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Program Date: 09 Mar 2014

Maybe It's Time to Try ThumbsPlus Again

Have you been overwhelmed by digital photographs? Are you unable to find the picture you want when you need it? Maybe you need an image organizer such as ThumbsPlus, but when you visit the big shareware download sites that allow user reviews, you read about how ThumbsPlus used to be a great program with good support. The consensus is that this is no longer the case, but maybe it's time to give version 9 a try.

Version 8 certainly had more than its share of bugs because it represented a major change in the way the underlying framework did things. It was an ambitious change, perhaps too ambitious for a shop with a small staff of developers. Cerious Software may have just a single developer. This is guesswork on my part, but it may be that the combined effect of a small number of people available to support the application and a vastly increased number of bugs simply overwhelmed the company and led to the complaints about a lack of support.

Cerious seems to have clawed its way back with version 9. Most of the bugs are gone. The program is working well and is a valuable tool for organizing photos and making certain kinds of modifications. It's clearly not Photoshop or Lightroom and among programs that might be considered competitors there are free applications such as Google's Picasa, FastStone, and Irfan View.

More than anything else, ThumbsPlus is a application that makes it easy to view virtually any type of graphic file, including most of the camera raw formats.

Another key feature is the application's organizational tools. ThumbsPlus uses an ODBC database. ODBC is an initialism for "open database connectivity" that provides a middleware application programming interface (API) for accessing database management systems. ODBC, even though it was designed by Microsoft, is intended to be independent of database systems and operating systems. What this means is that an application written using ODBC can be ported to other operating systems without major changes to the code.

During installation, the user is offered the option of a single database for all computer users or individual databases for each user. A single combined database is the better choice for most people.

ThumbsPlus provides a thumbnail view that makes organization easy and simplifies the process of identifying duplicate images.

The program has limited editing capabilities, but they are the functions that most people need: Cropping, trimming, resizing, and color correction. The display includes information about color channels and other details so you can see at a glance why an off-color photograph is off-color.

ThumbsPlus includes some features that you might not expect to find in a a program at this application's price ($40 for the basic version, $100 for the pro version with updates set at $20 and $40):

Click for a larger view.The default view includes a list of directories, a preview pane, the thumbnails pane, a pane that displays the metadata for the selected image, and a panel that shows and tasks that are in process, such as scanning a directory tree for new images.

One of the most frustrating features of Thumbs Plus is the unfortunate all-too-easy opportunity for the user to accidentally grab one of the panels and drag it out of place.

Click for a larger view.The result is a floating panel. In this case, it's the thumbnails panel. It should be easy to move it back into place, but I haven't found this to be the case and apparently I'm not alone.

Click for a larger view.This problem can be resolved quickly because the program has a built-in option to restore the default interface. I'd like to see a feature added so that users can define specific panel arrangements, name configurations, save them, and use them at any time. After all, the view used when you're looking at photographs might be significantly different from what you would want if you were looking at other kinds of graphics.

Click for a larger view.Several quick-processing and batch-processing functions are available.

Quick Convert allows 1-click conversion to standard formats such as the Windows BMP format, Windows metafile (WMF), GIF, JPG, and ICO. Oddly, there is no option for quick conversions to PNG. To do that, you have to open the file and then choose Save As from the File menu.

Click for a larger view.If you've worked with JPG files for very long, you know that they get worse every time they're opened and saved. That's because the process of saving a JPG applies additional compression and it's why work files should always be native camera raw files, PNG, or TIFF. Sometimes, though, the only change you want to make is to rotate the image 90 degrees left or right, or 180 degrees. As with most modern applications, Thumbs Plus makes it possible to change an image's orientation without having to rewrite it entirely so no additional compression is added.

Click for a larger view.You can also change the file's date and time or even the color space.

Click for a larger view.ThumbsPlus is supposed to be able to handle camera raw files, but initially it didn't.

That's because the camera raw conversion plug-in is separate from the main program. There's no charge for it, but you do need to download it and install it.

Click for a larger view.The camera raw plug-in is shown on the page with the main program download.

Click for a larger view.Once the camera raw plug-is has been installed, there's no problem reading most current camera files.

Key Updates in Version 9

The current version was released in 2013 and several updates have been issued since then, the most recent in February. The release notes for this update include the following corrections and enhancements.

A warning has been added if the user attempts to save XMP metadata with a file type that doesn't support XMP. In plain English, this refers to "sidecar" data that is typically saved with camera raw files and includes information about processing that the user has applied.

There have been some problems with previous program updates deleting the user's configurations and settings. The current version improves the handing of files that control these settings to avoid the problem in future releases.

The installer now puts "all user" shortcuts in the correct folders. This also fixes a "can't remove shortcut" error during uninstall. I mention this one because it illustrates how incremental improvements are made. Development, after all, is an iterative process and sometimes this is easier to see in a small shop.

4 CatsThumbs Plus Improves, but Still Has a Way to Go

Thumbs Plus is one of those applications that I've appreciated for well more than a decade. At one time, it was a leader in features and usability. Ambitious improvements ended up creating more bugs than features in version 8, but now version 9 has eliminated worst bugs and allowed the new features to shine through. Additional details are available on the Cerious Software website.

More Opposition to NSA Spying

Telephone companies have generally complied with the National Security Agency in turning over information they're asked for, even without a court order. Doing so, in fact, can be a profit center for the companies because they bill the feds for the work. Last year, when companies such as Google, Apple, and Microsoft reacted angrily to reports that the NSA had been intercepting users data, the phone companies were silent. That seems to be changing.

