changes – and I still haven’t found any way to update the Folder structure within Organizer to match the underlying Windows structure. Please don’t tell me I’ve got to delete the catalogue and recreate it. I do have folders being watched in Organizer, but this seems to mean “watch the contents – and ignore any changes to the folder names”.
  3. Integration with the underlying Windows platform
    Organizer totally ignores the Windows Regional Settings. To get the European date format of dd-mm-yyyy (which is how I work), I have to press CTRL-ALT-SHIFT-D. Hello? What planet are Adobe’s developers from?
    Even simple things like respecting the Windows GUI guidelines would be nice. Example: I come back from a day’s photography with a hundred photos on my compact flash card. Plug it into my reader, and the Organizer shows me the photos and asks me to select the ones I wish to import into Organizer. Ah, I think, I can Shift-Click to select them all – no, says Organizer, you have to select every single one individually. Screw you, I say…
  4. Backup of the library
    The Organizer’s idea of making a backup is to take a hierarchical set of folders and their contents, copy and rename every file into a flat structure (bang goes your carefully constructed folder hierarchy) and toss in a copy of the catalogue database. What is this? I call it totally braindead.
    Picasa, on the other hand, deals with CD/DVD and Server backups in a totally logical fashion, recreating the folder structure and copies of the content on the selected backup medium. Wonderful, simple, works.
  5. Dealing with IPTC/XMP metadata
    Editing the metadata with a tool such as PixVue is instantly reflected in Picasa. Organizer remains blind to any changes. Once again, I have no idea how to kick Organizer into recognising that something has changed outside of its own little world. I also have the uncomfortable feeling that Organizer’s tags are just copies of some of the original IPTC tags when a file is first imported, and it’s not a complete mapping. For example, origin data such as sub-location, city, state and country data seem to be ignored.

As you can tell, I am really not impressed with Organizer 🙂

So where does this leave me? No tool I’ve looked at so far is perfect from my perspective, but the combination of Picasa 2 (for organising and searching – it searches IPTC/XMP metadata) and PixVue (for editing image metadata) is looking to be the front runner. And both tools are free software.

Picasa 2 does have bugs, and its biggest current drawback is that while it will list all folders, it will not display the folder tree. This is in keeping with Google’s philosophy that folder trees are “a bad thing”. However, judging by the anguished screams from Picasa users in the support forums, I suspect that Google may reconsider this. I certainly hope so. At the end of the day, it comes closest to what I’m looking for.

About Geoff Coupe

I'm a British citizen, although I have lived and worked in the Netherlands since 1983. I came here on a three year assignment, but fell in love with the country, and one Dutchman in particular, and so have stayed here ever since. On the 13th December 2006 I also became a Dutch citizen.
This entry was posted in Photography. Bookmark the permalink.

15 Responses to Managing Photo Libraries: Part 2

  1. Michael says:

    It didn’t occur to me until later, but what’s driven you to the need to support three types of metadata? Aside from the migration work of standardizing on one format, is there a reason not to move to only one of the three metadata formats?

  2. Geoff says:

    Horses for courses. EXIF is metadata focused on information about the picture itself: camera shutter speed, exposure, etc. IPTC and XMP are focused on metadata about the subject of the photograph: topic, location, photographer, etc. IPTC is an earlier standard that has been in use by the press agencies since the 1980s – so there’s a large installed base. However, it’s not easily extensible. Enter XMP, which is an XML-based successor to IPTC. Ultimately, I expect the survivors to be EXIF and XMP, but IPTC is going to hang around for a number of years yet.

  3. Richard says:

    Hmmm… I’m reading this a bit late but have you tried IMatch <;.They have a 30 day trial and seem to cover everything I need. The interface is not as intuitive as the others but once you get past that this thing is powerfull. One of the drawbacks of Picasa is no support for offline images. You can’t catalog a bunch of CDs or DVDs and expect to browse the thumbnails and know where to find your image.

