Damn You, iPhoto, Part I

(Presumably there will be more of these entries?)

The running joke among its users is that iPhoto is the product of Apple’s worst software engineers, a sort of place where the least-talented programmers go to fuck with their customers’ most precious data. And really, who wouldn’t you want in charge of that?

I dismissed this strain of thought for a while, until I actually tried using the software. Let me think about some of the things that are missing and presumed dead, and which I generally have to revert to my Windows machine or Picasa in order to do quickly/properly:

  • Batch lossless rotation with changes saved back to the original file.
  • Useful batch redating.
  • Fixing/removing the EXIF auto-rotation tag.
  • Panoramas, anyone?

But the kickers were these four:

  1. A hardcore system crash while using iPhoto, returning from the single, fullscreen image view to the albums view. The mouse could still be moved, but pressing the keys to perform a Force Close on iPhoto didn’t work, and pressing the Power button didn’t bring up the Shutdown dialog. The crash forced me to have to log into my Mac via SSH and attempt to ‘sudo reboot’ it. Which then also seemed to fail, and which killed my connection after attempting to at least ‘sudo sync’ the drives. A hard poweroff, pressing and holding the Power button worked. But it’s pretty disheartening when a single product can kill your whole system like that. Yes, I realize this could have been a one-off; but no, this should never, ever happen in userspace.
  2. Why does iPhoto insist on importing photos into the iPhoto Library bundle? Yes, I have a Macbook Air with SSD, and no, I really don’t particularly dig it when the iPhoto Library bundle is 6GB because it wants to manage the files for me and makes copies of everything I’ve imported. I don’t have that much space, really. Perhaps this is good for people who don’t want the hassle of managing their data. But it doesn’t help anyone else at all. Or, I take that back. If you have every last photo in your iPhoto Library bundle, then yes, backup is super easy. But guess what, it doesn’t even organize the files properly by date, it organizes them into folders by the date on which they were imported. Which is sloppy.
  3. When I make changes on the disk to the original file, iPhoto doesn’t pick up on them? What kind of bullshit is that? Oh, it relates to and is fully explained by point 2 above, but it doesn’t help when third-party tools that handle lossless rotation do their magic and leave you wondering why the changes don’t show up. You have to reimport those files, and then confirm that you want the duplicates to overwrite what’s already in the library. Awesome.
  4. Why is RAW or NEF import so slow on iPhoto? My brother’s quad-core iMac is able to import maybe 1 file per second. As if conversion and import was somehow still single-threaded (well, it probably is, but I haven’t checked).

To my mind, it feels like iPhoto isn’t getting dogfooded enough or at least that there aren’t enough champions of digital imaging actually using it at Apple. Free is very hard to compete with, and there’s no doubt in my mind that this stuff isn’t winning based solely on innovation. It’s good enough to be usable, but it’s definitely not as spectacular or “magical” as one could imagine. (But I guess for that there’s Lightroom, et al…)

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