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Studio Management Software: A Roundup

Photo District News: November 1998

Back in 1994, when I first worked on this feature, the playing field was markedly different. There were about twice as many programs among all platforms: Mac, MS-Windows and MS-DOS. Now, fast forward to 1998. The playing field has dwindled considerably. The dominant platforms are Mac and Windows, but MS-DOS programs-admittedly only two that I could track down-are holding on in this world dominated by GUI (graphic user interface)-based software. And especially interesting is: Today we have select applications available on CD-ROM in lieu of the conventional diskette, although there are holdouts in the floppy-disk camp. But wait, it gets even more interesting: Some of these programs on CD-ROM are available for either Mac or Windows. Will that apply to one of your favorite programs? Currently only two applications have bragging rights in that department, but look for the field to widen.

On the surface, the DOS-based programs remain largely unchanged from the versions available in their heyday. (For some, this is one of their strengths). They come with little baggage and so launch and operate faster. Whether they are simpler to use is arguable. These programs are, however, yesterday's technology, which means they don't store thumbnails of images (under GUI platforms, it's becoming increasingly popular to put a contact picture into a contact database these days). Selecting other printers means either having to pick one of the few listed and hope it works, or entering a string of characters to define your particular printer-something I personally don't care to do. Printing worked without a hitch in one DOS application, but proved more of a problem in the other.

Mac- and Windows-based software applications are immediately more appealing than DOS software. To operate smoothly and quickly, however, they also need more memory, faster processors and even graphics accelerator cards. Software publishers may say their software operates with only 4 mb of RAM (random access memory) under Mac or Windows, but I strongly urge you to have at least 16 mb. If you are multi-tasking (running several applications concurrently, or running memory-resident programs in addition to running several applications), I recommend you use 32 mb, or better still, 64 mb of RAM. Otherwise, you'll feel as if you're riding in a small boat on rough seas, with a stalled engine.

Because the playing field is so small and at least two programs are available for either GUI platform, we will present them all together, not by platform/operating system. The primary test platforms were as follows:

Windows and DOS software: Dell Dimension XPS M233s operating under Windows 95, with 64 mb RAM; DOS software was run using Windows 95, via a desktop icon that was used to launch each program. Installation was either by floppies or CD-ROM, as required. Dual-platform applications were evaluated on this machine.

Mac software: two PowerBooks, each with 32 mb RAM, were used: a 1400c where CD-ROM installation was required; a 5300c for floppy installation.

All in all, I was very impressed with every program out there. yes, some truly wowed me. Hindsight's InView is clearly the fastest, and has much going for it. Unfortunately, it only runs on Macs at this time. Other contenders for the Mac environment are Vertex Software's PhotoByte 2000 and Deserted Island's TimeShark. TimeShark is the new kid on the block, but off to a promising start.

In Windows applications, Grip Software's Grip 32 and PhotoByte were fighting for top honors. Grip is speedier; PhotoByte has a really inviting look to it. In DOS applications, BOSS Development's The BOSS clearly won out, but Retail Merchandise Systems' The ViewFinder covered more bases, including weddings and portraits, for those of you doing double-duty, and included stock management-something you have to pay extra for with The BOSS. (Note: RLW Concepts' PI/E Pro Invoice/Estimate, whose manufacturers pulled their program out of this evaluation, also promised some interesting features.)

When plunging into these software applications, I tried to evaluate each based on a number of criteria, using a point system, and then totaling it up to arrive at an overall value. Price did not enter into that value, although I wasn't reticent to mention if I thought a program was too pricey. I spent at least six hours with each program to either familiarize or refamiliarize myself with it. In some cases, it required two to three times longer than that. If it seemed to take too long, I mentioned it in the review.

The key evaluations centered around the following criteria, under "Features evaluated." Each feature was given a number evaluation; the maximum value is noted:

INSTALLATION & BASIC SETUP/TAX RATES: 5

CONTACT MANAGEMENT: 5

SCHEDULING: 5

ASSIGNMENT PAPER TRAIL (ESTIMATES, INVOICES AND OTHER PAPERWORK NECESSARY FOR ASSIGNMENT COMPLETION): 10

FEES & COSTS SCHEDULING: 5

REPORTS & ACCOUNTING: 5

EQUIPMENT DATABASE: 5

STOCK: 5

INTERFACE/NAVIGATION: 5

OTHER/SPECIAL FEATURES: 5;

DOCUMENTATION/ONLINE HELP/ TECHNICAL SUPPORT: 5

I tried to assign values relating to the relative importance of each feature. Reports revolve around anything financial. Stock modules were not evaluated per se; only whether or not they were part of the package at no additional cost, hence a value of 1 . The total is 50 points, with the following rating schedule: Excellent: 46-50 ; Very good: 41-45 ; Good: 36-40 ; Fair: 31-35 ; Poor: 26-30.

When you evaluate an application (or when reviewing my reviews), you can assign different values for what you feel is important and how individual performance rates.

