I have a large collection of images (scanned negatives and digital camera photos)on various computers on my home network. Windows XP's built-in image-management tools have helped me organize and copy these images to CD-ROMs for offline storage. But when I want to share those images, the only help XP offers is the email wizard that lets you resize and send images from the context menu. Creating a collection of images to burn to CD-ROM or share on the Web is still a tedious manual process that tends to discourage me from doing it. Creating thumbnails, building Web pages, or manually creating CD-ROMs isn't how I want to spend my time.
Fortunately, the folks at E-Book Systems have solved this problem. I looked at the company's flagship product, FlipAlbum Professional 4.1. This $149.95 product takes the kitchen-sink approach to creating viewable photo albums of your digital images and even lets you add MPEG-1 or .avi video to those albums (see Figure 1).
The software works well with the storage model I use with XP. I organize my images as I download them from the camera or pull them from the scanner, so I've created folders and subfolders that usually contain a single topic. FlipAlbum Professional lets me create a new book of images by pointing to a folder and letting the software automatically create the book.
By default, the software creates a table of contents and thumbnails of each image. The images are alphabetized, but you can order them any way you like. The software derives the table of contents and image titles from the file names, so if you haven't been using descriptive file names, you'll need to do some editing.
If you simply want to organize your online digital media for your spouse to view, you can create a FlipBook that links to the image files' location. If you want to build a distributable album, the software copies the images you need to one location. The CD Creation Wizard then builds the necessary files to create an AutoRun CD-ROM with all the bits and pieces in a single folder that you can burn to a CD-ROM using the burning software of your choice. Although I have CD-ROM burning software installed on my XP desktop, I used the Send to CD option on the right-click context menu in Windows Explorer to create a distributable photo album.
As a test, I created a multi-album CD-ROM for my father that included individual albums for each of my children. I even included brief video clips from my daughter's latest stage production. The package's total size was approximately 220MB—too large to email or download—so creating a self-executing CD-R was the perfect solution.
FlipAlbum Professional is the top of the company's product line, but two other versions of FlipAlbum are available if you don't need all the features in the Professional version. All versions have a 30-day fully functional trial version and are definitely worth a look if you find yourself inundated with digital images.