Extensis Portfolio Server 8.5 full review

Whether you’re a designer, a photographer, a digital artist or someone who enjoys experimenting with a compact camera, file sprawl is a serious and distracting side effect of digital creativity. Extensis Portfolio is a well-known and popular file-management tool designed to deal with the problem. Portfolio Server is the professional extension that can keep an entire creative collection on a single machine, giving remote networked users a chance to create and share their own catalogues using the Portfolio Client tool.

Portfolio Server is an almost faceless application. There’s an automated start-up process that happens when your Mac starts up, but no configuration options – to change any of the main configuration options you have to edit a text file, which is an odd solution for a professional package.

Server can index remote machines as well as its own files, but works fastest when running on the same machine as the file library. Versions of both client and server are available for Mac and PC, so there are no problems picking a combination that matches your existing hardware. However, indexing is fairly processor intensive and not particularly fast. According to Extensis, low-res comps and JPEGs are processed at a rate of around 100 images per minute, while Raw files and Tiffs are roughly a tenth of that. To test this we tried indexing a folder with around 4,500 RAW and tiff files, and the process took around four hours, which may disappoint owners of very large collections of images.

Speeds are of course hardware dependent, so top of the line server hardware will work faster than this. Fortunately, indexing only has to be done once. Once folders and volumes are indexed, updates, new additions and edits to files are catalogued much more quickly.

Past the basics, the new arrival in Portfolio Server 8.5 is integration with Version Cue CS3. This relies on the ProjectSync tool which is included with the package. Portfolio can read Adobe metadata, so you can mark up images in Bridge and then collect them into a catalogue with Server. But the compatibility is two-way, and catalogues can be viewed in Bridge. Portfolio tries to tackle some of the shortcomings of Bridge – most obviously its limited cache – and offers a smoother and faster preview environment. Metadata handling is also very much more sophisticated, and it’s possible to automate catalogue creation based on metadata properties, and also to batch edit metadata to suit a company standard – or at least, it is in theory, but it takes a fair amount of time and effort to understand how this is done. Version Cue and Portfolio do different things – there’s no version management on offer in Portfolio, although it’s possible to fake some of the same functionality by enforcing naming and location conventions and choosing metadata to suit.

Corporates meanwhile will be interested in the new automatic watermarking option, which does what it says on the tin, adding optional watermarks to catalogued images. As is usual with a Portfolio update, a new batch of RAW camera formats has been added, including the Canon 1D Mk III and the Nikon D40x.

Awkward pause
Overall, Portfolio Server is a slightly awkward mix of features and functionality. It works as described, but
it could also be much friendlier and easier to set-up and use. It’s a good environment if you don’t mind getting your hands dirty with some slightly opaque configuration options, but it’s not a smart easy-answer tool that will handle all of your cataloguing needs with a few quick clicks. And the rationale for some of the limitations, such as fixed thumbnail sizes, which are limited to either 112 x 112 or 256 x 256, isn’t easy to understand.

Pricing isn’t generous, either. By the time a realistic number of client licences has been added, and perhaps also the NetPublish web-publishing feature, the price tag has started to creep towards five figures. Software has to pay its way, and while it’s easy to imagine high-profile creative businesses getting their money’s worth from Portfolio Server, the proposition for smaller companies seems harder to justify. Overall it feels like a product with plenty of programming but perhaps not quite enough creative input. More time spent watching how real designers work and looking at their needs would make it friendlier, more productive, and better value too.

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