Photo album in CD form easy to use

June 19, 2000|By Mike Himowitz

Over the last year I've waxed poetic about online photo-sharing sites, which allow you to post digital snapshots in Web albums that your family and friends can view and download.

The only problem with this approach is that not everyone in your family may have a Web connection, or at least one that's fast enough to make downloading large digital images worthwhile. And once they download photos, many people don't know what to do with them.

That's why I was intrigued and ultimately delighted by FlipAlbum CD Maker from E-Book Systems (www.ebooksys.com). This nifty utility will organize your photos for storage on a compact disk with a viewer that lets you or anyone else flip through an "album" with a few intuitive mouse clicks. All the recipient has to do is put the disk in his CD-ROM drive. Under Windows 95/98, the viewer software starts automatically, which eliminates virtually all the hassle for neophytes.

To use FlipAlbum CD Maker, you'll need a recordable CD-ROM drive. These gadgets are hot items with teens and college students, who use them to create music CDs with "mixes" from multiple albums and songs they've downloaded online. But they're also great for archiving large files that eat up disk space - such as digital photos - and for backing up your hard drive.

The newest drives, known as CD/RWs because they can create regular CDs or rewritable disks, are cheaper, more reliable and easier to use than their predecessors. Internal models are available for $200 or less, while external drives start at $300 or so. Blank compact disks hold 650 megabytes of data and cost less than a buck apiece in 10-packs. So they're cost-effective for storing large amounts of information or sending a complete photo album across the country to Aunt Rhoda.

FlipAlbum CD Maker is easy to use. When you start, it displays three Explorer-type Windows. The top windows allow you to browse your hard drive, looking for photo files (which can be displayed on screen by double-clicking them). When you find a photo you want to use, just drag its icon to the bottom window. FlipAlbum automatically makes a copy of the photo and stores it in an album folder.

Once you've selected the pictures, you can arrange them in the order you want, add captions (called "annotations"), create blank pages for chapter titles and insert bookmarks, which appear as tabs at the edge of the album.

Overview, table of contents

Although the customization tools are crude, FlipAlbum allows you to select a color or texture for the album's background and pages, choose a photo for the album cover, and add a music file that will play in the background when the album is open. (Caution: This can be annoying to viewers.)

The software automatically creates an "overview" of thumbnail images and a table of contents that appears at the beginning. This gives viewers the choice of skipping directly to any picture or flipping through the collection one page at a time.

What FlipAlbum doesn't do is create the CD itself. For that you'll have to use the software that came with your CD/RW drive, but it's not hard. All you have to do is copy the contents of your album folder to the CD. FlipAlbum automatically includes a copy of the viewer, so once you've copied everything, the CD is ready to run.

I used the program to organize photos I'd taken of my son's high school wrestling team at matches and make CDs that I gave to the kids at the end of the season - complete with a jewel box cover featuring the team picture. The boys and their parents loved it and I didn't get a single complaint or question about using the viewer - which means it worked the way it was supposed to.

I would have liked better tools for creating chapters and enhancing the page layout. A sloppily thought-out organizing screen makes it too easy to wreck the arrangement of your photos, forcing you to start over. But on the whole, FlipAlbum CD Maker makes it easy to archive your photos and send them to friends and family with user-friendly viewing software.

You can download a trial copy (good for 30 uses) from E-Book Systems' Web site and buy an unlimited version for $39.95. If you're the family photographer, FlipAlbum and a CD/RW drive are good investments.

Order frame with photo

Meanwhile, the roster of online photo-sharing sites continues to grow exponentially. While it's often hard to tell one from another, EFrames.com offers an innovative twist. As its name suggests, it allows you to upload photos and try them in frames - real frames.

When you find a combination you like, you can order a framed copy of the photo to be mailed to you or anyone else. The site has an excellent collection of frames that range from $5 to $30, plus $4 shipping for standard priority mail. Additional frames in the same order add $1 apiece to the shipping charge - this site doesn't try to rip you off on postage.

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