The move to Linux
As previously mentioned, I have, in the last month, completely moved my main desktop machine off Windows and over to Linux.
Linux Mint to be precise. This was recommended to me as the ideal Linux distribution for noobies coming from Windows.
As I have also mentioned elsewhere, one of the main hurdles for me making this switch was to find an application which could replace Lightroom as both my main image library management, and RAW development engine.
When I first stumbled upon darktable, I wasn’t sure about its user-friendliness, or lack thereof. 6 months in (I started playing with darktable on an old laptop a few months before I switched my main machine over to Linux), and I’ve come to realise that a lot of that initial trepidation was simply my ignorance of what the program could do. And although there are still a few things that I’m struggling with, I’m confident that given more time, I will find ways of working around those issues as well.
At the time I first started to dabble with darktable, the current build was 2.0.6 (from memory). Transitioning from Lightroom was possible, but required a bit of work if you wanted to bring all of your keywords and ratings with you. And let’s be honest… who wouldn’t? You’ve spent probably hundreds of hours getting all that metadata in place. You’re not going to throw it all out the window(s) and start again, are you?
However, in the last 6 weeks or so, version 2.2.0 dropped, and with it has come the ability for darktable to read Lightroom’s .xmp sidecar files! This is a massive win for anyone looking to jump ship like I’ve done.
But it does require one important step before you jump. We’ll get to that in a sec. But first…
Why leave Windows/Adobe?
I have wanted to investigate Linux as a desktop platform for about 15 years or so. But after a really nasty first encounter back then, I pushed those ideas aside and continued on with Windows.
But a couple of things have been bothering me of late.
1. Microsoft’s underhanded and sneaky moves to force people to accept Windows 10. You’ve heard all about it, right? Probably even woke up one morning to find your PC had been upgraded even though you didn’t want it. Yeah, that happened to a LOT of people. And they weren’t happy about it. Me? I managed to avoid all the attempts by Microsoft to force me to upgrade. And I’m glad I did. I only found out a few days ago (mid January 2017) that my 8 year old soundcard does not have driver support under Windows 10. That would have been a massive headache had I also been duped into the Windows 10
2. Adobe’s constant price rises. I have been on the Photographer-centric bundle of LR+PS for a couple of years now, having previously owned a standalone version of LR only. It is, and will be, a good deal… for as long as it lasts. And that’s my concern. I have no evidence to support the following assertion, but it is my view that sometime soon (I’m putting my cards on the table and saying that it will be before the year 2020), Adobe will turn around and go “Yeah, about that LR+PS bundle… we’re not offering that anymore. It’s the whole Creative Suite, or the highway.” Like I said, I have no evidence. It’s just a gut feeling. And if I’m on the money, then I will be glad when that day comes that I got off the train tracks.
Before you leave Lightroom
OK, so let’s say you buy my vision of doom and gloom, and you decide to follow in my footsteps. There is one thing you need to do. In Lightroom’s preferences, there is an option which says “Write metadata to .xmp sidecar files”.
Now, I don’t know why this is switched off by default, but every single LR user SHOULD turn it on. Even if you’re not contemplating a switch to darktable!
Why? Because if you ever have corruption occur in your Lightrom .lrcat file, you’re toast! All that work of tags, star ratings, development settings, EVERYTHING… is gone. Now, sure, there is also the setting which allows LR to keep timestamped backups of the .lrcat file. And you should have that enabled as well. But if you have NEITHER switched on, then you my friend, are playing Russian Roulette.
Let’s say you have never had the ‘sidecar .xmp’ option switched on.
Go to your LR preferences and turn it on.
Do it NOW.
What I’m about to tell you to do will take some time. If you have more than 10,000 images, do this before you go to bed tonight. It’ll be done by tomorrow morning.
In Grid view (press G), select “Entire catalog(ue)” on the left hand side, go Ctrl+A to select all the images in your library, and hit Ctrl+S.
What you’ve just done is told Lightroom to go ahead and create a sidecar .xmp file for every image in your library. And yes, it might take a while depending on the vintage of your machine and how many images you have.
Actually, if you want to get a rough idea of how long it will take on your machine, just select say, 50 files. Hit Ctrl+S and see how long that takes. Processing time will depend mostly on your CPU, but also on RAM. If 50 images takes 50 seconds, then you can estimate that 10,000 images will require around 166 minutes, or just short of 3 hours. YMMV.
Once the sidecars have been created
If you’ve now created all your sidecar files (and you’ll never need to do this again, as Lightroom will now create sidecar files for every new image you import into your library), you are in a position to import your library into darktable.
We’ll cover that in the next post.