Even as a tech-savvy person, I never really got into Flickr. I’ve just never felt the need to post all my photos online. Still, it’s pretty much impossible to avoid these days—even if I wanted to—and it seemed like I’d get sucked in sooner or later. What better way than through looking at the PhotoSync add-in for Windows Home Server?
In theory, an add-in like this sounds fantastic. If you store your photos on a server, you could simply arrange them as you like, and let the server itself handle the uploading, tagging, arranging into sets, permissions, etc. Unfortunately, this crude implementation falls flat. Aside from the fact that features are pretty much non-existent, even the few things it can do don’t work well. Let’s take a closer look at my week with PhotoSync.
You can get PhotoSync for WHS here. As you can see, the download page is unassuming.
Not appearing in the screenshot is the “Release History.” Scrolling down reveals that this is the “initial release.” According to the We Got Served forum post containing the download, this is version 0.9.93, and the .zip file has Beta2 in the title, so it appears that this is only a half-finished version. Ordinarily, it might not be entirely fair to review a beta version of an add-in. But in this case, it appears from that forum post that this beta was released about two years ago (June 21, 2007, to be precise), so it seems pretty likely that this version is as final as we’re going to get. Besides, “beta” doesn’t mean quite the same thing it did ten years ago.
The .zip file is a reasonably sized 1.37 MB, and installation was as simple as WHS users have grown to expect. As usual, you must transfer the .msi file to the server’s “software\Add-Ins” folder and install the add-in itself from the console.
I had to disconnect and reconnect the console, not an unusual step when installing or uninstalling an add-in. When I reconnected, I was told that I’d have to authorize PhotoSync to work with my Flickr account.
I didn’t have a Flickr account, so I opened a browser window and used my musty, mothballed Yahoo! ID to create my Flickr account. Once that was done, authorizing the add-in was as simple as logging in.
Once that had been done, I was greeted by the PhotoSync configuration screen.
The screen shows roughly three main sections. The first contains information about synchronizations, the second is for configuring how the photos are uploaded, and the third governs where and when the add-in is to grab photos and upload them. They seem pretty straightforward, but it was weird to me that the default location of the Photo Sync Folder is “D:\shares\Photos.” We WHS users have been told time and time again—and for good reason—that we should always refer to files and folders using the server name. That is, “\\server\Photos.” It is disturbing that this add-in did not do that by default, or at least leave this section blank until the user fills it in.
In any case, the default sync folder was the first thing that had to be changed. The only photos I have so far customarily stored on my server is an archive of scanned family photos, all predating the age of digital photography. But that obviously wasn’t going to work for the purposes of this review. All the photos are in high-resolution .tiff format, and all together take up over 2.5 GB. Flickr, however, allows only 100 MB per month in uploads for its free account. Since I didn’t have two-plus years to get everything uploaded, and I didn’t want to spring for a premium account, I figured I’d upload a more frivolous set of photos—pets. My entire set was about 160 photos totaling about 45 MB, so I copied the whole thing in a newly created Pet Photos directory in \\server\Photos\Flickr. I then pointed PhotoSync in that direction and set permissions to friends and family only.
There’s no way to manually initiate a sync. So I waited.
Checking back a few hours later, PhotoSync still said “Not In Sync” for all the various sync status lines. That seemed wrong. So I checked Flickr. Clearly, something was not working quite right with the add-in, because some photos had indeed uploaded.
But not all of them. Out of 160 or so, only 48 uploaded. After waiting several days, there was no change. This was not the only problem I had, although I’ll spare you the sordid story of my attempts to add new photos in folders (and thus create new sets from the photos). Eventually, the add-in pretty much stopped working completely. For example, the status page, even after a week, continues to insist that the status is “Not In Sync.” At least it’s honest.
Stepping back for a moment, it seems pretty clear that this is an add-in that would be only minimally useful even if it flawlessly did what it purports to do. It was apparently written not to sync with Flickr, but to add photos to Flickr. Deleting or moving photos from the server was seemingly never supposed to have any effect on the Flickr account. The only organization and categorization tools enabled in the add-in was to use the folder name as the Flickr set name and set permissions—globally, not for particular sets. In other words, this version’s limited utility is pretty distant from the utopian ideal of being able to manage your Flickr account from your server.
But even the limited function that this add-in claims is wholly absent. When it does manage to upload photos, it doesn’t upload all of them. Enabling the Use Folder Name as Flickr Set Name function had no effect for me.
The question is, why? I assume that the developer, Ed Holloway, would not have released the add-in if he had noticed these problems. Perhaps something has changed in the Flickr API since release that makes the add-in malfunction? In any case, the cause of the problems are irrelevant for WHS users. The bottom line is that the add-in is simply broken. If it worked at all, I would call it a good way for very casual Flickr users to automatically add photos to a WHS and (undifferentiated) photostream at the same time. Truthfully, that would be perfect for me. But, broken as it is, I can’t even recommend it for that. Bottom line: don’t bother.