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.NET Components For Image Management

David is the founder of Pro Shooters, which produces software for organizing and managing digital images, and a wildlife photographer who specializes in North American mammals and birds. He can be contacted at www.cardinalphoto.com.

At Pro Shooters (www.proshooters.com), our primary product is DigitalPro for Windows, an image-management system for digital photographers. We sell to serious photographers who have large image libraries and often need to process hundreds or even thousands of images at a time. As a result, we serve a niche market and can only afford a small programming team. That means we need to be more productive than the competition to stay ahead. So, instead of trying to do everything ourselves, we rely on tools such as third-party libraries in areas where we can find excellent tools that don't compromise on quality and features.

Licensing an imaging library was an obvious candidate for us. After all, image formats are mostly standardized and there is no sense reinventing the wheel. When we were developing in Visual Basic 6, we relied on a set of COM components, but when we moved to .NET, we really wanted to go with a solution that leveraged the .NET Framework. We looked at Microsoft's .NET native imaging classes, but they had limited support for metadata, color management, and many of the image formats we needed. Consequently, we went shopping for a toolkit that included .NET classes and visual controls that we could use to read, display, process, and write image files in a variety of formats. In addition, we have our own libraries for doing specialized processing of vendor-specific formats (such as raw files), so we knew whatever solution we licensed would need to be extensible.

By the time we were ready to evaluate imaging toolkits, we had a checklist of important criteria, including architecture, feature set, flexibility, performance, extensibility, and support responsiveness.

Architecture had become increasingly important to us. Since porting DigitalPro to .NET, we'd been hampered by third-party components that were either only available in COM versions or had (at best) thin .NET wrappers. While they would work, they were difficult to debug and limited in how we could use them. So we were looking for a native .NET toolkit for best results. Of course, we did realize that some of the low-level raster code would be unmanaged, but our hope was to have that be minimal and be transparently integrated into .NET libraries by the vendor.

As you might expect for a new platform, most .NET toolkits had fewer features than their more mature COM-based competitors. Still, we zeroed in on dotImage from Atalasoft (www.atalasoft.com). What we liked about dotImage was that Atalasoft had taken .NET seriously enough to move almost all of its functionality over to .NET, and the company was serious about addressing any shortcomings in the .NET managed code features set, rather than forcing licensees to knit together COM and .NET.

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