I have always been fascinated with beautiful images. My father gave me a 35mm SLR when I was 13, and I have never looked back. All of my adult life, photography, cameras and digital image processing have been passions of mine. Naturally when I got my first personal computer in 1993, the first thing I did was scour the internet (not such a difficult job in those days – the internet was a MUCH smaller place) for a great image viewer/editor. My first computer was a PC, and Windows image viewers tended to come in two basic flavors, single image viewers such as LView or IrfanView and multi-image thumbnail-based catalogers and viewers, such as ThumbsPlus and QPict.
The Macintosh world seemed to approach this differently however, with the widely revered single image viewer JPEGView being the uncontested king of the hill. With its easy to use interface and its high speed JPEG decoding, it was a natural choice for most people. Decoding speed WAS important at that time – a moderately sized JPEG image could take 10 seconds or more to decode and display on the 25 MHz Macintoshes of the day.
What always bedeviled me about Macintosh image viewers was that like JPEGView, almost all of them were single image viewers. They displayed the image you clicked on and that was it. There was no “next image” or “previous image” function, except if you asked the viewer to open multiple images at the same time. There was no way to easily browse through a folder of images, one at a time, progressing from one image to the next one, and then to the next one and so on. Given the slow speed of image decoding at the time, I suppose that the software authors of the day could not envisage that people would ever want to do such a thing, and so they did not build it in.
However, *I* did, and I still do. In the PC world of the time, viewers like LView and ThumbsPlus fully supported the concept of browsing complete folders of files, even if the delay between images was sometimes sleep inducing. So, when I returned to the world of vintage Macs a few years ago, some 20 years after their heyday, one of the first things I went looking for was a multi-image viewer. I found a lot of great and very creative single image viewers, but for a long time, I struggled to find any that could browse folders of images in a seamless and direct way.
My search took me across all of the abandonware archives that I was aware of, and through countless image viewers, both 68K and PPC. At times I despaired of ever finding a good multi image viewer, but eventually I found two truly excellent multi image viewers, both of which provide seamless browsing of folders of images and fairly speedy image decoding as a bonus. I also came upon a few others that provided a similar function. One needed CarbonLib, which limited it somewhat, and one was rather unorthodox in its user interface, to say the least.
With that as an introduction, this blog post now arrives at its purpose, providing details on six of the best viewers I found in my search:
No post about vintage Macintosh image viewers could hope to be complete without a mention of the venerable JPEGView. The undisputed king of the Macintosh image viewers, this title was probably populated on almost everyone’s Mac. I remember it being on my Centris at work back in 1993 and I am sure that most people who used Macintoshes at the time have a similar memory. JPEGView was easy to use, fast and even scriptable – it came with an AppleScript that allowed it to run slide shows from folders of images – not quite what I was looking for, but close. JPEGView is a great all around viewer, and remains recommended, even today, for the Mac of yesterday.
You can find JPEGView today at http://macintoshgarden.org/apps/jpegview
This is a lesser known single image viewer than JPEGView, I am guessing. Its signature value is that it is FAST (even relative to JPEGView). I am sure that it is not twice as fast, but it seems that way. Another interesting thing about Jade is that after I installed it, it took over JPEGView’s type and creator codes, such that now when I double click a JPEGView image, my Mac executes Jade instead of JPEGView. I still haven’t figured out how it does this. I am guessing that it overwrites part of JPEGView’s information in the Desktop file, but that is pure speculation. Jade is small, fast and easy to use. I would recommend giving it a whirl.
You can find Jade today at http://www.pure-mac.com/graphics.html#jade
ThumbsPlus was always a favorite of mine in the Windows world. It is a clean, easy to use thumbnail-based viewer and editor. When you initially point it at a folder full of images, it catalogs them, generates thumbnails for each one, and eventually shows you a full folder view, composed of rows and columns of thumbnails. Double click any thumbnail and ThumbsPlus opens the selected image in a new window. So far, so good, but what I always really liked about ThumbsPlus when I used its Windows version was that you could then simply advance to the next image, and the next and so on.
I thought I had died and gone to heaven when I stumbled across ThumbsPlus RC1 at http://macintoshgarden.org/apps/thumbs-plus. As far as I know, ThumbsPlus was never officially released for Macintosh, with its short prospective career terminated before it reached the final release stage. RC1 (Release Candidate 1) was the final candidate for Macintosh release, being produced just before the Macintosh version of ThumbsPlus was killed. For a non-released piece of software, ThumbsPlus RC1 is exceptionally good. I have found no limitations, bugs or issues of any sort.
ThumbsPlus RC1 comes with some extra “goodies” that make it exceptionally valuable as a Mac OS image viewer:
1/ Both 68K and PPC versions are included in the downloadable from Macintosh Garden.
2/ ThumbsPlus renders JPEGs very quickly on 68K Macs. I put it way ahead of JPEGView in this regard, and at least on par with Jade.
