Image Library: Moving from Extensis Portfolio to Google’s Picasa

We’ve been using Extensis Portfolio Server and clients for five years between two departments, Public Affairs and Design & Printing Services, to attempt to organize our digital image library of nearly 50,000 images. We’re also starting to store videos on this same server. We have a mixed environment of PC and Mac platforms. The PCs automatically map a network drive to the dedicated server through a Novell login script when we login to our computers everyday. The Macs mount the server via Finder > Go > Connect to Server.

When we initially purchased Extensis, we figured it would take a year or so to get up to speed, get everything cataloged, add meta data, etc. before we would start to see a return on our investment in terms of the time it would save us in finding images for print and electronic projects. This couldn’t be further from the case. This product has been extremely hard to use, slow, and is not overly intuitive for basic users. As a die-hard iPhoto user for over four years for personal use, I’ve been in search of a comparable product for our multi-platform, multi-user networked environment.

I’ve tweeted a number of times in recent months about my displeasure with Extensis and search for a new solution. Extensis was even listening on Twitter and another vendor’s forum in which I posted, and offered to have a senior sales engineer call me to discuss our concerns. We had that phone call, and it didn’t help. Their software just doesn’t meet our needs. Director of Web MarketingSantoroski responded to one of my tweets earlier this week and put me in touch with his colleague Whitney Anderson, who sent me a very detailed e-mail about their switch from Portfolio to Picasa. She blogged about it over at High on Web with the detailed pros and cons list she sent me. We’re just starting to implement this solution, so we have not yet tested it in all of our use cases, in particular multi-user update. Here’s what we’ve found so far.

Picasa is the best solution I have found for us. Not only is it user friendly and extremely fast, it’s free - big differences from Extensis Portfolio.


But wait, what about my meta data?

One of our primary concerns in deciding whether to make the switch was whether we would get all of our meta data we’ve put into our Extensis catalogs over the years back out and into Picasa. It was a bit of a challenge, but we did figure it out.

Using your Extensis Portfolio client, open your catalog(s) and select all of the images within. Control (Mac) / right (PC) click on one of the images. Choose “embed properties” from the sub-menu, then “view metadata settings…” The two main fields in the catalog we were most concerned with were “keywords” and “IPTC-creator” (photographer credit). Select each of those on the left side, and on the right side (‘where to embed the field data’), map them to “IPTC-keywords.” This embeds the meta data you had entered in Extensis into the image file itself, which now makes the terms searchable within Picasa.


Test thoroughly before complete abandonment

My Senior Web Producer and I are still testing this switchover and have not deployed it to the rest of our department or other areas yet. As soon as we’re done testing in the coming week, we plan to write up a guide for Mac and PC with installation and setup instructions. While it will be quite specific to our environment, if seeing this guide would be a helpful starting point for you, please leave me a comment below or contact me directly, and I’ll be happy to share.


What’s your story?

What digital asset management tool do you use? Do you have a custom built tool, or do you use a commercial product? Are you happy with it?

21 Responses to “Image Library: Moving from Extensis Portfolio to Google’s Picasa”

  1. Says:

    We use Imagefolio, our site:

    It has had its quirks, but overall it has reduced the number of photo requests we have to handle. Uses IPTC, batch uploads, user settings and privacy, and lightbox features. And it is pretty low cost ($1000) compared to hosted systems and other products like Portfolio.

    So far, I would give it an A-, We host over 18,000 files with about 80gigs of space. We plan to eventually host close to 1 TB before we are done. We have 111 registered users.

  2. Says:

    We’ve been using portfolio for almost a year now. No one really likes it…. but we’re financially committed. Other departments have recently started to use Lightroom, so I was tempted to go that was but have not yet tested any alternatives. I would be interested in how the migration to Picassa goes for you.

  3. Says:

    We’ve just getting going with Gallery 2: Its free and open, and is fairly customizable. We use Adobe Lightroom to sort, edit and tag photos and it connects directly with Gallery 2 for uploading. We even store video and audio files. It works well for our needs. We’re building a YouTube-ish media site in house and using Gallery as a backend to store the video files.

    Version 3 is set to be released in the near future which should be a great upgrade. Gallery 2 is a bit bloated and hard to work with the code directly to modify it.

  4. Says:

    Very informative nice post.

  5. Says:

    I’ve also been an iPhoto user and really enjoy it. My office has one huge Excel spreadsheet with explanations of photos and photographers. It is a nightmare. I’d love to know how well Picasa works for you.

  6. Says:

    As a photographer, I use Adobe Bridge and find it amazing. I can easily add metadata to one or all images in a folder, I can search by specific metadata or keywords, and all photos are stored in their original location.

    I had assumed everyone in need of an image at a university would already have a copy of Photoshop and Bridge, therefore already have everything they need.

    Is that not the case? or do you find Bridge to be lacking?


  7. Says:

    @Nick: My understanding of Bridge is that it cannot be used in a multi-user, multi-platform, networked server environment, so I didn’t even evaluate it as an option.

