I use Microsoft Digital Image Pro for virtually all my photo editing and graphics projects. It does a better job of combining ease of use with powerful editing tools than anything else on the market. Many of my loyal friends and clients have heard me ranting and raving about the impossibly complicated tools in Adobe Photoshop and Photoshop Elements, the market leaders.

As digital camera photos accumulated on the hard drives, it was becoming more and more difficult to keep up with them. Windows XP helps a bit – it can display thumbnails and slide shows, and it can rename groups of files at a time, so you can turn DSC0001.JPG through DSC0014.JPG into RINCEWIND (1).JPG through RINCEWIND (14).JPG with a few clicks. But sorting photos into folders and finding the ones you want is still a pain. Old stalwarts like Thumbs Plus and ACDSee are a bit irrelevant on Windows XP, and not all that helpful anyway.

Adobe released Adobe Photoshop Album a few weeks ago. Its purpose in life is to help you manage your photos, and Adobe actually managed to design an interface that makes it easy to use.

You bring images into the program by specifying folders to watch or grabbing photos from digital cameras and scanners. A time line runs across the top of the program, listing months, left to right. There are small bars that indicate how many pictures were taken on a particular date. Click on a bar and you jump to the images taken that month.

The left pane provides a simple interface for tagging images with keywords. Once you’ve tagged your pictures, you can search by one or more tags by checking the keywords you want to search on. Tagging pictures is a fairly tedious exercise, but once it’s done, a single click allows you to display all pictures of your child at Christmas, or whatever other combination you can think of.

There’s basic image editing tools to rotate photos and automatically fix color and contrast. You can also send a photo to the image editor of your choice. When you do, Photoshop Album makes sure the original photo remains unchanged – an important precaution. The program can also help you make backups of your photos onto CDRs.

You can create calendars, slide shows, greeting cards, picture books, and more, and there are several options for sharing photos or projects by e-mail, online, or on burned CDs.

Photoshop Album is a brand new release, which always carries a bit of risk. A few crucial bugs were resolved by a patch a few days ago, and there are still a few broken things. The program can create Acrobat .PDF files that automatically play slide shows with background music, but they rely on a special “extended” version of Acrobat Reader that was a bit finicky for me this afternoon. The program is supposed to create VCDs, projects burned on CDRs that can be played on standard DVD players, but currently that feature is broken, producing pictures of such low quality that it’s useless. There’s the usual quota of people hanging out in Adobe’s online forums complaining about bugs.

Nonetheless, my experience has been good. I’m very impressed. Adobe Photoshop Album looks like a keeper, a new addition to the group of programs that I rely on every day.

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