Photodex's CompuPic

There is much more to graphics on the Linux desktop than games, 3-D modelers and renderers.
Good Design, But Stability Beckons

CompuPic is well-designed in a number of ways. First, the database of images is kept in a private directory in the user's home directory. This means users need not worry about making unwanted changes to an image directory on a web server. The database is relatively small, even for large images or a large number of them. Another good design is the interface—it's quite intuitive. Once you're familiar with the basic layout, it's easy to find more features. Changing file names, for example, required only clicking on the file name of the selected entry in the File List, then typing right over the old name.

Photodex offers some application-specific security within CompuPic by allowing users to provide user IDs and passwords for a given copy of the program. However, such protection isn't that helpful, since the actual files are still potentially accessible using normal Linux file access privileges. Photodex recommends proper file-system administration for true file security.

One design feature which deserves special recognition is the terrific Help system. It's a hyperlink-based system that includes plenty of images to accompany a fairly thorough and well-indexed text. The Help system is complete enough to make using CompuPic possible without printed documentation—something I can't say is true for many commercial applications.

Although the overall design and feature set is quite good, CompuPic has a number of problems. A minor one is how it requires you to be connected to the Internet in order to e-mail an image, even if you're e-mailing it to a user on the local system. I don't know why this is, but trying to send an image to myself without being connected to the Internet failed. The test was to send the mail to my local user ID without specifying a domain name. This should have been routed locally, which is what my normal Sendmail configuration does.

However, this is a modest problem. CompuPic has much larger problems—stability, for example. I ran CompuPic on two systems: a desktop box running Red Hat 5.2 with 256MB memory and the Xi Graphics Accelerated-X X server, and an IBM ThinkPad 1410 with 32MB memory and an XFree86 X server. I had numerous crashes on both boxes, although it was worse on the laptop. Photodex states the program had not been tested with Xi's X server. There were a few display problems with this server in the File List window—menus posted over this region were not always cleared completely. This didn't happen with the XFree86 server. Display problems were minor. The biggest problem was crashing.

On the laptop, I couldn't change directories in the Folder List without the program crashing unless I tried compacting the database first, and that let me change directories only once. This problem never showed up on the desktop system. Both systems had problems with rendering multi-line text in the Greeting Card feature, and the laptop version wasn't happy with changing virtual terminals. Upon returning to the X session, I had to hit the ENTER key to get CompuPic to respond. If I didn't do this, I couldn't do anything in the X session—CompuPic had taken keyboard and mouse focus to wait for that one key press. Photodex had most of these problems listed on their bug-tracking web page. One bug listed on that page was a crash at startup on Red Hat 5.2 systems. It appears there may be some stability problems for CompuPic when run on glibc 2.0 systems.

Other annoying issues include the About and Print options doing nothing. I wasn't able to print anything. I suspect this feature wasn't complete in the version I had (Version 5.0 Build 1032), which is still a beta release. The Help text, while an extremely useful feature, assumes a Windows or Mac platform in some places. This is an extremely minor issue, but attention to detail is what separates good programs from great ones.

Although the Help system talks about support for scanners and digital cameras, the associated menu option is missing in the Linux version. This is something PhotoDex will want to look into, as it's become a big issue for many Linux users.

Summary

CompuPic is offered in a free version to end users, while corporations need to register their copies. Red Hat was suitably impressed—they will be including the product with their next release. Regular users can download a copy from http://linux.compupic.photodex.com/.

As I told Jason Cohen at Photodex, I found the longer I used CompuPic, the stronger my love/hate relationship with it became. It has many very useful features, whether you are a home hobbyist or a professional photographer, and upcoming features, such as the macro-recording feature, will make it even more impressive. But the beta versions have many problems. Stability is an important issue that needs to be addressed. Crashes abound, though never were the images or any other files corrupted. Still, despite the numerous crashes, I found I could perform quite a bit of work with CompuPic. That's a pretty good start for PhotoDex.

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