Picture perfect

Introduction

Of all recent technologies, digital cameras have probably brought the greatest gains – and the biggest headaches. On the one hand, no more film, development costs and wasted time waiting for photos to arrive. On the other, a storage and cataloguing nightmare. Most hard drives should be X-rated, for while projects may start within a dedicated folder, they inevitably end up as an unsorted mess. Digital asset-management is the name of the game – and Extensis Portfolio is a serious contender for king of the hill. Portfolio is essentially a database application that allows you to organize, catalogue, share, and distribute any kind of media file. But such a description does it a grave injustice – for it has many, unique features. Portfolio 5 added Web publishing, SQL connectivity, and Digimarc Watermarking to an already full-featured product. The latest version takes this a step further, boasting an improved interface and search facilities, plus a slew of features. Portfolio was always easy to use, but its filing system was distinct from the Mac’s. FolderSync solves that by using ‘hot folders’ in its Folder View to mirror the hierarchical system on your hard drive. Add items, and they appear automatically in the catalogue in bold. A click of the Sync button brings up a dialog showing the changes since that catalogue was last used, and the option to re-sync to the Mac’s current situation. Even better, the mirroring is a two-way affair – moving items between Portfolio folders also moves them physically in the Mac’s actual locations – and deleting them works both ways. For added ease, a dedicated Contextual Menu lets you reveal the specific location of a folder. Express delivery
There’s nothing more disruptive and frustrating than not being able to find a specific image when it’s needed. Portfolio has its own answer to this: Portfolio Express. A standalone application, it offers a floating palette that’s available from any program. Simply choose a catalogue and drag-&-drop the image into, say, a QuarkXPress image-frame. Alternatively, it can be drag-&-dropped into a specific folder, or double-clicked to open for editing. The cataloguing process has generally been improved. When adding items to a catalogue, they can be renamed, assigned keywords and physically moved or copied in one fell swoop. This is particularly useful for owners of digital cameras with the additional option of extracting EXIF metadata (the image settings many cameras save as part of the JPEG files). Extensis has also made good use of the Mac’s Contextual Menu system – to the point that items can be added to a catalogue, or a new catalogue created, without first launching the application. The collect and output facility offered by most preflighting programs has been a real boon to DTP, and Extensis has its own version of this for Portfolio. Collect & Publish gathers up all images within a catalogue (retaining the folder structure if desired), copies them to a new folder, creates a new catalogue, and even adds a copy of Portfolio Browser for good measure. Voilà: ready for burning to CD. For a single image, there’s the new function of emailing directly from a catalogue. The Web-publishing side has also been improved. A set of impressive templates take the drudgery out of preparing Web pages, and allows you to preview the pages in your Web browser. Sites can be created with low-resolution images linked to original files for clicking-&-viewing. For those who need more power, there’s PortWeb, a free Web-server plug-in. Anyone who has tried running a network of Macs through the standard AppleShare will appreciate that a managed server, such as AppleShare IP, is a much better solution. The equivalent server/clients solution that Extensis offers is Portfolio Server 6 – without which workgroups in excess of ten or so will see a serious slowdown in network speed. Included as standard are five clients, and more can be added for future-proofing. Aside from offering network-speed improvements, especially through its support of TCP/IP, Portfolio 6 Server can be administered from any Mac. This includes creating catalogues for serving, making them available to users, and logging users off. The server can also be scripted via AppleScript or Visual Basic for custom solutions, and the separately available Portfolio SQL Connect program allows Portfolio Server to act as a front-end for SQL (structured query language) databases.
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