Windows XP as an Image-Management Tool

Like many amateur photographers, I have hundreds, if not thousands, of negatives lying around the house. I don't have prints for every photograph. Instead, I prefer to develop the film, check out the negatives on a lightbox, then scan the negatives that look promising. When I add those scans to pictures I've taken with my various digital cameras, I have nearly 2000 scanned images on servers on my home network.

Most of my image files are organized to some extent, and they're often in directories that provide some clue about their content. But I have one directory called Kids Pix that contains several hundred files, some identified, some not. I also have directories that I named based on the film type I was experimenting with, but every file has the same name with a number added, incremented by one, because I used my scanner software's autonaming feature to save time. I could give you more examples, but let it suffice to say that I have hundreds of stored images with no clue about their content.

I've looked at several image-management programs, but they all wanted me to store images through their interface or store them in some form that they decided was best. Neither solution worked for me. But Windows XP has solved my image-management problems.

Windows XP's Start menu reveals a link to the My Pictures directory, but the available features aren't limited to that directory. The image-management features appear in the left menu pane (labeled Picture Tasks), regardless of where the pictures reside. The accompanying screen shows a link to a network share that contains images; the Picture Tasks context still applies (see figure 1).

Folders that contain images have a View menu on the toolbar that contains an entry labeled Filmstrip. When you select Filmstrip as the way to view the folder, you see a preview of the selected image in the right pane and other images in the folder rendered in a series of small images underneath the selected image. The Picture Tasks menu offers you a series of interesting options:

View as a slide show: All images in the directory are sequentially displayed full screen.

Order prints online: Launches the Online Print Ordering Wizard. This wizard links you to third-party vendors that can make photographic prints of your digital images.

Print this photo: Launches the Photo Printing Wizard, which lets you select a printer and configure the print output. Print options range from full-sized 8 x 10 images to contact sheets.

Set as desktop background: Lets you set an image for your desktop background.

Copy to CD: Adds a copy of the image to a working set that you're burning to CD-R. This option adds an icon to the system tray to show you which pictures you've selected. When you click the system-tray icon, a folder opens that includes the context menu CD Writing Tasks, with options to write the files to CD-ROM or delete the temporary files the system created when you selected the files to write to CD-ROM.

With XP, I can manage all my existing images, in their scattered locations throughout my network; print the images; or burn them to CD CD-ROM. I don't have to change the way I acquire images, whether by digital camera, scanner, or download. I can easily preview images, and I don't have to launch an image-editing tool to keep track of my pictures.

I primarily use a 2.1 megapixel (MP) digital camera that will store 211 1600 x 1200 x 24-bit images on a 128MB CompactFlash (CF) card. If I take a lot of photographs, trying to select which ones to keep is nearly impossible using the camera's tiny screen, and downloading several hundred pictures, even through USB, is time-consuming. But with XP, I just pop the CF card into a CF/PC Card adapter, insert the adapter in my notebook, and use the large notebook screen to examine, copy, or delete pictures in less time than downloading the images to the computer through the USB cable. XP treats the CF as removable media, so you can use any of XP's image-editing features.

If you take a lot of pictures with your digital camera (or plan to), you'll appreciate XP's image-management features, especially if XP supports your particular camera.

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