Magazine Article


Software as Photo Accessories

Adobe Creative Suite 3
Adobe Creative Suite 3
ProShow Producer
ProShow Producer
Dfine 1.0
Dfine 1.0

So okay, we've entered our second decade of digicams, and everyone suddenly realizes we're not selling customers their first photo CD anymore. Fast-forward to now, and the customer has 12 jillion digipix all over Drive C. What shall the customer do with said pix? Ah, perhaps we can make a suggestion.

When you say you're making a slideshow, it's like saying you're making a house. Would that be birdhouse, doghouse, or mansion?

At its simplest, a slideshow is a collection of pictures in no particular order, presented one after another with, maybe, a bed of music. At its most sophisticated, a slideshow is a potent and eloquent storytelling device accomplishing ambitious ends. As narrative media, slideshows can be equated with full-motion videos, but they take less to shoot and to edit. The learning curve for a good video-editing program is fairly steep, but you can pick up the best slideshow programs in, probably, an evening.

The idea of "making a slideshow" is not as ingrained in the present market as, say, its hard-copy counterpart, scrapbooking. There are whole magazines on that subject, but a screened version of the family album is still a bit of a novelty. It will probably remain so until someone whispers in the market's ear. Epson probably sells more printers than projectors, but they do sell both.

Chicken or Egg?

What comes first, a product or the demand for it? History shows variations, but the best answer is: they should both come at once. If you're going to make a slideshow, you need not only affordable presentation systems, but articulate authoring systems as well—software that permits more than random pictures to random music. That's been a bit tough to find until recently, but at the February PMA show there were at least two lines of software that deliver the kind of features the serious-minded could enjoy.

We've spoken before about ProShow Producer, the Photodex release whose methods of working and whose versatility come very close to what sophisticated producers could accomplish with small presentation systems in the analog age. What they couldn't get back then, but can through ProShow Producer, is the ability to animate the slides—to pan across them, zoom in or out, bringing new expressive dimensions to that thousand-year-old art. The welcome news at the PMA show was that the latest version of the program dispenses with the "USB key," needed to make the software work.

Also at PMA was a Mac-based program that apparently echos ProShow Producer's Windows-only talents. Developed by a German company by the name of Boinx, FotoMagico appears to give extended attention to control over timing of the show. How long a picture remains on the screen, and the pace of transitional effects that bring it there and remove it—all bear their influences on what it all "means."

The slideshow authoring programs, like the various Photoshop spheres, output to all the major web and video formats. When you make a slideshow today, there's no telling where it'll wind up.

Hard-Boiled Truth

But no matter where within it you reside, the world is a tough place. The unsavory truth is being shouted from the rooftops, though folks seem to hear just whispers. Attention, shoppers: hard-disk drives can fail. As they used to say back in the old days, it's not if, it's when. Back up on CDs? Fake out! They go bad, too.

A drive crash was a big problem back in the days when large drives had 40-megabyte capacities. Now 80-to 250-gigabyte drives are more or less standards on home computers, and plenty of bigger ones—up to 2-terabytes—are on sale. If you lose data in loads like that, you've lost loads of data. Somebody turns on the dishwasher in the next room and zap—every picture of your kid growing up is gone.

Or is it?

It's amazing how much of a crashed disk is just fine. Depending on circumstances, more or less file data may have been corrupted in the crash, but it's less surprisingly often. The first thing that seems to go is the record of the file structure, which tells the operating system how to read the drive. But there are markers throughout the disk that trace the path of that record, and that can rig up a replacement with the surviving data copied to another drive.

The same thing that happens to disk drives also happens to CDs, and maybe to DVDs. CDs we burned in 1997—high-quality ones, Kodak-branded with InfoGuard—are giving us "missing file" error messages. We don't know exactly what happened, but somehow the file record got messed up. We found our way to Arrowkey, which produces a program called CD/DVD Diagnostic. It does in effect to CDs what the hard-disk recovery programs (we use GetDataBack) do to hard drives—it reconstructs the file structure, then copies it and the intact files to another disk drive.

Using these recovery programs requires a couple of things. One is an extra disk drive to copy the recovered data to. An extra computer dedicated to the process is probably not a bad idea either, since the recovery process tends to monopolize computer resources, and can take anywhere from hours to days, depending. Although the programs are self-tending during much of the recovery process, they do require occasional attention.

With issues such as these, it's uncertain where the most active market for recovery systems might be. Should customers buy the programs and necessary resources and conduct the recoveries themselves? Or should retailers provide the service? If so, under what pricing structure?