Saturday, January 3, 2009

Microsoft Expression Media 2

It is probably not a good sign that about a week ago I noticed that Microsoft Expression Media has been updated to version 2. No, not the fact that a new version has been released is not a good sign - the new version was put into public beta in the first quarter of 2008 and the final version was released in the summer. So the product has managed to go completely unnoticed for at least half a year ... is that a sign that I am not paying attention to the usual news feeds and photography sites or that the product failed to generate any interest? I invite you read on and decide for yourself!

My first stop was the Expression Media page of the Microsoft website. Thoughtfully, there is a link for "What's New in Version 2?" which is just the question I had in mind! Less thoughtfully, the link is broken unless you have JavaScript enabled, which I don't.

So turn on JavaScript and try again. Now it asks me to install Microsoft Silverlight to view the information. In case you are wondering, Silverlight is Microsofts Flash clone. It seems they are so desperate to get people to install it that they are willing to turn away customers looking to spend money from their website, Let's get this one straight: I will not install useless software on my computer just to view marketing material.

Fortunately, there are a number of websites that carried the original press releases for Epression Media 2 and allow me to see the new features. Let's go through them one by one (hang in there, there are not that many):

Support of new file formats
Media 2 now supports the Microsoft Office 2007/2008 file formats DOCX, DOTX, PPTX, POTX, XLSX and XLT. Expression Media 2 also now supports XAML, Design, CSS, JS, and VBS file formats.

Completely useless to me, I do not have any Office 2007/2008 files since Microsoft chose to make Office 2008 a crippled shadow of its former self. Might be useful to some people - not to most photographers, though.

Improved network performance
Media 2 now performs much more quickly across networks, and enables catalog locking so multiple users can access and view a catalog from a shared location while someone has it open and is editing it.

Why, what a treat in my single user setup! And what a sweet deal for those stock photography agencies dying to get away from Cumulus!

Updates to the Info and Organize panels
Each panel contains new menus in annotation fields that include options for sorting media items using either a union or an intersection of keywords.

I guess that means you can perform boolean AND and OR in keyword searches. Could be useful. (AND has always worked, all the way back to iView Media, by the way.)
Hierarchical keywords

With the new Keyword finder display in the Organize panel, you can create and view hierarchies of keywords for your media files.

Adobe Lightroom has had this since the first version and I don't even know when Bridge added this feature. Nice to have, though. I certainly rely on hierarchies in my keywording.

Improved performance
Common tasks such as importing media, building catalogs, and creating thumbnails are now faster. Also, smart importing functionality prevents corrupted files from hindering import. Expression Media 2 will continue the import even when it encounters corrupt files and will report any problematic files once the import is complete.

This is welcome. Faster is always better.

Windows Live Virtual Earth positioning
Using Windows Live Virtual Earth technology, you can locate the origin of any photograph that includes GPS information. Expression Media 2 displays the location on a virtual world map.

Windows Live Virtual Earth? Sorry, but I use Google Earth. Where is support for that?

Multi-monitor Light Table
You can increase your productivity by having the Light Table open on one monitor while your catalog and tools are open on another. There's no longer a need to switch back and forth between views.

Cool! (And long overdue.)

Changed QuickTime functionality (Windows only)
Although Expression Media 2 no longer requires that you have QuickTime installed, you will see a "QT" logo next to features that require QuickTime in order to run properly. These include:

  • Slideshow as movie

  • Convert sound files

  • Convert movie files

  • Image rotate

  • Image Editor

  • PDF Maker

O.K., so QuickTime is no longer required, but for some features it is still needed and EM2 will tell me when this is the case? Are they kidding? These clearly optional features include image rotation and PDF export? What do these people smoke?

There is also autoplaying catalogs on Windows and QuickLook on Mac OS X. No big deal in either case, if you ask me, but nice to have.

So let's tally up:
11 improvements in total, 3 of which are Windows-specific and 1 which is Mac-only.

Of the 3 Windows improvements, 2 are the reduction of dependency on QuickTime, which is irrelevant at best. Of these Live Earth is simply a lock-in to Microsoft technology, as are the new Office 2007/2008 file formats. So all we have left is 7 improvements which can be described as minor at best. In other words: this is a 1.1 release.

So where is proper XMP handling? Where is non-destructive handling of unknown metadata? Where is playing nicely with open standards or competing products?

It seems that Microsoft have missed the chance to modernize what was once a ground-breaking application and turn it into something spectacular, going for less-than-mediocre at best. Let me quote Yan Calotychos, founder of iView Multimedia :

With Microsoft’s purchase of iView, we are in a position to enhance our industry-leading product, whilst strengthening our customer service and support.

As digital asset management has become an essential requirement for all creative professionals, many of you have told us that iView MediaPro is a critical component of your business. We take that responsibility very seriously.

In my view, this Microsoft acquisition affords us an unprecedented opportunity to be even more responsive to a thriving market and ensure that iView MediaPro continues to perform to its full potential.

One and a half years later, I still can not use iView/Expession Media in my digital workflow. I don't see any attempt being made to change this, both EM1 and EM2 added mostly half-baked and "fluff" features. So I am putting my money elsewhere, Expression Media is no longer an essential part of my business. Good bye, it was good while it lasted!

In case you have not noticed, I am not spending money on this one.

[caption id="" align="alignnone" width="111" caption="1 star (out of 5)"]1 star (out of 5) [/caption]

Full disclosure: I have been using iView Multimedia for years, since version 1.x if memory serves me right, and I loved the product. It was simply awesome.

I then got into a RAW workflow that stores meta-data as XMP with the RAW file. This change made iView unuseable (no XMP support). [Sadly, it was also the end for Capture One Pro , which I still love, but which also does not do XMP properly either.]

Expression Media 1 added XMP support which is totally broken. I have the sneaking suspicion that this is not entirely unintentional, but I was once told that you should never assume malice where incompetence will provide an explanation.

It is from this perspective that I wrote the review above. Yes, I am disappointed. Yes, I am P.O.ed that my investment of years of time and effort is basically gone. Yes, I really do feel that EM2 sucks.

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