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October 31, 2008

Do your user scenarios fail with catastrophic errors?

While in Japan 2 weeks ago I needed a photo organizing tool for my photos. What I needed was a way to edit the caption and description as well as to add some tags to the photos. I went through a couple of choices described below.

Google Picasa 3

I used Google Picasa for quite a long time and it was my first choice. It is OK for browsing pictures but what I figured out was hard to do was to edit their properties. Let me be clear - it is not hard but it is confusing, and I wasn't sure what the end-effect will be. Finding the actual menu (or button) for the properties was small challenge. As a long time Windows user my first choice was right click menu -> Properties. This brought a pop-up window showing me all kind of "useful" information about the picture, like file name, file size, camera information, aperture and bunch of other things - all of it... READ-ONLY. Good! Now what? From the quick screening of the available buttons on the screen Geo-Tag was the only one that sounded similar to what I wanted to do but I already knew this is not what I was looking for. From my experience with computers I learned that I should let myself be surprised and clicked on the button. Of course it asked me to install Google Earth. No, I am sorry but this is not what I need. Next choice was the menus but the only choice I had there was Picture -> Properties, which brought up the same properties pop-up as above. Now I was stuck and went to my second choice - Windows Explorer, described below.

Few days later I came back to Picasa because I was curious to learn how I can achieve my goals with it and after some more searching I found the following button: image with a tooltip "Tag photo(s) with words for searching". Great! I found it!... Or at least I thought so. It seems that this button allowed me to tag the pictures but only that.  Changing the caption/title (I am not sure whether those are the same?!?!) and adding description is done from other places on the UI or there is no chance to do it at all.

By some reason Picasa saves the Caption in what Vista considers Comments field - Duh!

One more thing I would like to have from a photo organizing tool is to give me a way to easily filter photos that are not tagged, have no titles and most likely use some cryptic filenames. Picasa provides some filtering functionality but I couldn't find a way to get only pictures from specific year for example.

Here is my scenarios checklist for Picasa:

  • Bulk edit - Poor - I can do bulk edit but only the tags
  • Properties edit - Poor - Not concentrated in one place but spread everywhere in the UI
  • Filtering - Poor - Although I may want to filter by face (I am still trying to figure out why this one is the most important) I would like to have richer filtering like date, camera etc.
  • Search - Great - I really admire Google for their search (and may continue to repeat it over and over again); if the picture is tagged you can find it within a second
  • Upload to Web - Poor - works only with Picasa Web (I know, Google wants to push their apps, but... I like Flickr)
  • Easy to achieve your task - Not at all - I had to think a lot
Windows Explorer

My next choice was Windows Explorer. With all the marketing messages you will think it is easy to do lot of things as far as "photos" are concerned. And it is! You can bulk edit, add titles, tags and subject and few other things. What a surprise was when for the same file type I received different properties in the Details Pane. Here the pictures:



They are both JPEGs - why do I get just subset of properties for some pictures? After some thinking (and heavy headache) I figured out that files with longer names have fewer properties shown in the Details Pane. I guess it depends on the screen resolution but on my laptop on 1024x768 the last column of properties was disappearing. More interesting is that together with the last column disappears also the last property from the column before the last. This made me think that there is some idea behind the behavior but... there isn't. Putting this to the side I think Windows Explorer does pretty good job for editing picture properties.

Here the summary:

  • Bulk edit - Very Good - I can select bunch of file and edit every one of their properties at once
  • Properties edit - OK - Right-click -> Properties works well but the bug (or feature) described above makes the editing in the Details Pane annoying
  • Filtering - Non existent - I cannot filter by criteria
  • Search - Poor - It is slow... really slow
  • Upload to Web/Share - Non existent - I don't expect Windows Explorer to be able to upload to Flickr but...
  • Easy to achieve your task - Quite Easy - for Windows user the learning curve is quite steep
Windows Live Photo Gallery

If you are wondering where the title of this post comes just continue reading. I already had Windows Live Writer installed, but I didn't want to install the whole suite because I don't care about the toolbar and Windows Live Hotmail - I don't see any useful functionality in the toolbar and I stopped using Hotmail short after Sabeer Bhatia sold it to Microsoft. Writer I find pretty useful though after I started using it about month and a half ago. Deciding to add the next application to the suite I went to Windows Live Photo Gallery Web page and clicked on Get it Free. Free is cool :) when the installation started I got the following error:


This is CATASTROPHIC ERROR! I am really sorry but the colleagues from Live really screwed it up! How can they imagine that somebody will always install their whole suite? And the error message? It is ridiculous! "Catastrophic failure"? C'mon, can't you guys think of something better? I can imagine my mother seeing this error message - she will run to the next available photo organizing application and just forget about Live Photo Gallery. Few retries didn't solve the problem. Searching in Google and Live Search returns mostly results about failure installing Live Messenger. After some browsing through different message boards and some hard thinking I decided to un-install Writer and install both applications together. Voila! It worked. To be honest I would expect to see this topic as the first one in the troubleshooting notes for Windows Live Suite.

