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Business in Vancouver: News that works for you

    Printing digital photos has never been easier

    by  Alan Zisman (c) 2003 First published in Business in Vancouver ,  Issue #724 September 9- 15, 2003 High Tech Office  column

    On August 11 HP's CEO Carly Fiorina introduced 158 new consumer products, including printers, all-in-ones, digital cameras, scanners, DVD recorders, Media PCs, and more.

    Stealing a page from Apple's playbook, Ms Fiorina said: "The digital experience is anything but empowering.... There is nothing harder than making something complicated easy." HP's new cameras and printers, she said, would cut the steps needed to print a digital photo from "more than 50" to three.

    That left me puzzled. fifty (or more) steps to print a digital photo? So I plugged my Olympus C-720 digital camera into my Dell notebook to see just what it would take to print a photo. Quickly, a dialogue box popped up offering possible actions, including "Print Pictures using the Photo Printing." One click to select that, another to click "OK." Up popped a list of 10 print arrangements and sizes. One click to select a size, another to click "OK." Done. Total: four clicks.

    Having Adobe's nice ($75) Photoshop Album software installed, I could have picked that from the initial pop-up. Then, I would click on "Get," then click to close Album's initial window. Click to select the photo(s) to print, and again on the printer icon. Finally, select a size and page layout from an extensive list, and click "Print." Nine clicks, but still reasonably quick and easy. Album provided more options without overwhelming the user.

    Apple, with its digital hub strategy, has tried to make it easy for users of new Macs to get down to business with digital cameras, camcorders, MP3 players, and the like. On my Mac, when I plugged the camera in, Apple's free iPhoto program popped up. I clicked "Import" to get the photos, selected my photo, and clicked the "Print" button. Again, I got to choose a size and layout option, and clicked "Print." Total: 5 clicks.

    But that's using a relatively new camera with modern operating systems: Windows XP and Mac OS X 10.2. Users of older hardware and software don't have built-in tools to simplify these tasks.

    At work, I have an older Agfa ePhoto 307 digital camera connected to a Windows 98 system. In order to use the camera with either a Windows or Mac computer, Agfa's PhotoWise software needs to be installed. Then double-click an icon to start the program (I guess that counts as two clicks for Ms. Fiorina). Click on the "Camera" menu, and on the "Get Pictures" menu item. Another click to approve the folder name where the photos will be stored. Click on a photo, then click on the "File" menu, then click "Print." Click "OK." Once installed, even this older, proprietary software only needed a total of eight clicks.

    So I remain baffled how Ms Fiorina needs 50 clicks to print a photo. Nevertheless, some things remain too complex, requiring users to navigate through screens of mysterious icons and translate dialogue boxes of jargon.

    On those new Windows XP and Mac OS X systems, users shouldn't just unplug their cameras when they're finished. (Ironically, I can safely do this with the older camera.) On the Mac, the camera appears onscreen as a disk drive, and users need to drag this to the "Trash." Simple, if not entirely intuitive.

    In Windows XP, it's more complex: first, locate an icon in the lower right-corner with a microscopic picture of a card (or something) with a green arrow over it and double click. A dialogue box pops up, labelled "Safely Remove Hardware." No camera is listed; instead, pick "USB Mass Storage Device" (huh?), and click "Stop." This time, a second list pops up, including the camera name. Pick it, and again click to shut it down. Finally, you get a notice that it's safe to remove the device.

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Alan Zisman is a Vancouver educator, writer, and computer specialist. He can be reached at E-mail Alan