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Review: Extensis Portfolio 7

Can a relatively inexpensive digital asset-management program give you what you need for handling thousands of files and images? At a street price of approximately $185 ($199 list), Extensis Portfolio 7 certainly gives you more bang for your buck than any previous version. I found the product to be well thought out and powerful enough to be a real contender for most applications.

Portfolio is designed to allow you to view, find, and track all of your digital assets, and the current version has added capabilities of archiving and distributing those assets. This is no easy task, and can be a taxing challenge for any program. The Portfolio interface, however, is clean, fairly simple, and intuitive.

Tracking changes

Extensis has built into the program a lot of capabilities that are extremely useful to many production environments. For instance, you can track assets on remote volumes and even automate that process by setting up watched folders. The program will automatically alert you to changes in those folders so they can be continuously updated. You can track just which changes have been made"?and by utilizing the program's User ID capabilities, you can also see who made those changes and when they were made.

Portfolio can read most image files, including most digital camera RAW files, and can track the metadata embedded in those files and allow you to add metadata of your own. If you're unfamiliar with the term, metadata can contain information such as keywords, dates, digital camera settings, and much more. You can set up each Portfolio folder to add keywords and descriptions to all of the assets in that folder as they're read; this data is embedded so metadata-savvy programs can also read them.

Using Portfolio to move, rename, and edit assets offers a distinct advantage. Graphic-arts professionals often find themselves in the position of contending with files that have been moved and edited and seem to "disappear" because the workflow does not track these changes. If these changes are done in Portfolio, however, the program can be set up to track and update the locations of all effected files. And moving files in Portfolio is simple enough that you can insist that your operators only move files from within the program.

From within Portfolio, you have many ways of accessing, updating, sharing, and managing your assets: You can launch the programs that created the file (if available) to edit it. You can view the assets by thumbnail or open the original directly in Portfolio, and even zoom around any viewable file. And you can add metadata, move files, and scan and update new or existing volumes. Portfolio also allows you to view many audio and video files directly within the program.

Beyond the basics

Web file-sharing capabilities receive a big boost in Portfolio 7. You can generate Web pages from asset "galleries" and customize your pages using included templates. You can even make your Web pages automatically update. All of the HTML coding is already done for you; this feature, called NetPublish, is included in the Portfolio Suite.

You can also generate slideshows and burn CDs and DVDs from Portfolio. This was a serious oversight in previous versions of the program, especially considering the fact that Mac users have been able to do this in the free iPhoto program for a couple of years. Portfolio also adds iPhoto's capability of e-mailing low-resolution or full-resolution files by dropping them into your e-mail program. It also offers batch resize and convert options. Plus, Portfolio allows you to include a freestanding program for browsing the images on a CD or DVD that you create. While these additions are fairly basic, they certainly make things more convenient.

In addition, there are some Portfolio capabilities that free programs such as iPhoto can't touch, such as batchprocessing conversions in color space or file type on the fly (yes, iPhoto can batch convert from RGB to grayscale, but it cannot convert RGB to CMYK or convert files to TIFF or JPEG formats like Portfolio can). And a huge help for graphics professionals is the ability to not only archive files to CD or DVD, but to track the files on each disk"?Portfolio remembers where you put things. Another helpful feature is the ability to create custom contact sheets of gallery images.

A few issues

Few programs are perfect, and there are indeed a couple of issues with Portfolio 7 I should mention:

  • Portfolio can only rotate JPEG preview images; other formats must be rotated in image-editing software. If you have an EPS file, for example, you'll need to rotate it in the original application, or deal with the fact that the thumbnail will appear in the wrong orientation.
  • The International version of Portfolio 7 has not yet been released, so it does not currently support high ASCI characters or Japanese text at this time. The International version is due out in early 2005.
  • TIFF files with JPEG or ZIP compression do not thumbnail; and neither these files nor spot-channel TIFFs will properly convert using the program's Batch Convert feature.
  • You'll want to run this software on the fastest machine you can find. My 400-Mhz Macintosh G4 ran many of the processes very slow, and even my 1.6- Ghz G5 seemed sluggish. I was able to run it on a 266-Mhz G3 laptop, but this is well below what Extensis recommends. The bottom line: If you think you can run your DAM program on an old Mac or PC you have sitting around, think again; it's probably a good idea to use that machine for some less-demanding task.
  • All in all, Portfolio 7 is a robust and very useful tool. I would recommend running it on your fastest machine and making sure your operators move and edit files from within the Portfolio client to get the best return on your investment.

    Pricing: $199 list, $185 street price. As indicated earlier, Portfolio 7 comes with NetPublish, but the basic version handles just one Web connection at a time; for $398, you receive up to five simultaneous connections, and for $999 you receive unlimited simultaneous connections. An even more robust server version of Portfolio 7 is available for $1999. (Extensis: www.extensis.com)

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