Personal computing feels sometimes like an arcane science, filled with secrets that are passed along in furtive, whispered conversations. We have too many choices, it’s too hard to make things work – and it’s not getting better.

Here’s an example of what it means to tie together two widely used programs.

Adobe Photoshop Elements 4 is a tremendous program for organizing and editing photos. Everyone with a digital camera should ignore the fourteen other image programs installed on their computers and only use Photoshop Elements. If you invest time in Photoshop Elements to organize and tag photos, it is the only program you will want to use to display photos and slide shows.

Microsoft Windows Media Center Edition 2005 is shipped with most new home PCs. It includes a full screen display for controlling all of the home’s multimedia – music, photos, videos, TV/DVR, DVDs. The display can be sent through the house to an XBox 360 or other computers. If you use the Media Center features for your home media, you’ll want to use it to display photos and slide shows.

It is not easy to find out that Adobe Photoshop Elements can be integrated into Windows Media Center Edition. You can sit on the couch with a remote control, with your HD television displaying the Windows Media Center screen from your connected XBox 360 or living room Media Center computer, and use Photoshop Elements to sort through your photos. It’s an obvious thing to want to do. Adobe doesn’t mention it on its web site, but it’s in the Photoshop Elements help file.

Nowhere does Adobe explain how to make it work. I’ve looked into it several times and come up empty-handed.

Finally last night I turned up this series of messages on a Media Center messageboard. On the Photoshop Elements 4 CD is a folder named “Digital Home” with a single installation file. Once Photoshop Elements is installed, running that install file causes new items to appear in “My Pictures” and “My Programs” in the Media Center screens. Photos can then be viewed using the date, tags, and collections in Photoshop Elements.

It works. It’s a significant addition to Windows Media Center 2005.

These are big companies pushing big products. Adobe wants to control consumer digital imaging. Microsoft wants to control home media in the living room with Windows Media Center.

So why do I feel like I’ve solved a mystery or learned an ancient, closely-guarded secret? Why does personal computing sometimes feel like the Da Vinci Code?

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