Once again I would like to emphasize - how do people from Windows Live thought that installing applications from the Live Suite one by one is not so common scenario? Why didn't they test that more thoroughly?

After I passed the troubles having Photo Gallery installed I could say this was the software I was looking for. It was missing features like slide show but I still had hover preview and full preview and this was enough for me.

Here is my summary:

  • Bulk edit - Very Good - Right Click -> Properties allows you to edit almost every property
  • Properties edit - OK - Right-click -> Properties works perfect but you can edit only few things in the Info Pane 
  • Filtering - Good - I can filter by tags and date taken, which is very helpful
  • Search - OK - It is comparable to Google search but I was wondering why it differs from Windows Explorer one. One more thing is that it doesn't search among the Tags set by Windows Explorer
  • Upload to Web/Share - Good - I can upload to Windows Live Spaces and... Flickr. Good one, guys!
  • Easy to achieve your task - Quite Easy - I was able to get around with most of the functionality pretty quickly
Adobe Photoshop Album Starter Edition

Adobe PhotoShop is my favorite tool for editing images and I started using it almost 15 years ago. Having this in mind I expected Adobe Photoshop Album Started Edition to be quite sophisticated tool for organizing photos.

After some clicking around I found it pretty easy to tag photos and filer by tags or date taken. Although the controls looked quite strange (sliding control with years as scale) finding out how to do certain things is not so hard. However not all of the image properties could be edited and also different properties are edited from different parts of the UI, which I find not very convenient. Search was completely missing and it seems Adobe put their effort in creating other "useful" features like Messagebox for example, which offers you to "Save $20US on Adobe Photoshop Elements 7". Sure, this is what I was looking for from a photo organizing software!

In general:

  • Bulk Edit - Poor - You can edit only the tags and captions in bulk
  • Properties Edit - Poor - You cannot edit other properties than tags and caption
  • Filtering - Good - Filtering by tags and date taken is quite easy if you get familiar with the controls
  • Search - Non existent - sorry, but I cannot live without this one
  • Upload to Web/Share - Very Good - Send via e-mail, send to mobile phone and share online (including Flickr:)) are all available
  • Easy to achieve your task - Easy - Once again, I needed some time to understand how the UI controls work but after that I was able to do most of the things quite easy

Coming back to my scenario here is what were my prerequisites and goals:

  • Between Oct. 14th and Oct. 18th 2008 I took about 300 pictures
  • I used two different digital cameras - point and shoot and SLR
  • Both cameras save the pictures with different file names and both use something cryptic
  • I wanted to download the files from both cameras to my PC and add captions, author, tags and some description to the pictures
  • After that I wanted to upload my pictures to Flickr and expected to have the information preserved
  • Optional I wanted to be able to organize my pictures the way Flickr organizes them (in sets and collections)

From all the tools I chose Windows Live because it mostly matches my goals. I may not be the typical user (or I may be) but I would expect most of the tools to cover this simple scenario above.

Few other things that I noticed while investigating the tools:

  • Not covering the main scenario people want to go through frustrates them
  • Adding unfamiliar UI elements on top of complex workflow adds even more to the frustration
  • Separating common functionality and spreading it throughout the UI adds confusion (and more frustration)
  • Not supporting "standard" ways for accessing some functionality increases the confusion (and hence the frustration)

There are trends and new inventions but product goals should be to make live easier for the user (and not harder). Now I will go and organize my photos.

  1. While playing with the tools I may have missed some of their features but my goal was not to do side-by-side comparison. This Google Picasa may be able to upload to Flickr and Windows Live Photo Gallery may have slide show and Adobe Photo Album may be able to edit all the properties. I was just not able to find this functionality if it exists.
  2. I need to remind you that I am Microsoft employee and some people may think that I am recommending Windows Live Photo Gallery because I am biased. If this was the case I wouldn't have named my post with the failure I saw while installing it :) I will try to do my best to submit this information to my colleagues and I really hope they will improve the experience in the next release. And working closely with Windows Live content team I will suggest troubleshooting article for the failure I saw.

UPDATE: As G pointed out below there is a slide show button in Windows Live Photo Gallery. He (or she) mentions that the button is on the Menu Bar but I couldn't find one there. However one of the controls at the bottom triggers the slide show: image


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In Windows Live Photo Gallery there's a "Slideshow" button on the menu bar


@G: Hmmm... I don't know what you mean with Menu Bar but I just discovered the big blue circle button on the bottom (see update). Thanks for pointing this out:)

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