3/ ThumbsPlus includes its own gamma adjustment, so that you can optimize the color schema it uses for the monitor you are viewing the images on. In days of yore, this would not have been that valuable, but if you are using a 100% end-to-end vintage Mac that includes a vintage Apple 12” or 14” CRT monitor (or if you are really lucky, one of the very rare 16” or 17” CRT monitors), it becomes extremely valuable. This is the case for the setup of both my Quadra 840AV and my Power Macintosh 7500. In both cases, their original Apple monitors have long since exceeded their “best before date” and their contrast and brightness have faded with time, to the point that you can no longer get really good color from them. The ThumbsPlus gamma control allows you to compensate for this somewhat, and restores real luster to the images you are viewing, vs. viewing them with any other image viewer I have found. This all by itself makes ThumbsPlus RC1 a real standout in the rather sparse field of thumbnail based image viewers for Mac OS.
You can find ThumbsPlus RC1 at http://macintoshgarden.org/apps/thumbs-plus
QPict was another favorite of mine from the PC world, and again I was delighted to find both a 68K version and a PPC version at program’s home page (still valid today – point your browser at http://www.qpict.net/download-old-versions.html ). It is very similar in operation to ThumbsPlus, but unlike ThumbsPlus it was officially released and was supported on Mac OS for quite some time. Like ThumbsPlus, QPict is also very good at rendering JPEGs quickly on 68K Macs, but it lacks the internal gamma adjustment of ThumbsPlus.
One unique feature of QPict that I really like is that when it catalogs a folder of images, it stores the catalog for that folder in the folder itself. To launch QPict and view the available thumbnails and images, you simply navigate to the folder in question with Finder and double click the catalog file. This is very clean and very simple. By contrast, ThumbsPlus stores its thumbnail database for everything it has ever been asked to view in one central database. If you frequently view images on removable drives such as Zip or Jaz drives (I have one of each attached to both my Quadra 840AV and my Power Macintosh 7500), the folder tree pane used by ThumbsPlus to provide users with a way of selecting the folder of images they wish to view becomes cluttered with folders that aren’t really available, or at least not until you pop in the Zip or Jaz drive that they are on. I prefer the QPict approach – it seems cleaner and more self-contained.
You can find QPict at http://www.qpict.net/download-old-versions.html
PicPops is a real treasure, albeit one with a rather unusual name given what it does. PicPops sports a clean and intuitive user interface, featuring simple and directly labeled control buttons and a large image viewing area. PicPops browses folders of images with ease, and renders those images at a reasonable, although not breakneck, speed.
PicPops would feature more prominently in my evaluation except for two drawbacks. First, it requires CarbonLib, which means it can only be run with Mac OS 8.6 or later, and second, it requires QuickTime 3 or later. The Mac OS 8.6 limitation implies of course that it can only be run on PPC Macs, which is a shame.
You can find PicPops 3.6 at http://www.brothersoft.com/picpops-download-85891.html
A final entrant in today’s review of multi image viewers is another oddly named image viewer, Prowler. Prowler was actually the FIRST Mac OS program I found that was capable of browsing a folder full of images, and I was very, very pleased to find it. For quite a while, I was afraid that this was as good as it got for multi-image viewers in the Mac OS world. If you sense some dismay with Prowler, you would be right on target. Quite aside from the unlikely name, Prowler sports an an equally unlikely user interface that really takes some getting used to (and some inspired guessing to find which keys operate which functions). Along the left side of the screen, Prowler presents a sort of rolodex view of the images in the folder. It is a fairly nice treatment – rather like dock icons, they expand as they arrive at the middle of the view, and shrink back down as they are scrolled off the screen on the bottom.
On the right 2/3rds of the screen, Prowler shows the current image, along with all of its details (title, size, date, etc.). Here is where the “inspired guessing” comes in. You can place Prowler into full screen mode, so that the rolodex view disappears and the entire screen is devoted to the current image, but there is no obvious way to do this. I stumbled on it quite by accident. It involves clicking the current image and then moving the mouse pointer to the bottom of the screen and holding it there. After a disconcertingly long delay, the image goes full screen and stays that way.
Prowler’s is a very unique interface model for image viewing, but it does work, and it is easy enough once you know what to do. I guess that the software world was still young enough back then that people were experimenting with all nature of GUI treatments. The Prowler treatment is not one I have seen in any product before or since, and that is probably a good thing (IMHO). However, with all that said and done, Prowler delivers the goods. Once you get the hang of using it, it provides full folder image browsing, and at a reasonable rendering speed. It is not a speed demon, but it gets the job done.
I think Prowler is fun to look at through today’s eyes, just to see what what sorts of image viewer GUI treatments were tried and perhaps deemed not to work. BTW, the last available version (2.3, as far as I could discover) has been Carbonized, and so it too may require CarbonLib and Mac OS 8.6 or later.
You can get Prowler at http://www.tucows.com/preview/206545/Prowler
I hope that the above information may have enhanced your image viewing experience on any and all vintage Macs that you may have – Happy Viewing!