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Wither Adobe Bridge?

If you're a Photoshop user accustomed to managing their image library with Adobe Bridge, it may be time to rethink things.

If you haven't been at this digital photography thing as long as some of us have, it may seem as if Adobe Bridge has always been there, but such is not the case. Photoshop has long history that predates the appearance of Bridge.

The original Photoshop 7 File BrowserWay back when, it was necessary to locate specific files using the native file browsing capabilities of the operating system Photoshop was running on. Back then, everyone took it for granted that this was how things were done. It worked, but there were problems. The biggest one I had was that Windows didn't like showing thumbnail previews for Photoshop PSD files. I had to rely predominantly on the file name to know I had the right one. Every now and then I would open a file only to find I didn't really have the right one. And computers back then weren't overly speedy so opening the wrong file could waste a noticeable amount of time. If I had to open a few before getting the right one, it could be a time consuming adventure.

There were creative solutions to provide PSD thumbnails in Windows Explorer, and for a time each one seemed like a good answer to the problem, but the next upgrade to Photoshop or Windows patch risked breaking things. It wasn't until Photoshop 7 was released in 2002 that things started to change. Among the usual crop of new features, Photoshop 7 included a feature known as the File Browser that seemed to end to this thumbnail dilemma by providing an Adobe-supported solution that was automatically compatible with the current version of Photoshop since it was part of the current version of Photoshop.

But Photoshop wasn't the only game in town back then. Other Adobe products gained the ability to open or import Photoshop PSD files. With the advent of the Adobe Creative Suite, Adobe wanted to emphasize the integration between what had previously been separate products. The original Creative Suite was predominantly a marketing ploy with little added functionality, but things gradually started to change with CS2.

The first version of Adobe Bridge came in 2005 as a component of Creative Suite version 2. Initially, it wasn't much more than a standalone File Browser. Indeed, the menu item within Photoshop was still called "Browse" back then. With each successive release though, Adobe added more features for image metadata and workflow management to make Bridge the centerpiece of the Creative Suite universe. But at its core, Bridge was still nothing more than File Browser with a growing list of added features.

In order to search all the metadata we all were accumulating, Bridge had to read each file individually, looking in the file headers for what you were searching for. Without many files, the process happened quickly enough that no one noticed the wait. But with enough files, the process could take a while. Think of it like finding something in a book. The way Adobe Bridge searches metadata is akin to reading a book, page by page. With a small book, this really isn't much of a problem. With a big book, or set of volumes, what is needed is an index. Bridge had no concept of an index to all those digital images each of us was accumulating. Adobe's initial attempt to speed things up was to cache some of the data in the Bridge Cache, but that only went so far.

When Adobe Lightroom was developed, Adobe was well aware of the problem. The concept of "Digital Asset Management" had entered the vocabulary of serious photographers and Adobe needed a way to avoid reading every file to find something. They needed an index, and Lightroom had one.

Dubbed the Lightroom Catalog, the Adobe Lightroom index was built as a database using a technology known as SQLite. This same technology is embedded in a growing number of applications as it provides serious database features without the overhead of more traditional databases. With the Lightroom Catalog, the metadata for all of your images gets loaded into SQLite where it can be searched far more quickly than would be required to open and read the headers in every individual image file. But in addition to being much more scalable, it also lets you query your image metadata, even when those images themselves aren't available. Lightroom even lets you generate full scale 1:1 thumbnails so you can see what your images look like without ever opening the files themselves. You can get everything straight from the Lightroom Catalog. This means that for the most part, you can carry your Catalog on your laptop while your image files stay at home, safe and sound.

Adobe's move to the use of an internal database was done in recognition of the fact that the old Bridge approach was already causing a severe bottleneck for users with large number of image files and the problem was only going to get worse as more users needed to manage ever more images.

And that brings us up to the current world of the Creative Cloud. A standard installation of Photoshop CC doesn't even include Bridge anymore. Sure, it's still available as an optional download, but even if you're used to Bridge, you might consider not bothering.

Most photographers I know who use Photoshop also use Lightroom. Adobe makes that easy by offering the Photography Plan as a cost-effective way to subscribe to the Creative Cloud. In today's world, Lightroom has become the new File Browser, the new Bridge, at least for photographers. Sure, Bridge still supports more types of files across the breadth of the Creative Cloud platform, but for those of us that work primarily with image file types, Lightroom can replace Bridge. For most of us, there really is no need for both anymore.

Date posted: May 31, 2015


Copyright © 2015 Bob Johnson, Earthbound Light - all rights reserved.
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