10 May 2009

Digital archiving: ThumbsPlus

Version explored: 8 beta 3

I have used version 7 of ThumbsPlus (T+) for five years, and was reasonably happy with my choice until halfway through my previous attempt at keywording my images. However it would be unfair to say my discontent was caused by the program itself. It was just that I found the job so boring that my mind frequently began to wander, wondering how T+ could be improved.

As it turns out, Cerious.com has implemented a lot of nice new features in the coming version 8, and some parts of my wishlist has been granted.

1. Magic words
Drag & drop for keywording works both ways with T+. Drop a keyword onto files, or drop files onto a keyword. I like that. In addition, there is a comprehensive tool for managing keywords. It has also picked up on XMP, so potentially the keywords could be compatible with other imaging software. Further, it simplifies keywording on the raw files directly.

Support for hierarchical keywords will be added to version 8. Here's a quote from the Release Notes:

  • Lengthened keyword size to 255 characters, with the ability to define categorical keywords, such as "Animal\Dog". The keyword list will be available in tree format easier handling during assignment.

Unfortunately, this doesn't work in the beta 3 version, so I can't make any assessment of it.

2. Version handling and bundling
T+ does not support any of this.

3. Backup, restore, and migration
T+ comes with support for many different database engines. The simplest one is actually a royalty-free Microsoft Access database, which can be backed up by ordinary file copying as long as T+ is not running when you make the backup. For more advanced database engines, you'll need a dedicated tool to make backups. I use MySQL, and rely on making database dumps to file which then gets backed up with the rest of the backup-worthy files on my system, but this assumes a geek factor that's probably too high for many.

And this is one area where T+ falls short because it does not provide any integrated backup. You have to set it all up using other software. Not a big deal if you know what you're doing and remember to do it frequently, but it's a hassle.

Restore is, of course, dictated by the routines you have set up for your backup. The upside of this, however, is that T+ is quite flexible when it comes to migration to new hardware. You have to retain the filesystem folder structure of your old disk, but that's just about all. Nice and simple. The only additional thing it requires is that you assign the same label to the disk as you had before the migration. Ie., if the hard drive of your old system was labeled "System" before the drive letter in Windows Explorer, it should be named the same way on your new system. The drive letter itself doesn't matter, just the label. Saved my ass once, this feature... :-)

4. Support for offline archives
The only features T+ provides to this end is an "import" and an "export" function that can assimilate or dump a text file containing selected fields from the database. Selecting the full range, you can have all the metadata stored in the database except the Galleries.

Galleries (equal to albums in Adobe nomenclature) are very convenient for visual grouping of related images. The manual warns against using Galleries for anything but temporary assemblages, but in practice it's terribly easy to let such structures become at least semi-permanent. However, T+ is neither better or worse than the other programs for overlooking the Galleries in export/import routines. And it's not a terribly big deal. Keywords and categories are much better for organising than Galleries anyway.

T+ can not branch out a portion of its archive for use on a laptop, and it can not add a branch to its main archive. What it can do, however, is to automatically import IPTC metadata from newly found files (see below). I assume this will apply to XMP too, when this becomes fully supported in the production release of version 8.

5. other stuff
T+ is a vigilant little piece of software. It looks out for changes in the folders you tell it to monitor, and updates its own database automatically. It will add new images and update thumbnails and metadata after edits. This is one of the things I really like with T+. It saves me from being mindful about telling the program to update such things.
I also like the interface in T+. Granted, it's old fashioned enough to look like something designed for Windows 95 or thereabouts, but it's clean and efficient.

T+ is usually also very quick to release support for new raw files. The only exception to the rule is K20D. Basically, I was told in the support forum that they didn't care since the camera supports DNG raw format.

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