GET ORGANISED When saving images to your computer, create logical names for both folders and file names - a good range is about 15 to 30 characters. If you want to edit the files, keep the originals in a separate folder (or better still, on a CD) and copy them into a working directory while you make changes. This can save heartache if you accidentally damage an existing image. If you are constantly downloading files from the Internet, store these images in an obviously named folder such as "Image downloads", and shift them over to the "Originals" folder once you are satisfied that they are suitable.
EXTENSIONS Extensions play an important role in managing graphics and, by default, Windows will hide extensions (extensions are the letters that appear after the "." in file names and common examples are .jpg, .gif, .tiff). To show extensions, open Explorer by selecting Start-Programs-Windows Explorer. In Windows 95, select View-Options and uncheck the box that says "Hide MS-DOS file extensions for file types that are registered". Windows 98 users should select View-Folder Options, then click the View tab and uncheck "Hide file extensions for known file types".
If you share files between Mac and PC users, you will have to be vigilant with file extensions. Since the Mac OS can determine a file type without an extension, Mac users frequently create headaches for PC users by failing to include them when sharing files. The result is that many PC programs will refuse to open the file and the user will have to guess what type it may be - this can be a big time waster, especially if the file is corrupt.
VIEWERS AND THUMNAILS Thumbnails allow you to view miniature versions of the original file and are ideal for locating a particular image. Typically, you can squeeze 30 to 50 thumbnails onto a screen, which makes it easy to find an elusive image or lost photo. Some image editing programs come with built-in browsing features, and Paint Shop Pro 6 probably has the best options of any fully-featured graphics program.
To browse a folder, start Paint Shop Pro and then select File-Browse. A Windows Explorer-like panel will appear on the left and thumbnails will appear on the right. Click on the folder that has image files you wish to view and the thumbnails of all compatible graphics files will appear (including Photoshop files). You can double-click on images to open them, or, to move a file to a different directory, simply drag its thumbnail to the new location. The images can be sorted in various ways by selecting File-Sort. To see a wider range of options and preferences, right-click on any thumbnail and chose an item from the pop-up menu.
Despite being considered the industry leader for photo editing, Photoshop is very poor at both managing and previewing batches of files. Its primitive options only allow you to preview one file at a time in the Open File dialogue box; alternatively, you can create a contact sheet (a single file consisting of thumbnails). To try this second option, select File-Automate-Contact Sheet. Unlike the browse feature in Paint Shop Pro, the process is very slow, and you cannot move, open or alter the original images using this method.
Most graphics programs ship with a thumbnail, browse, or "album" option, but if you are not happy with the file management features (or you use Photoshop) there are plenty of stand-alone programs to do the job.
One of the best products is the free and ultra-compact IrfanView. This 400KB program has a good thumbnail function and many other handy features. Simply run the program, select File-Open and open one of the files in the directory you wish to browse. Next, select File-Thumbnails and the thumbnails of images only in that directory will appear. Other options allow you to export the thumbnails as individual files or a handy HTML document. The slideshow feature can also be used to browse images at full screen, while providing a good alternative to standard screensavers. A limitation to watch is that the Thumbnails option tends to crash IrfanView when the number of files in a single folder approaches the 1000 mark. Also, having to open an image from a folder before you can browse the folder's contents can be cumbersome at times.
For a beefed-up image viewer, try ACDSee - but at $US50, it's not cheap. You would be better off spending a bit more and getting the greater range of graphics features in Paint Shop Pro. If you are not sure which program is best for image viewing, Paint Shop Pro 6.02, ACDSee 3.0 and the full version of IrfanView are all on this month's CD.