Why iPhoto Sux.

    I’m a Mac user and I’m I use certain apps in the iLife suite very heavily.iphotolog.png iDVD is excellent as a very simple tool to make a very simple DVD for clients who need something NOW. iMovie has helped me do certain things in ways that the vastly more expensive and capable Final CutPro just can’t.
   iTunes has rocked from version 1. It has been an excellent way to me import, manage, organize and distribute (to MP3 CDs I can play in my car, audio CDs for clients) all my music. The best thing for me is that, not only does iTunes do a very good, simple and logical job of organizing all my imported music (looking my CDs up in the online database, putting them in album folders, organized by artist, etc) but if I want to import something right to the desktop, I can change the default folder, import a CD, and then change it back. This is very useful for downloading podcasts to my desktop and putting them on my Phone for quick trips.
   The problem is iPhoto. As cute as the interface is, it offers absolutely none of the above capabilities.
It’s just another example of how Apple doesn’t get it.
    For instance, iPhoto used to import every photo into a nearly incomprehensible, multi-layered, arcane folder system that no human would deliberately intend to use. And, with the latest versions an iPhoto ’08 (7.0.x), the photo library is stored as a single Package file instead of folders of individual photos. So now, not only is extracting individual images far more difficult, but when you want to back up a few changes, the entire “package” must be re-written instead of only the changes that have been made. If you have lots of high resolution photos, this Package can be huge and take a long time to back up.
   Lets take a an example from my own regular production- a process that I have followed for over five years now that completely hinges on iTunes and how it lets users manage their media exactly how they want to.
   I record a regular live musical performance in Philadelphia. I have been doing this volunteer work for over five years now. I have recorded using Mini Disk, DV tape, DAT, and now Compact Flash. The audio is imported into the computer, separated into tracks, fades in and out are added for each song, they are normalized, and then exported as individual AIFF files with special file names that include (01) name of track (salon10.07) month of event (bachViolin) a brief descriptive element (.aif) suffix.
ituneslog.png I then drag that month’s folder onto iTunes. iTunes doesn’t touch the media, just lets you look at and decide what you want to do with it. This is the first critical difference– iTunes LETS ME MANAGE MY MEDIA my way.
   I then set iTunes default folder to the same folder as the source. I set iTunes to 192 kbps. I tell it to import and, in a matter of a couple minutes, I have a sub folder in that month’s folder of music with all the mp3 files neatly arranged- with the core name I provided- now with an mp3 suffix.
Then I use iTunes to add the mp3 data for artist, song, date, track number, genre and more. all that is embedded into the mp3 files and readable in any player.
   Lastly, I collect that mp3 folder and put it in a master folder with the FIVE YEARS of similarly organized data that I back up on my own server and onto external DVD disks that I give to the organizer of the event.
   At no point does iTunes steal away my media into some ancient Egyptian hieroglyphic organization system making it impossible for me to manually organize and distribute the data exactly as I see fit. At no point does iTunes destroy the organization system that I, as an end user and consumer of Apple products, that I feel I need. And I, as the customer, am always right.
   Then there’s iPhoto. My files get whisked away from the camera, or copied from other media, into some system that makes absolutely no sense. You are forced to rely on iPhoto to organize and distribute your media, except… iPhoto is not designed for distributing the images through any means but a photo album printed by Apple. iPhoto cannot embed useful information into the photos that can be read and utilized in other playback devices, or even an iPod.

   There are hosts of other incredibly problematic issues iiphotolib.pngPhoto has had, like the desire to import EVERY SINGLE PHOTO on the camera EVERY SINGLE TIME it is connected. There was no way to disable that feature until the latest version- version SEVEN! The only option iPhoto gave us was to DELETE all the photos after importing.
   I’m sorry but this was just inexcusable because I, like so many other people I’ve met while traveling, keep a few personal favorites on our cameras (because the flash media I bought is so big) so that I can share images from previous trips with the people I meet.
   I’ve long relied on the software that came with my Canon cameras to import photos I select, and delete only certain photos I select from the camera. I can pick any number, in any order, skipping over any photo I want to keep on my camera. iPhoto couldn’t do that? Nope. And that’s darn stupid.
   I will admit that the new “events” metaphor is better than the old import method of “rolls,” but that’s because the old metaphor was so bad. Zero user configurability.
   I have always organized my own photos by events, trips and happenings. So images from Christmas 2005 is in a folder called Christmas 2005. All the photos from the celebrations around that time are in there. On the other hand, I have a folder called Coverage. This one folder spans some eight years of digital photos of work that I’ve done, or images of me doing that work. I obviously organize this manually because a system based on dates, image number, “rolls,” “events,” or even the type and model of camera doesn’t work- there’s just too wide a disparity of all that data in those images. So I organize my photos manually. I back them up to a server in those same folders so that my wife or anyone else can easily find photos I or she took at a particular event. This is especially important because she is a PC user and there’s no iPhoto for PC so there is absolutely no way for her to understand the rudimentary disk-level organization that iPhoto imparts onto images.
   My digital still can take some big photos. I don’t want to e-mail 3MB per image, so I downsize them in Photoshop to a smaller resolution with a bit more compression. I created an automated action called “smaller” that does this lickety split and appends “sm” onto the smaller photos. so DSC00750.jpg and DSC00750sm.jpg are easily differentiated in the finder.
   Not only does iPhoto NOT tell you the actual file name of the image you are adjusting in iPhoto, but it creates a new folder called “Originals” and puts the original file in there, and creates a new, modified file with… wait for it… THE EXACT SAME NAME. Thankfully it puts this new file in a different folder, but it is this secretive file swap and hidden files that just turns me off completely.
   iPhoto comes across looking like your best friend when it comes to helping you with your photographs, but feels to me more like a mobster hoarding cash in a safe- a black safe in the corner of a dark, dusty basement. You don’t know what’s in there, how it’s arranged, what’s going on, and more importantly, you’re not supposed to ask. Fuggetaboutit.
   The new iPhoto takes this to a new level by embedding all the images into a Apple Package that, while can actually be opened, takes a whole ‘nother layer of end-user confidence. It’s like sneaking into the basement and using a special right-click menu to get into the safe and poke around. At any moment I expect Apple will flip the lights on, catch me, and then it’s “lights out” for Anthony.

   Really, all this is a complete shame because Apple has demonstrated that it can easily build applications that handle media imported the way users want, stored and managed the way users want, and distributed how users want. iTunes should be the example on the wall that the rest of the i-apps aspire to follow. Instead Apple seems to have little enclaves of gangsters with little plans of domination all their own, and nobody is talking to nobody. They don’t understand that their all part of MiLife, not someone else’s life.
   I’d love to use iPhoto more regularly. But until it leaves it’s hands off my photos and lets me decide how things are managed- just like iTunes, then iPhoto will remain the little app that can’t.


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