Photo of an old library catalogWe’ve been using Extensis Portfolio Server and clients for five years between two departments, Public Affairs and Design & Printing Services, to attempt to organize our digital image library of nearly 50,000 images. We’re also starting to store videos on this same server. We have a mixed environment of PC and Mac platforms. The PCs automatically map a network drive to the dedicated server through a Novell login script when we login to our computers everyday. The Macs mount the server via Finder > Go > Connect to Server.

When we initially purchased Extensis, we figured it would take a year or so to get up to speed, get everything cataloged, add metadata, etc. before we would start to see a return on our investment in terms of the time it would save us in finding images for print and electronic projects. This couldn’t be further from the case. This product has been extremely hard to use, slow, and is not overly intuitive for basic users. As a die-hard iPhoto user for over four years for personal use, I’ve been in search of a comparable product for our multi-platform, multi-user networked environment.

I’ve tweeted a number of times in recent months about my displeasure with Extensis and search for a new solution. Extensis was even listening on Twitter and another vendor’s forum in which I posted, and offered to have a senior sales engineer call me to discuss our concerns. We had that phone call, and it didn’t help. Their software just doesn’t meet our needs. Michael Santoroski responded to one of my tweets earlier this week and put me in touch with his colleague Whitney Anderson, who sent me a very detailed e-mail about their switch from Portfolio to Picasa. She blogged about it over at High on Web with the detailed pros and cons list she sent me. We’re just starting to implement this solution, so we have not yet tested it in all of our use cases, in particular multi-user update. Here’s what we’ve found so far.

Picasa is the best solution I have found for us. Not only is it user-friendly and extremely fast, it’s free – big differences from Extensis Portfolio.


But wait, what about my meta data?

One of our primary concerns in deciding whether to make the switch was whether we would get all of our meta data we’ve put into our Extensis catalogs over the years back out and into Picasa. It was a bit of a challenge, but we did figure it out.

Using your Extensis Portfolio client, open your catalog(s) and select all of the images within. Control (Mac) / right (PC) click on one of the images. Choose “embed properties” from the sub-menu, then “view metadata settings…” The two main fields in the catalog we were most concerned with were “keywords” and “IPTC-creator” (photographer credit). Select each of those on the left side, and on the right side (‘where to embed the field data’), map them to “IPTC-keywords.” This embeds the meta data you had entered in Extensis into the image file itself, which now makes the terms searchable within Picasa.


Test thoroughly before complete abandonment

My Senior Web Producer and I are still testing this switchover and have not deployed it to the rest of our department or other areas yet. As soon as we’re done testing in the coming week, we plan to write a guide for Mac and PC with installation and setup instructions. While it will be quite specific to our environment, if seeing this guide would be a helpful starting point for you, please leave me a comment below or contact me directly, and I’ll be happy to share.


What’s your story?

What digital asset management tool do you use? Do you have a custom-built tool, or do you use a commercial product? Are you happy with it?



I left this position about a year after this post and did not make any further progress with this project during that time. A draft of an internal guide was written, but was not available for public circulation. I no longer use these tools in my new position.


Patrick Burt · June 1, 2009 at 10:53 am

We use Imagefolio, our site:

It has had its quirks, but overall it has reduced the number of photo requests we have to handle. Uses IPTC, batch uploads, user settings and privacy, and lightbox features. And it is pretty low cost ($1000) compared to hosted systems and other products like Portfolio.

So far, I would give it an A-, We host over 18,000 files with about 80gigs of space. We plan to eventually host close to 1 TB before we are done. We have 111 registered users.

Sarah · June 1, 2009 at 2:20 pm

We’ve been using portfolio for almost a year now. No one really likes it…. but we’re financially committed. Other departments have recently started to use Lightroom, so I was tempted to go that was but have not yet tested any alternatives. I would be interested in how the migration to Picassa goes for you.

Erik · June 1, 2009 at 3:20 pm

We’ve just getting going with Gallery 2: Its free and open, and is fairly customizable. We use Adobe Lightroom to sort, edit and tag photos and it connects directly with Gallery 2 for uploading. We even store video and audio files. It works well for our needs. We’re building a YouTube-ish media site in house and using Gallery as a backend to store the video files.

Version 3 is set to be released in the near future which should be a great upgrade. Gallery 2 is a bit bloated and hard to work with the code directly to modify it.

edisonsamuel · June 3, 2009 at 5:08 am

Very informative nice post.

Ryan Jensen · June 12, 2009 at 11:21 am

I’ve also been an iPhoto user and really enjoy it. My office has one huge Excel spreadsheet with explanations of photos and photographers. It is a nightmare. I’d love to know how well Picasa works for you.

Nick · June 12, 2009 at 5:07 pm

As a photographer, I use Adobe Bridge and find it amazing. I can easily add metadata to one or all images in a folder, I can search by specific metadata or keywords, and all photos are stored in their original location.

