Migrating Apps — Digikam

Next in my app migration list was Digikam.

No need for KDE enthusiasts to remind anyone that the version supplied with TDE is woefully behind the current version. For me that makes no difference as I do little managing or editing. That might one day change but no sense wasting time speculating. I would not move to the newer Digikam anyway because of all the KDE overhead and dependencies.

I do not use Digikam much other than importing files from my camera and as a basic photo library manager.

Rarely do I perform touch-ups. I do not recall tagging photos with additional information.

Managing my digital photos should be straightforward. Much like my music files, long before I started using an app to manage digital photos, I organized them by folders, subfolders, and sometimes dates. Nothing magical here. Because they are already organized, finding photos is easy without tagging despite default file names from the camera.

A Digikam replacement need only adapt to my organizational structure. I do not need fancy databases, file sharing services, or publishing tools.

I do not need photo editing although that is a nominal bonus. For editing there are many choices especially when the most I do is rotating and cropping.

Strictly speaking I do not need a manager to import photos from my camera. A basic file manager suffices. Yet I like the simplicity of a popup dialog when I connect the camera.

Like my music collection that is centrally stored on my server, I do not want a photo manager that is limited to $HOME. Yes, I can redirect $HOME/Pictures to any location. Much like audio players I do not want an app designed with this kind of thinking.

Searching the web indicated only a few replacement candidates:

  • Shotwell
  • gThumb
  • Fotoxx

My first test was to connect my camera to a USB port and see what happens. In Xfce that first requires opening the Removable Drives and Media settings dialog to configure a default app.

With Xubuntu I received two notification popups when I connected the camera and two instances of the app I configured to associate with the camera. In Slackware and Fedora I received one popup and one instance.

In all instances with Xfce the camera was not automatically mounted. This prevented using the app’s import feature. I needed to manually mount before I could import. This would confusing to any newbie or non technical user. In Xfce automounting a camera does not “just work.” This might be a bug or configuration problem on my part because connecting the camera in MATE works nicely.

Importing into Shotwell is irritating and frustrating. Selecting the Import option results in an automatic import, No Questions Asked and Just Shut Up. The file is imported to $HOME/Pictures/YYYY/MM/DD. While the top level import location can be changed in the configuration options, I saw no obvious way to modify the remaining default date-based subfolders. Basically that means additional labor to move files to a desired location. As I already have my photo folders organized by subject, I know exactly where I want to import new images. A file-picker dialog would be more helpful than this “idiot light” approach to saving.

With Shotwell sometimes I received an error message that the USB device could not be claimed. Searching the web indicates may people reporting the bug, which seems related to the failure to automount.

gThumb uses a file picker dialog to import, which makes more sense and is what users expect. My only glitch was the lack of automounting, which seems related only to Xfce.

The only computer where I have an SD card reader is my office desktop, which runs Slackware. Inserting the SD card prompted no dialogs in Xfce. In MATE I received a dialog prompting me to open the configured photo app. Thus another camera-related bug in Xfce or configuration mishap.

Shotwell Shotwell does not store editing changes to the original photo file, instead storing changes in a database. I have not thought much about this. Probably not a big deal considering how little I edit photos. Yet I can imagine challenges for people who edit a lot. What happens when the database is lost or corrupted? I am not fond of the “put everything into a database” philosophy.

Nonetheless, a database is required with Shotwell. The database is stored in $HOME/.local/share/shotwell. The first thing required is to import photos into the database. They can be copied or imported “as is.” This took quite a while when I realized I was creating the database from my laptop on wireless. I should have connected with my network cable.

The left-side panel has three categories: 1) Library, 2) Events, and 3) Folders. The Events structure does not look like my folder structure on my server. Instead I saw a bunch of “folders” using dates.

After some head scratching I finally figured out the panel Events “folders” are based on meta data. They are not really folders as much as a way to identify the dates of each file.

After reflection I realized the “Events” category probably did not matter much to me. The original storage layout of my photo folder on my server remained intact and organized as I wanted. The Shotwell panel Folders category reflected that organization.

The Events dating did offer a twist. Some of my photo sequences overlap the month changeover. Thus I had some photos from the same server folder being tagged in different Events “folders.”

Shotwell placed some photos in a sub category called No Event. Most of the photos were print photos I had scanned in a flat bed scanner. I understood those having no event. Yet other No Event photos were from my digital camera. Then I noticed those images were PNG rather than JPEG. PNG does not support EXIF meta data. For those files the date stamp will be sufficient to serve as meta data, but I will need to first convert them to JPEG.

A few of the “No Event” digital photos all had file date stamps of January 1, 1980. Fortunately only 15. I have no memory of the exact date. Almost all of my digital photos have the original camera file name. Using those default names, other photo file date stamps, and some personal history information I narrowed the unknown date period to October 2010 for all 15.

Browsing the various menu options reveals a nice photo manager with basic editing and management features. More than I need. While I never bothered with tagging my photos, I see some benefits after browsing various features.

