Image Management with F-Spot

Manage your ocean of images with F-spot.

Images. Oodles and oodles of images. Images coming out of your ears. Images scattered all over your hard drive. Images added daily from digital cameras, scanners, web pages, email attachments. Images everywhere, relentlessly growing in numbers! How can your organize such an insane glut of images? Help!

In the last few years, a variety of tools have made their debut, all designed to help computer users manage the surfeit of JPEGs that everyone seems to be accumulating in ever-greater numbers. Mac OS X users have iPhoto (http://www.apple.com/ilife/iphoto/), which possesses that usual Apple combination of power and elegance. Windows users have Picasa (http://picasa.google.com), Google’s ultra-slick, newly-free entry into photo-management. (Rumor is that Picasa runs under WINE, but you didn’t hear that one here). But what about devotees of the Penguin? Do they have anything like Picasa or iPhoto?

In typical open source fashion, there are several options available for Linuxers, and they range in quality from “Just started, Give ‘em a chance,” to “pretty good,” to “sucks.” For instance, KDE users have Digikam (http://www.digikam.org), which is slick and full-featured. gThumb (http://gthumb.sourceforge.net) is a fast, powerful GNOME- based image viewer and organizer. And if you live on the Web, Flickr (http://www.flickr.com) is an excellent web-based social software service for managing photos, probably the best option for those with broadband and the desire to share their work.

One of the programs that’s been garnering a lot of attention over the last few months is F-spot, a Mono- based photo manager. It needs a lot of work, but is still quite usable today, and it’s very promising. It could grow to be the one true photo manager for Linux — if some changes are made and some features are added.

Check to see if F-spot isn’t already included with your distribution by running whereis f-spot (SUSE 9.3 users, for instance, already have a recent version of the software). If you don’t have it, download a binary from the usual sources for your distro. Debian users can always use apt-get install f-spot (although it seems that the version located in the “Unstable” group has some issues, so stick with the version found in Sarge for now). If you want to compile from source, visit F-spot’s web site at http://www.gnome.org/projects/f-spot/.

When you first open F-spot, it prompts to import your images. However, it’s not really importing the images themselves, but instead adding the locations of the pictures to the program’s database. Needless to say, this can be a bit confusing. It’d be better to prompt for a directory for a repository, scan that location, and then place all future imported images into that location.

F-spots interface should be pretty familiar to those who’ve used iPhoto or Flickr. Like those applications, F-spot is centered around a timeline that shows when photos were taken and allows a user to jump to any date. Unfortunately, there’s no easy way to jump forward or backward on the timeline, so the user is forced to scroll forrrrevvvverrrr right or left.

Simple image editing tools are provided, but more are needed. Digikam, for example, has F-spot beat, with options that are more intuitive, especially for a novice. The overall speed of F-spot is good, which is definitely a plus.

The ability to tag pictures with key words, thus making it easier to sort, find, and display images, has become an essential feature of photo management programs. Unfortunately, F-spot makes tagging difficult. Flickr makes it incredibly easy to simply type in tags, or choose from a hyperlinked list of formerly-used keywords with just a click. F-spot, on the other hand, forces you to laboriously create sub-categories and tags (and the distinction is not obvious at all) and apply them to pictures by right-clicking and choosing from a submenu or by clicking on checkboxes. Yuck. How 1997.

F-spot’s documentation needs a lot of work, because there isn’t any.

If this program wants to appeal to a wider audience, it’s got to build on its base. F-spot isn’t a bad program — it’s just young. Keep an eye on it, but in the meantime, don’t be afraid to play with the other image management applications available on Linux, and be sure to give Flickr a try. Flickr is powered by Apache and Linux, always a sure sign of a smart company.

R. Scott Granneman teaches at Washington University in St. Louis, consults for Bryan Consulting, and writes for SecurityFocus and Linux Magazine. His latest book, Don’t Click on the Blue E!:Switching to Firefox, has just been published. You can reach him at class="emailaddress">scott@granneman.com.

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