  4. Geoff says:

    Richard – yes, I have tried IMatch (see my blog entry on March 8). You say "the interface is not as intuitive as the others" – there’s an understatement if ever I saw one! It may be powerful, but I really couldn’t be bothered with having to forego decent interface design.PicaJet, by comparison, is much more intuitive – and it does support offline libraries of CD/DVD material. The makers are also planning to add support for file versioning, which I find increasingly important.There’s another product I recently came across: idImager, which has support for versioning. It’s fairly similar to PicaJet in many respects, and so I’m looking hard at both.Picasa, as you say, does have some limitations. Where it scores (and scores highly in my opinion) is in the speed of its searches and ease of browsing. I will continue to keep an eye on it in the hope of further imporvements.

  5. Roel says:

    Just like you, I’ve been looking around for a good annotation/tagging tool combined with a good organizer/viewer/browser.Me too i very much like Picasa2 and hope they’ll listen to a cry of there users.* allow "SAVE" to picture. Altough it’s nice that they keep track of most image operations in the picasa.ini file. Sometimes, you just want to persist you changes into the picture.* Offline browsing. If you have pictures stored on a network drive that get’s disconnected. Don’t dare to startup picasa because you loose all your thubmnails, and the internal database is emptied. Reconnecting the network drive will result in slowly rebuilding the whole database again. * Tagging an Annotation is fairly good, but i wish they would support edting all the XMP metadata info. -> that’s where indeed pixvue comes in handy. And if you dare to use another tool to add/edit the iptc/xmp data. Picasa does not want to see those changes.I do like the PSE3 organizer. But only for the easy Drag and Drop of tags. And the (internal) hiearchical organisation of those tags. A pity though that the hierarchy is not added in the XMP also.And altough there seems to be a Write Tag info to file. I have tried that (and verified ith pixvue) but that does not seem to work. So i’m currently writing a little app to write all my tagging info (2 year of hard labelling work), into the XMP (and IPTC) metadata. The PSE3 catalogs are plain simple Access DB’s so all the labelling info can be easily retrieved.* Saving thumbnail info INTO the XMP:thumbnail : Do you know of any organizing software that makes use of that [read and write].

  6. Geoff says:

    Roel – good luck with an app to work with Organizer – particularly if you can add batch read/write operations for XMP data. I don’t know of an application that will add thumbnail info into XMP metadata yet, but you might want to take a look at Picajet ( and ask the same question on the Picajet forums. While at the moment, version 2 of Picajet only reads XMP, I know that they are working on version 3 which will have support for writing XMP. The developers are very responsive, so they are interested in good suggestions for their product’s direction. Cheers.

  7. francois says:

    thanks for the very good infos.I agree with you – photo managing softwares don’t use XMP enough. I am using PixView + Adobe Bridge, from Adobe Photoshop CS 2. They can read/write XMP data. PixView is still better than bridge to add metadata.

  8. Geoff says:

    Francois, interesting to read that you still use PixVue, even though you have Adobe’s Bridge. PixVue is a really elegant little program – and it’s free! I can’t justify the cost of PhotoShop CS2 and Bridge to myself, so I’m making do with PhotoShop Elements 4.0. And here too, Adobe don’t make it easy to manipulate metadata. For example, you can’t apply metadata in batches (as you can with PixVue) – you have to do it individually file by file.

  9. Pingback: Flickr Adds IPTC Support | Geoff Coupe's Blog

  10. Pingback: Metadata Woes | Geoff Coupe's Blog

  11. Pingback: Managing Photo Libraries – Part 5 | Geoff Coupe's Blog

  12. Pingback: Managing Photo Libraries – Part 6 | Geoff Coupe's Blog

  13. Pingback: What’s Wrong With Adobe? | Geoff Coupe's Blog

  14. Pingback: Windows Photo Gallery on Vista Beta 2 | Geoff Coupe's Blog

  15. Pingback: Usability – Take Two | Geoff Coupe's Blog

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s