When you do examine any piece of studio/assignment management software, consider doing the following, and see if the program flows a straight course, meanders or makes you feel like you're running the rapids:
1. Set up your own company data.
2. Enter client data.
3. Record a call/request from a client; send out a portfolio.
4. Get the assignment and enter assignment details.
5. Plan the shoot; estimate costs.
6. Complete assignment/bill client/send photos:
Enter expenses, generate invoice, generate delivery memo for assignment shots.
7. Finishing touches: Enter payments for assistants, stylists, models, etc.
8. Do account management/bookkeeping, sales/profit analysis, sales tax, etc.
Modify this list as necessary. Obviously, I couldn't put myself in everyone's shoes. We all work differently and have a different working familiarity with our computers. Some software is more intuitive; others require a guiding hand. Remember: The program must work the way you work, not the other way around.


InView 3.1.2
HindSight Ltd.
PMB 126, 9249 S. Broadway, Suite 200
Highlands Ranch, CO 80126
Voice: (303) 791-3770
URL: <www.hsltd.us>

SYSTEM REQUIREMENTS: Mac SE or better, System 6 or higher, 4 mh RAM, 4 mh hard disk space; floppy drive for installation.

TEST PLATFORM: Mac System 8.0

PRICE (BASIC & EXTENDED): $495, Inview; $745, lnView/StockView (combined). Competitive upgrade on combined package. Networking rate by quote. DEMO:
free by floppy or Web download.

FEATURES EVALUATED: RATING
INSTALLATION & BASIC SETUP/TAX RATES: 4 Installation was quick and easy, although I would have liked the sample data to be in place at the outset, instead of having to import it. Other than that, basic setup is fairly straightforward. Tax codes/rates setup is thorough and flexible.

CONTACT MANAGEMENT: 5 The contact database is the heart of InView and where this program really shines. Every essential step in a job flows from here. I would have liked fewer data screens to make it less time-consuming to complete and less intimidating.

SCHEDULING: 5 Well-designed Data Keeper (calendar and scheduler) reminds you of events, meetings, shoots, etc. Scheduled events pop up automatically even when not running the program. Events can be scheduled as recurring.

ASSIGNMENT PAPER TRAIL: 7 The paper trail, which here consists of estimate, confirmation, open job, invoice and delivery memo, is practically seamless once you're familiar with it: It did require a considerable learning curve. Remember to post a worksheet in progress, or you may lose that data when beginning another job paper trail. To track job deliveries and portfolio submissions, you'll need the optional StockView, which means you're left hanging-this feature should be part of the main application.

FEES & COSTS SCHEDULING: 5 It's all in the Worksheet-the starting point for any job. Enter expenses and fees for creatives/talent there, along with markup and tax status.

REPORTS & ACCOUNTING: 5 Receivables, payables, checkbook, general ledger, expense log, task timer (tracks billable time-a really neat feature). While it may not have the most extensive report writer, InView offers enough reports to keep you up to date on every key aspect of your business and on top of your financial situation.

EQUIPMENT DATABASE: 2 Includes all key data, including serial number, warranty, original cost, replacement cost, insured value, repair history, etc.

STOCK: 0 Not included in InView; available at extra cost in a combined lnView/StockView package. Still the combined package is less costly than the most expensive, all inclusive software packages in this group.

INTERFACE/NAVIGATION: 5 Excellent interface and navigation. Opening flow chart makes much sense (serves as main menu): It presents the entire package very logically. Enter a screen and you'll find you can navigate to related screens/modules with the click of a button. Equally important, screen and type size, even on a laptop, was very easy on the eyes.

OTHER/SPECIAL FEATURES: 3 Expense log, correspondence, theorizer (how much you have to earn to make a comfortable profit), word processor.

DOCUMENTATION/ON-LINE HELP/TECH SUPPORT: 4 Hefty manual plus online help. Program benefits from use of "balloons" that identify various functions. After awhile, though, they may prove a hindrance, so use them sparingly. There is a Quick Start Guide, but it's too involved: Something short and to the point would help. Unlimited, free tech support by e-mail and Web site; telephone support is one hour with purchase, $75/hour after that.

OVERALL VALUE: 45 Very good. InView goes a long way toward giving you complete control over your business. It has an inviting look and feel. And it's tailor-made to keep your studio operation flowing smoothly, covering virtually every business aspect right out of the box-well, except for stock (unless you buy the combined package). A CD-ROM version would be nice. InView gets bonus points for speed. And it's priced right, even when you add the StockView stock/submissions management option.



HindSight Comments:

InView & StockView are available on CD.
InView was noted as being the fastest, although tested on the slowest computer.

Rankings on all the programs reviewed:

InView: 45* $495
GRIP 32: 43 $549
PhotoByte 2000: 43 $1,295 **
BOSS: 39* $1,350
Viewfinder: 34 $595
TimeShark: 33 $395

*Both InView and BOSS lost 2-3 points for lack of a built-in stock module and a stock paper trail. As noted in the review, those features are available as options for both products. The review also noted that at $745 for InView & StockView "the combined package is less costly than the most expensive, all inclusive software packages in this group" and "it's priced right, even when you add the StockView stock/submissions management option."

** The review failed to note that PhotoByte lacks many features which require additional software. These include checking and accounting, correspondence and scheduling. Quicken or QuickBooks, MacWrite Pro and Now UptoDate are required for these tasks.

 

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