Shoebox 1.6

Kavasoft’s Shoebox 1.6.1 is an excellent tool for cataloging large digital photo collections. Its Pro version (the one I reviewed) seems a bit pricey, but Shoebox’s ability to organize, search, and back up thousands of snapshots is truly impressive.

Shoebox can incorporate photos from hard drives, camera memory cards, CDs or DVDs, or from Canto Software’s Cumulus, a digital asset management service. (The program’s help files on this last feature are strangely incomplete). It doesn’t move the photo files it’s cataloging, and it easily imports images, keywords, and album names from iPhoto (   ). Note that Shoebox does not offer tools to edit or adjust your photos; it’s designed to complement programs like Photoshop, not to replace an image editor.

Shoebox’s greatest advantage is its category system. It’s easy to create custom categories like Parents, Cars, or Europe, and apply them to multiple photos with a single click—a process that’s far simpler than typing the same words or phrases over and over in iPhoto’s Comments field.

Shoebox’s hierarchical categories function as a more powerful form of keywords. For example, you can nest the keywords tigers , rhinos , and lions inside the category animals . So, if you tag a photo with the word tigers , and then search for animals , Spotlight will display the photo tagged tigers as part of the results. Kavasoft offers free category collections for download from its Web site, including U.S. and European states and cities, animals, and pro sports teams.

Shoebox keeps its own list of which keywords you assign to which photos, and a menu command lets you export the keywords you’ve attached to each photo into the Spotlight Comments field of that image file. (You can also automate this process in Shoebox’s preferences.)

Categorizing photos can take hours, but it’s otherwise fairly painless. You can add or remove categories to the list in the Category window at the left of the screen, or type new or existing category names into the Info window on the right. Clicking once to bring either window into focus, then again to add or change a category, quickly gets tedious, but it’s a minor nuisance. You can also import or export category lists to or from HTML, XML, or specially formatted plain-text outlines.

Once you finish categorizing your photos, you can search huge catalogs in seconds—for example, viewing all photos tagged as Paris and Statues.

Shoebox lets you create multiple catalogs, including password-protected private ones, although the program can open only one catalog at a time. Unlike the more expensive Pro version, Shoebox’s Express version limits users to two catalogs containing no more than 10,000 photos each.

Backing up photos to a CD or DVD via Shoebox is fast and easy. Photos can be automatically compressed after backup to save disk space, and then restored as needed from the backed-up originals in seconds. Kavasoft also promises a Shoebox update that will allow users to publish their own searchable, categorized Web galleries.

Macworld’s buying advice

Novice shutterbugs who want an easy way to store and edit their photos, have a relatively small collection of images, or don’t need the sophisticated backup system of Shoebox 1.6.1, will likely be happy with iPhoto. Photo pros using the Adobe Bridge file-management program may also find Shoebox’s features redundant, although its keyword system seems easier and more intuitive than Bridge’s. But intermediate photo fans who need a friendly, relatively inexpensive way to catalog, search, and back up their images will find Shoebox invaluable.

[ Nathan Alderman is a copy editor and writer in Alexandria, Va. ]

Shoebox’s hierarchical categories let you teach the program that Montmartre is a neighborhood in Paris, France.Shoebox makes it easy to search for photos in multiple categories—for example, all the pictures of statues in San Antonio, Texas.

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