October 2, 2003

Review: Pictures in the Gallery

Author:

- by Russell Pavlicek -
Most Open Source applications tend to be general utilities or business software. Gallery, however, represents a new breed of applications designed for end users.
The project provides a Web-based photo gallery, complete with thumbnails, index pages, and simple navigation, all while making life simple for the administrator as well as the user. Its strong feature set earned Gallery the Product of the Month designation for October at SourceForge.net, our sister site.

Most of Gallery is a series of PHP routines meant to be run under a Web
server like Apache, Zeus, or even IIS (which is not explicitly supported,
but instructions are given on how to attempt to use it). The code is
distributed under the GPL, so anyone can download and use it.

When attempting an installation using Apache under Linux or Unix, you need
to make certain that you have
installed PHP4 for scripting, either Netpbm or
ImageMagick for image manipulation, and (optionally) Apache's mod_rewrite
to simplify URLs.

Gallery provides HTML documentation in its docs subdirectory.
Unfortunately, it lacks a decent README file.
Even if the file simply pointed to the top page of the installation
documentation, it would be an improvement. Better still would be a
pointer to the documentation plus a summary of the simplest form of
installation. That one addition could help new users get
over the "what do I do now?" hump after unpacking the tarball.

Once you locate the documentation, it does provide useful
information. It discusses the software you might need to install first
(as mentioned above). It then directs you to unpack the tarball in an
appropriate directory under your Web server's directory tree.

One fact it omits is just where in the tree an appropriate directory
should be located. Folks with a little background in Apache might well
believe that the directory should be under the cgi-bin portion of the
Apache tree. After all, Gallery contains executable PHP routines so
they should be placed under an executable subdirectory, no? Well, no. The PHP-based routines work from standard HTML portions of the Apache tree.

Once past that small hump, installing the rest of Gallery was easy. The
simple configure.sh script enables you to run the setup utility from a Web browser. The setup routine is self-explanatory, allowing you to select things like an administrator
password, ImageMagick or NetPBM, and a few other choices. It also
verifies that Gallery can locate all the pieces of software it
needs. Finally, once setup is complete, you need to run a simple
script that locks down the installation and makes the gallery safe to be
used by normal users.

Administration is a high point of this package. Point your Web browser to
your new Gallery Web site. Click on the login link, give your
administrator username and password, and you are ready to go.

Creating a new photo album is just a click away. Adding photos to the
album is a dream. Not only can you specify individual files to upload
into the album, you can also upload a ZIP file full of images to save
time. Even better, you can specify a directory or URL and let Gallery
upload all the images in that directory into the album. Once the upload
is complete, the photos are available on the Web site. No post-upload
configuration is necessary, although you have the option of customizing
things if you wish.

As a test, I uploaded a directory containing a few hundred digital photos. The upload process automatically resized large images,
generated thumbnails, and created default captions in just a few minutes
without any further interaction from me. This is a great feature which
makes the creation of large albums possible in a very short period of
time.

Of course, once the pictures have been loaded into the system, the
administrator has the ability to customize a number of things. Captions
can be added or modified and descriptions can be attach to individual
pictures. Thumbnails and pictures can be rotated as needed for display
purposes. Pictures can be moved, deleted, or hidden from view as needed.
Images or entire albums can also be renamed at will.

The administrator and users can also view counters for the album and for
each picture, allowing the administrator to determine which pictures
capture the most interest.

The user experience

From a user's standpoint, Gallery is simple and
intuitive. Pages may be traversed sequentially via arrows or directly
via page numbers. Pictures appear as thumbnails; you click on one to reveal
the larger image. If the image happens to be very large, the first click
yields a version of the image with dimensions around 640x480.
Clicking on that picture displays the full-size image.

There is even a search function that allows users to
locate images associated with a given text string. Enter part
of a word and click on "search" to see thumbnails of
every picture which matches that text, organized by album. Very nice.

About the only feature that I found myself wanting was a way to advance
through an album by the first letter of a picture's name. Jumping to
pictures beginning with the letter "P," for instance, could save time if
you have a large group of images organized by name. However, I doubt the
lack of this facility will matter to most people.

Conclusion

Gallery performs a relatively simple task very well. Obviously, great care was taken to provide
administrators with functions that make it easy to assemble a
Web-based image gallery in a very short period of time. That's a
feature that makes Gallery a very useful project indeed.

Russell Pavlicek is a consultant and author dealing
with Linux in business. He is a panelist on The Linux
Show weekly Webcast, and is a contributor to a number
of Linux Web sites. He formerly wrote the Open Source
column for InfoWorld magazine.

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