There is a slide show tool. Several online publishing plugins are available.

gThumb gThumb comes with a three panel layout. There is no backend database. Photos are edited in place. The editor supports undo and redo options until the file is explicitly saved. Browsing photos is basically walking through the file folders. This not the same as a basic file manager because the viewing pane is designed for viewing the files as photos rather than files.

gThumb supports bookmarks in addition to the system gtk-bookmarks. This provides a handy way to access multiple photo folders.

While Shotwell’s editing tools are in the main menu bar, gThumb keeps the editing options out of the user’s way until needed. A small painter’s palette icon is located in the upper right of the toolbar. That icon is the portal for changing to editing mode. When selected the interface changes from a browser to an editor with a vertical menu of options on the right side of the window. I like this design approach. Multiple undos and redos allows for ample experimenting without actually saving any changes.

The Properties pane shows all file meta data, which contains far more data than I ever realized.

There is a slide show tool. A few online publishing plugins are available, but not as many as Shotwell.

Interestingly, when I was in the Preferences dialog and out of curiosity selected the link for additional extensions, the resulting web page read, “This page does not exist yet.” That said, there are many plugins preinstalled, including one for red-eye removal. Enabling or disabling any plugin requires a restart, which the app handles by itself nicely after notifying the user.

gThumb supports a feature to organize files into catalogs. I see some benefit for the tool. As I already have my photo files organized on disk, I am fuzzy how I might make use of the feature.

I did not notice any feature similar to the Shotwell No Event category. I do not know how gThumb notifies a user of files with meta data problems. That specific Shotwell feature is useful for spotting meta data problems. While not as obvious as No Event, the gThumb Properties pane could be used to browse meta data problems because all of the information is missing other than what can be pulled from the file date stamp. As I learned through Shotwell to watch for PNG files, the simple lesson is never convert to PNG again without preserving the original JPEG.

Interestingly, gThumb displayed a thumbnail for a GIF I had stored in one of my photo folders whereas Shotwell did not.

Fotoxx When I first opened Fotoxx I was presented with a dialog that I needed to index my files. The subsequent dialog looks like something from the 1990s. I received a low memory error. The process seemed to complete, but Fotoxx froze. Or so I thought because the dialog has a single OK button. After a few moments I saw text scrolling in the window. This is an odd dialog design.

When I toggled to Firefox to continue reading an article while the indexing continued, I noticed a new open tab for the Fotoxx Quick Start guide. I did not knowingly request the page thus I presume the page opened automatically when I started Fotoxx for the first time. At least the page loaded from the local hard drive rather than presume a 24/7 connection. Despite the misleading OK button, when the indexing completed the final text message was “COMPLETED.”

Working with Fotoxx is a matter of selecting a photo image and then selecting a tool from the left-side vertical menu bar. A single click on any tool opens a popup menu with many options.

The documentation guides are web pages that are functional and not fancy.

Fotoxx is intended more for photo editing than management. The layout is different from most menu bar based apps. That is okay as the app is designed with a unique focus. Not being knowledgeable about digital photo editing, I found the program a tad intimidating. I think hobbyists and professionals would find their way around much faster. Yet after a few experiments I found the program rather interesting. One tip is to watch the top informational bar. When performing a change the bar contains a percentage completion number.

This is one of those programs where a few video tutorials or sitting beside an experienced user for an hour would help a lot. Tinkering indicates the program’s potential.

Summary Unlike my previous misadventures with audio players, the usability lesson with these apps is all of them are reasonably designed and useful. All support photo collections outside of $HOME.

For my personal migration I am choosing gThumb as my primary manager. Mostly because I want a photo manager more than an editor. I liked the layout a tad more than Shotwell. I do not need a database to duplicate my existing folder structure. The way Shotwell creates a No Event category is a convenient means to spot meta data problems, although in my case the cause was quickly understood. Yet the way Shotwell imports without a file picker dialog is a work flow obstacle for me.

I am concerned about future versions of gThumb and Shotwell. I am not a fan of GNOME 3 design standards. In Xubuntu and Slackware I tested gThumb 3.2.8. The gThumb 3.3 series saw the app being modified to GNOME 3 standards. Fedora uses gThumb 3.4. The interface is indeed quite different. I stumbled for several minutes trying to figure out how to import files in the newer version. Overall I do not like the newer interface.

Shotwell was from the Yorba developers, who have stopped support. With that move Shotwell has been adopted by the GNOME folks. While not yet modified to GNOME 3 standards, the proverbial handwriting is on the wall.

If I was more involved with photo editing, Fotoxx would be useful to perform a few occasional effect tricks. GIMP probably performs the same tricks, but is a beast of an app. One of these days I should dig deeper into the world of photo editing and throw some attention toward learning more, regardless of the app used.

Another app migration is behind me.

Postscript After writing this post I became aware of Geeqie. I have not investigated.

My next target is migrating from K3B.

Posted: Category: Usability Tagged: General, Migrate

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