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Better Image DB: FMP vs OS vs iPhoto?


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In these forums you can find numerous threads telling you how horrible it is to allow access via the OS to the files being served by FMS (because the OS will allow bad things to happen to the data). But these forums commonly recommend that you pull images out of the FMS database and stick them in directories accessible from anywhere on the network via the OS. But that leaves a portion of your database easily corruptible! There does not seem to be a *good* solution for serving up a database of photos (or other large field values).

Please help me figure this out...

First, ignoring other complicating factors for a moment, I'd like to understand the answer to this simplified question:

Assume you need to serve up a database of photos... essentially three fields: a unique ID, a 72dpi thumbnail, and a 300dpi photo. This is a network situation... a server serving the DB to a few dozen clients. Assume 10,000 records and photos sized such that the total size is about 1GB.

Which of the following is the better database system for this:

A) FileMaker Server

: Mac OS X (Finder)

C) iPhoto and Webserver

??

(And yes, I consider an OS to be a database system... not general-purpose, but its job is primarily to organize data and let you do Finds, Sorts, etc.)

What say ye??

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Here's my cut at an answer to the above (intended to stimulate thought and better answers)...

FileMaker Server has the advantages of providing well-controlled access to the data... I can prevent people from corrupting the database (particularly links into it) via other software. In contrast, the OS allows any app running to munge the data and structure... and pretty much any way they want to. I can use permissions for some gross-level of control, but its fairly "all or nothing". iPhoto manages its database itself, but is not really setup to serve it to multiple machines. Addition of the webserver allows you to serve it to multiple clients via browser, but you'd have to custom-build something to allow the clients to import photos.

FileMaker Server has the advantage of extending effortlessly to a network of Macs *and* PCs. Same controlled access from all platforms. The OS-method seems problematic due to differences in pathnames (the key field) and differences in access control. iPhoto alone is a bust here... but served via webserver, it will work fine.

FileMaker Server seems to have a serious limitation in handling of size. Based on prior posts, FMS dies at a mere 2GB. And it seems that its performance degrades not only with the number of files, but also with the sizes of those files. The OS has no 2GB limit, happily handling hundreds of Gigs of data. The OS performance is also affected little by the sizes of the files... just the number of files. iPhoto+Webserver has the same properties as the OS... no issue with size of files.

iPhoto has built-in functionality for managing photos, generating thumbnails, etc. FMS can get you some of that via a plug-in? The OS doesn't offer it directly, but you can use any number of tools to get that job done.

Linking to the photo database from other FMS databases can be done in all three cases. With FMS, a Relationship will do the trick. With the OS, you can use FMS's ability to import images via reference. With iPhoto+Webserver, you can use FMS's open-URL functionality. The big difference, though, is in import of photos. With FMS-based solution, you can minimize reliance on the user doing it "right". With the OS-based solution, you need them to put the file in the proper place and then import via reference... though a plug-in may help solve this better. With the iPhoto-based solution, you'll likely need to submit photos for the administrator to pull in... they'll re-generate the web pages.

==>> Thus, it appears that all three fail. FMS can't handle the size gracefully. iPhoto doesn't support user import or management of the photos. The OS can at least function, but provides too little access control to prevent the database from being seriously corrupted.

I'm a bit surprised and disappointed in FM's lack of scalability. Generally, that's priority #1 for a database... and 2GB is not very big for a database. Get rid of that problem, and FMS would be the clear solution of choice.

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For simple storage of photos, iPhoto cannot be beat. It is simple to setup, simple to use, but does lack extensibility. However it has all the features that all but the most particular solution needs.

We use Filemaker as a warehouse for digial photographs. We have dbs ranging from 1500 to 21,000 records, each with a thumbnail, 72dpi and 300dpi images. The dpi images are referenced with the thumbnail actually being stored in the DB.

While I would have LOVED to use iPhoto our needs are just a little bit above it capabilities right now.

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  • 1 month later...

I am about to purchase a digital camera and, although the number of images I will store will be very small compared to most of the people using these forums, am thinking of using a FM 6 database to store them locally on my Mac rather than iPhoto. (I have an ibook running OS X.)

My reasons are this: From my job, I am pretty familiar with designing databases in FM, and so I'm actually more comfortable with FM than iPhoto. And, I want to export some of the photos on a regular basis to my website, and think that FM will be easier to automate in this respect (creating fields to keep track of which photos I've uploaded to the server, creating categories that will be uploaded as well, etc...) It seems to me that FM offers more flexibility than iPhoto in terms of allowing me to store the information to my own specifications, and better capabilities as far as uploading info and getting it into a mySQL database (which I'd then use to create the html pages, via perl.)

In fact, I am considering purchasing FM 6 just for this project (I only have previous FM versions, which as far as I can tell, do not easily allow the import of photos into a database). Am I going too far with this project? (I have a tendency to overdo things all out of proportion to the needs of a project.) Should I try using iPhoto first? Are there any other small-scale users out there who have used FM to store the information about their photos?

One final thought: I'm always afraid of what happens when software companies go out of business. As I want to keep the photo database for decades, it seems like FM is a better solution, because I can always export the info in a tab-separated file and move it elsewhere, and the photos themselves will be stored as jpg images on my hard drive, a format which hopefully will be around for a while!

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Well, it can't hurt to try iPhoto... its trivial to learn and free on your Mac. iPhoto will let you easily export HTML pages for displaying the .jpg's on a website. (I do just that for the photo albums on my website, www.EveryBody-Fits.com) And neither HTML or JPEG are going anywhere as formats.

Beyond that, what's the other stuff worth to you? Is it worth buying FM6 and building a custom database? Only you can answer that... I'm still fuzzy on even what the complexity will be in building such a database (this thread didn't get too many responses).

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HTML and jpg formats will be around for a while, hopefully; I was thinking more of the lifespan of iphoto versus Filemaker Pro. The photos themselves will be stored on the hard drive (as jpg files), but I want to make sure that the annotations that I make are also retained for as long as the photos are.

I'm actually going to try using Filemaker Pro (I've already set up the database), and we'll see how it works out. Thanks for the posting. I like your photos!

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