Photo ‘Management’ on Windows

I’m a Mac user in the unfortunate position of having to use Windows at work. I know… first-world problem. It’s not entirely painful but there are still things to this day that are either clunkier or purely non-existent on Windows, which are just plain simple on the Mac.

Amongst other topics, John Gruber recently discussed the Mac and iOS Photos app with Jason Snell on The Talk Show. This discussion, along with a link on his site to a tweet about the inconsistent UI experience on modern Windows 10, reminded me of one of my pet peeves of working with the system: photo management and editing.

Something that Mac users take for granted is the fact that an app like Photos (and iPhoto before that) has been there to handle your entire photo library, album creation and image adjustments. If you want, you can invest in additional apps such as Adobe Lightroom, Photoshop, Affinity Photo or Pixelmator to kick things up a notch. On Windows 10, you’re still left with the default method that has existed for years: storing your photos in manually named folders in Windows Explorer. To get anything as robust as Photos that also syncs (or beyond for pros), you really have to invest in third-party software. Paint and Paint 3D certainly don’t cut it and the only thing that Microsoft has really added to improve the experience is an app called (wait for it)… Photos.

Whilst you can create your own ‘collections’ and ‘albums’ in the newer Photos app for Windows, it doesn’t act like Apple’s own Photos for Mac. You need to create an album by choosing preexisting files or folders in Windows Explorer. Talk about clunky…

If you want to open an individual photo for viewing or editing in Photos (to actually make changes, which Windows Photo Viewer can’t do), the experience is horrible. In fact, it’s not immediately obvious even for people who have a long history with Windows.

On the Mac, if you wish to open a file in a different application from usual, you would right-click on a photo on your desktop or in the Finder to select ‘Open with’ then select the app that you wish to use. On Windows, this process is essentially the same, however the Photos app is not present under ‘Open with’; instead, it has its own designated option under ‘Edit with Photos’. See below… it would be easy to miss if your Windows user muscle memory guides you to the ‘Open with’ menu item.

I couldn’t fit it easily in the mark-up but there’s even another separate ‘Edit with Paint 3D’ option! Why not ‘Edit with > Paint 3D, Photos’ etc.?!

In my experience, the extra frustrating thing is that clicking on the ‘Edit with Photos’ option rarely opens the photo the first time. It almost always requires a second click to open. I’m not sure if this bug is specific to me but it remains annoying.

Furthermore, the menu ribbon at the top of the screen is inconsistent with other Windows apps such as Word and Outlook, with saving functions moved to the bottom-right of the screen. Depending on your viewing context or level in the application, a ribbon-like interface will appear. This supports the general argument of why the Mac’s menu bar is so powerful—it’s obvious and permanently on the screen, regardless of where you are in any given app. Windows continues to play peekaboo with various functions.

You’ll notice that the options are ‘Save’ and ‘Save a Copy’. This means that the app doesn’t support the same kind of non-destructive editing that the Mac’s Photos app does. If you save the file, your image edits are applied to the file and you won’t be able to backtrack or undo anything when you reopen it. If you save it as a copy, you will have a (potentially) unnecessary duplicate. Again, this is the problem of not having a default library that handles this for you. You have to manage these things in folders by yourself.

If you’re a Mac user who thinks that Apple’s software is sometimes a little inconsistent these days, just be thankful that you don’t have to deal with this. Microsoft might have added a new sheen in Windows 10, however there is always something old, broken or plain wrong to be found a little under the surface.

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