Organizations such as Google and Yahoo generally approve requests for information about specific individuals, but they have opposed the bulk collection of data. Telephone companies have been around longer and remember times when civil liberties were largely ignored. (The Supreme Court says corporations are people and therefore I say corporations can have memories.)

During and after World War II, Western Union (by that time a subsidiary of American Telephone and Telegraph) simply handed over copies of all international telegrams that originated in the United States. The program (called Project Shamrock) continued into the 1970s.

So it probably seemed natural for telephone companies to welcome government agencies into their buildings for wiretap operations, authorized or not. And Congress, in 1994, even passed legislation that required telephone companies to construct their networks in a way that allowed investigators to monitor calls as they were happening. And no, what I'm describing here isn't the Stasi in the German Democratic Republic. It's the Federal Bureau of Investigation in the United States of America.

Last year's revelations by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden seem to have changed a few minds within the telephone industry. That and possibly a proposal by the Obama administration to save the NSA spying program. The administration wants to continue the bulk collection of data but, instead of turning the data over to the government, the administration says that the telephone companies should store it and make it available to the government on request.

Telephone company executives don't like that plan, perhaps in no small part because of the costs of implementing the plan. And the pesky thought that they and their companies might have to defend themselves against lawsuits. There may even be some concern about what would happen if a hacker managed to compromise the monstrously large data stores.

This plan would give private businesses the right (in fact, the duty) to collect and store every telephone call made by everyone. Nothing could possibly go wrong with THAT plan, could it?

On a vaguely related note, Verizon General Counsel Randal Milch writes a corporate blog in which he maintains that officials can request information only when it is physically stored within the United States and that Verizon would challenge requests for data stored elsewhere. So it's OK to turn over information about US citizens, but foreigners are off-limits?

With a few more friends like that, we might as well just publish everything on Facebook.

Short Circuits

Facebook Plans an Air Force of Drones

Unlike Amazon, which flogged a drone-delivery story at the beginning of the Christmas shopping season, mainly for the publicity the stunt would garner, Facebook has a plan that involves drones and might be beneficial. Facebook is reportedly talking to Titan Aerospace, a company that makes solar-powered drones. What, you might ask, does Facebook want to deliver with a fleet of drones? The plan is to deliver the Internet.

As Facebook acquisitions go, this one could be funded with the Mark Zuckerberg's pocket lint: Just $60 million. (Yes, that's an M, not a B.) Remember when $60 million was real money? That's the number being cited by Techcrunch and CNBC. Facebook refuses to comment on the rumors because Facebook does not comment on rumors. Facebook users, on the other hand, do comment on rumors. Sometimes it seems that's all the comment on.

But the rumors make sense. Mark Zuckerberg's project has, as one of its primary goals, finding a way to make the Internet available to people who aren't currently online. Despite the apparent ubiquity of the Internet, 5 billion of the planet's 7 billion people are not online.

Facebook is partnering with Nokia, Qualcomm, and Samsung in the project. But why Titan?

Titan's solar-powered drones fly at extremely high altitudes and, because they're powered by solar energy, they stay aloft for a long time ("a long time" = 5 years). Think of these as high-flying wireless access points.

Titan's drones haven't yet gotten off the ground, commercially; they're still in development.

If this sounds vaguely familiar, it may be because Google has a similar plan called Project Loon. Google proposes using what are essentially weather balloons to provide high-flying wireless access points. (I'm not kidding, Google actually calls this Project Loon.)

Last year Facebook acquired another company that will help achieve its goals: Onavo creates data-compression technology that makes faster communications possible on slow networks such as those found in developing countries, and in some parts of the United States.

How important the drones might be is open to debate. Even Zuckerberg notes that most people on Earth live where there is access to at least 2G or 3G cellular signals.

No More Facebook or Google IDs on Yahoo

Yahoo currently accepts both Google credentials and Facebook credentials when logging on to Yahoo services, but that's about to end. Yahoo has announced that you'll soon need Yahoo credentials to log on to Yahoo services. The first target is the service's college basketball fantasy game, Yahoo Sports Tourney Pick 'Em.

Many users have taken the easy route, using their existing Facebook or Google credentials, but that has had the effect of depressing the number of Yahoo accounts. Whether that's what's driving the change isn't clear.

Yahoo says that those who create an account will have a "better experience" because the service will be able to personalize what they see. To personalize the experience, of course, Yahoo will need to collect information about users.

It's likely that this is mainly about market share and branding. Marisa Mayer is a very sharp CEO who understand that identity is important and that increasing mindshare among users is critical. After all, if you can use your Google credentials to connect with Yahoo resources, why should you think about Yahoo at all. I hope this works to improve Yahoo's identity and its visibility. Although I've been critical of Yahoo many times in the past because the company seems to convert clear victories into abject failures, it's important for competition to exist in the online world.

So if you don't yet have a Yahoo account, maybe you should get one.

What's Down with Mozilla Firefox?

Users apparently. Net Applications, a company that collects usage information from millions of websites, says that Firefox usage is at a 5-year low. Chrome seems to be picking up the slack.

The big 3 are now Internet Explorer (version 11 with Windows 8.1 or version 10 with earlier versions of Windows), Google Chrome version 33, and Mozilla Firefox version 27.

Because it is installed with Windows, Internet Explorer continues to account for more than half of the browsers in use -- slightly more than 58%. Firefox are Chrome are virtually tied and Firefox is still slightly ahead, but won't be for long if the trend continues. Firefox fell to 17.7% and Chrome increased its share to 16.8%. Apple's Safari is at 5.7% and Opera stands at 1.2%.

Internet Explorer has generally been increasing since 2012, when usage dropped to 51%. That's the lowest IE has dipped in recent history.

If you'd like to see the full report, it's on the Net Applications website.