  8. Says:

    Does everyone needing access to the images have Bridge already installed on their machines? If so, it should work fine for your needs. I use it on networked drives, and everyone at a design firm I work closely with, uses Bridge and a network. But maybe you’re referring to an internet situation? All of my drives are hard wired, and the design firm’s drives are connected directly to a network server w/in their building.

  9. Says:

    I used Picasa 2.5 beta, which is great (still some bugs, for example on FTP brilliant-idea-but-not-working-well-yet). I am not sure it is out of beta. I install it right now from and… surprize: I get back to 2.2.0. So, it’s not out of beta, or at least they did not change on the homepage and the exe file!

  10. Says:

    Thanks, I am going to try Picasa, I had the older version, wasn’t too impressive. But I will check it out again, got a lot of image files that I’d like to catalog and show online.

  11. Says:

    This post is superb. You have a real good knowledge about this subject. The way you wrote very nice.

  12. Says:

    I have used Picasa 2.5 beta, it is really good. Great for allowing you to organise, edit and share your photos. It’s free too which is a rarity. Thanks for this information, it has highlighted some crucial areas for me.

  13. Says:

    How’s the mac and pc setup guides coming?

    I’m working with Extensis now and it’s sucking wind. Crashing all the time, no indexing all files, many issues. I would love to use Picasa instead.

    • Says:

      I wrote the set up/customization guides that week for all of my staff to use to get it installed and syncing with our image server.

  14. Says:

    Share with us! :)

  15. Says:


    I stumbled upon this page while searching for something else and after reading the comments I have to leave my own.

    I have set up a Portfolio server system at our design studio. We do a lot of great work for high-end clients, and we have no room for anything to function less than optimally, which is a puffed-up way of saying whatever tech we use has to work really well, all the time :)

    Portfolio has been totally reliable and completely helpful. Mind you, my wish list has several items on it, but it does what it’s supposed to do very well.

    I’ve been an IT manager and technical strategist for about 18 years, and I’ve seen a lot of systems. If you’ve tried Portfolio and have had systematic troubles with it, you’ve got something wrong somewhere, either on your server, your desktops, your network, your back-end disk structure, or somewhere else.

    In interests of full disclosure, I’ve spoken publicly about Portfolio on behalf of Extensis, but never for compensation, nor do I work for Extensis. I speak for the product because I believe in good DAM and I really like the product and I like to speak to people who enjoy it, too, plus the folks over there are very nice and they care, too.

    I’m not saying anything bad about other systems or warning you away from anything, just trying to balance out the conversation about Portfolio. I will say it is far more versatile and powerful than Picasa, but that in itself may be a great reason for people with basic needs to choose Picasa. The right tool for the job, right?

    Good luck to you all.

  16. Says:

    I’m so sorry to hear about your trouble with Extensis, but I have to say that I am so happy to hear I’m not the only one.

    We’re currently in the middle of the ump-teenth clusterf$@# this software has caused us so pardon me if I seem a bit harsh, but I assure you that none of this is exaggeration.

    Their NetPublish web publishing system was downright unreliable and not user-friendly in any manner, shape or form. About a year ago we migrated to the SQL-connect version of their product so I could begin developing our own front-end to replace the faulty NetPublish system.

    In order to build a custom web face for the database, I obviously had to get very familiar with the underlying data structure and I have to say that without doubt, I have never seen a more poorly-architected database in all my years as a developer.

    After seeing the mess this application lives on top of, I’m no longer surprised that weren’t able to establish a functional, reliable system despite the scores of hours our server admins spent working hand-in-hand with Extensis support.

    I’m currently in the process of building a much more flexible and much more usable web-based application to handle the management of our photos in the future. My only regret is that I can’t build it any quicker.

    Good riddance Extensis, may we never meet again.

    P.S. To the one guy who had a good experience with Extensis - I don’t know how you lucked out. If I were you, I’d start playing the lottery.

  17. Says:

    Thank you for this post, Its extremely difficult to find a good DAM product.

  18. Says:

    @Josh, I’ll stand by my previous comments. If you do the installs right and have a properly set up and maintained system with an admin that knows what they’re doing, everything should work fine. It’s not a game of chance.

    I will say I do not have hands-on experience with the SQL version, so I can’t speak to that system’s functionality or robustness. That scenario opens itself up to a lot more variables, obviously, and as such more possibilities for problems.

    I’ve developed extremely customized interfaces for NetPublish that bring in new functionalities, and while it’s certainly long overdue for a refresh, and the templated code from which you begin your projects is not well written, it’s not difficult to work with at all. These projects are for Fortune 100/500+ companies, some for users at the executive level. I could not afford to have my solution work imperfectly in any respect for these clients.

  19. Says:

    Hi Rachel. I’m curious, now many months later, how Picasa is working for you in your shared environment.



  20. Says:

    I’ve recently developed a custom web-based photo management application for a publishing company, as a replacement for some hosted (unreasonably expensive) solution that they’ve used before. Now they would also like to switch their other archives from Extensis Portfolio to our system, and it’s lots of data that needs to be migrated. it looks as lots of people commenting here had some experience with this type of migrations so I wonder if someone could give me an advice how to do it in the most painless, and of course, the fastest way. I googled that Portfolio supports exporting data to a tab separated text file, is that feasible to do with with big archives like 100K of photos or more?