It was with great anticipation that I downloaded the new Windows Live Essentials especially Windows Live Photo Gallery. From friends, who had seen the apps before release, I had heard about the neat new innovations: Use of the Ribbon to make the tools and commands readily available, innovative features like Photo Fuse to combine the best of two photos, geotagging, and face recognition not just detection, and even more. It took me days to explorer the “betas”.
All major advances bring some learning struggles, I expected that. Often commands get renamed so they are similar across different apps. There were a few quirky designations in the old Photo Gallery, so “Fix” became “Edit”. The “Info” pane is now the “Tag and Caption” pane and “Back to Gallery” is now “Close file”. The navigation pane now only contains folders, gone are the date and tag sections. However, cameras and scanners now show up under Devices in the navigation pane.
For the most part it is just a matter of getting used to the new ways, Unfortunately many of the changes are not just in location or nomenclature, but changes in how the tools function. That is particularly disappointing when something that took just a click now takes many more, or when entire features have been removed. Of course, this is just a “beta” version, a work in progress, so I should not expect everything to work or be complete. Alas, this version still needs a lot more than just some polishing.
So first a look at the Ribbon. The six tabs are arranged so the app works very much like all the new Windows and Office programs. Here is a look at the “named” tabs (shown one on top of the other, you only see one at a time, of course):
The tools and commands are all very obvious and ready at hand. It took me a while to find what used to be the Info pane, it is now the “Tag and caption pane” and the command is located on the View tab. That is two clicks away form the default opening – grumble.
So let’s take a look at how the new version will work. It will take me several blog posts since there is so much new, but lets start near the beginning.
The term “edit” replaces “fix” and here is the first innovation:
Select a photo and click “Edit” – the tab, and surprise. The photo does not open full window, rather edit tools are displayed. Yes, it is now possible to do editing on a number of pictures at the same time. To edit just an individual photo you can double-click the thumbnail just as before, or click “View file” on the Edit tab. There are some useful tools for editing a group of photos all at once. Resize is one that was available in the prior version. The Edit tab contains a host of new ones.
The down-side is that when editing a group of images, you are in effect flying blind, you can’t see what takes place. Unfortunately, the “Undo” command is not available to undo a command you just performed on a batch. There is the “Revert” command, but with that you lose any previous edits. There are two options on the ribbon I would especially caution against using: “Color” and “Exposure”.
These groups of nine controls have very limited action. For “Color” just one step up or down in color temperature and tint, and for “Exposure” a single step up or down in brightness, shadows, or highlights. The saving grace is that the center button undoes the action of the other buttons. Sorry, Microsoft, but to me this feature is just useless filigree.
When editing a picture in full view, “View file” mode, these same color and exposure controls are provided. Here it would be useful if these and the “Effects” controls worked the way similar features work in the Office 2010 apps: point to the control and the effect is applied to the full picture – click to keep it. Maybe in the final version?
Fortunately on the Edit tab there is a control, “Fine tune”, which brings up the slider tools from the prior version of Photo Gallery. These show the effect “live” as you move the sliders. This is still a very easy, but powerful, way of editing photos.
I really want to get to some other really exciting new features, but enough for the first look. There is much to tell about face recognition, picture merging and geotagging that I will get to each in a separate post, so check back.
Now I want to see how the new Windows Live Writer beta handles posting – that too is quite a story!