I had assumed everyone in need of an image at a university would already have a copy of Photoshop and Bridge, therefore already have everything they need.

Is that not the case? or do you find Bridge to be lacking?


Rachel Reuben · June 19, 2009 at 8:03 am

@Nick: My understanding of Bridge is that it cannot be used in a multi-user, multi-platform, networked server environment, so I didn’t even evaluate it as an option.

Nick · June 19, 2009 at 2:20 pm

Does everyone needing access to the images have Bridge already installed on their machines? If so, it should work fine for your needs. I use it on networked drives, and everyone at a design firm I work closely with, uses Bridge and a network. But maybe you’re referring to an internet situation? All of my drives are hard wired, and the design firm’s drives are connected directly to a network server w/in their building.

website design tampa · June 23, 2009 at 9:56 am

I used Picasa 2.5 beta, which is great (still some bugs, for example on FTP brilliant-idea-but-not-working-well-yet). I am not sure it is out of beta. I install it right now from and… surprize: I get back to 2.2.0. So, it’s not out of beta, or at least they did not change on the homepage and the exe file!

Alex Wu · July 3, 2009 at 3:11 pm

Thanks, I am going to try Picasa, I had the older version, wasn’t too impressive. But I will check it out again, got a lot of image files that I’d like to catalog and show online.

Sandip Saini · July 7, 2009 at 6:18 am

This post is superb. You have a real good knowledge about this subject. The way you wrote very nice.

Website design · July 11, 2009 at 9:35 am

I have used Picasa 2.5 beta, it is really good. Great for allowing you to organise, edit and share your photos. It’s free too which is a rarity. Thanks for this information, it has highlighted some crucial areas for me.

Bertold · December 3, 2009 at 1:56 pm

Great post! I am looking for a long time for a database to catalogue my image library (10000 diapositives, a quickly growing quantity of digital images and a lot of scans for educational purpuses). First I documented by hand (until the 80s), then I changed to Atari and 1995 to Filemaker, documenting only metadata, then I changed to Portfolio enjoying its proper previews.
It has great features, a lot of possibilities to arrange “assets” as they call the files and it leaves the files where they are. To edit the images you have to switch to any other program – I am using Photoshop. To save the originals you should save with a different name, changing from jpg to tif, png, psd or so.
There are many features for keywords and other criteria, individually changeable and automatically usable. Great but confusing!
You can store all of your images together with the catalogue on a CD/DVD. Extensis offers a free reader; so you or your friends have all of your information but don’t need the complete program.

My problems began when I bought a MacBook and wanted to use one Portfolio-file, transferable from MacBook to iMac and vice versa. But Portfolio uses absolute adresses. Therefore you have always to change these adresses by script after having transferred files!! The only reasonable workflow was to use the same external harddrive connected to the actually used computer.

I tried iPhoto but I don’t understand its logic at all. iPhoto saves everything in one folder “iLibrary” – but you can’t use it with the finder. You can export a photo, but which version? You can edit with Photoshop, but not decide where to save the new image. When you change the filename, iPhoto does’t find it any more.You can’t use two libraries at a time. It is very comfortable but only for hobby-users who don’t have too special ideas what to do with the images. If you want to change from the filename “IMG_01234” to an imagename “snail group 1” you lose the filename. iPhoto shows the imagname, but keeps the filename, which appears in the exported file. You can’t sort by filename. You can’t include videoclips.

When searching alternatives it seemed to me, that most of the programs (Lightroom, Aperture, ACDSee) are specialized in editing and there are only few features to structure and comment the files with hierarchical keywords or folders.

Now I am going to try Adobe Bridge, which offers editable keywords, keeps the files in their folders and uses my structure wihin the finder. But I don’t get a catalogue! Everything is saved wihtin the datafile. Advantage or disadvantage?

Inspired by your post, I will have a look at Picasa as well.
What about videoclips?

bison · March 23, 2010 at 7:08 am

Good luck figuring out the order in which your files will show up on Picassa. I have been using it for a couple years and it is frustrating—when you add a folder to Picassa, it is anybody's guess where they show up….

bison · March 23, 2010 at 2:08 pm

Good luck figuring out the order in which your files will show up on Picassa. I have been using it for a couple years and it is frustrating—when you add a folder to Picassa, it is anybody’s guess where they show up….

NABH · May 24, 2011 at 7:56 am

I really appreciate your post and you explain each and every point very well.Thanks for sharing this information.And I’ll love to read your next post too.

Matt Cassity · August 11, 2011 at 3:37 pm

I’m in the middle of finding a DAM solution for an 13 year old art museum with spotty archives. Picasa seems like a dream if we can set it up for multi-user. Many other sites are warning against it. Would love to hear more about the manual you developed. 

rachelreuben · August 13, 2011 at 12:52 pm

I left that position more than a year ago, so unfortunately I no longer have information to share as we use a completely different system (Cumulus) where I am now.

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