PicLens 1.6 Released!

 Posted by at 1:02 am  Work
Jan 152008

After many weeks and months of frenzied labor by the CoolIris crew, I’m pleased to announce the release of PicLens 1.6 Beta for Firefox Mac and Firefox Windows!

The headline feature for the 1.6 release is “The Wall” – a 3D scrolling infinite wall of images for viewing your favorite photo sites and image search results.  Take a look at this snapshot from the PicLens.com web site:PicLens 1.6 “Wall”

The Wall: Drag It, Shake It, Toss It

The wall is fully interactive.  You can:

  • Drag (or “toss”) it left and right with the mouse (click and drag anywhere in the background)
  • Scroll left and right using the horizontal mouse wheel
  • Zoom in closer to or further away from the wall using the vertical mouse wheel
  • Navigate through the thumbnails using arrow keys
  • Scroll the wall by clicking on the scrollbar at the bottom
  • Click on a photo thumbnail to select and enlarge the photo on the wall
  • Double-click a photo to switch into full-screen slide show mode, ala PicLens 1.5.

The wall displays images from the web page you were viewing when you clicked on the “Launch PicLens” button in the browser.  We’ve added smarts to PicLens so it can navigate HTML pages of photos from sites like Google Image Search, Flickr, and many others so you can see photos together without page breaks.  To see more photos on the screen at a time, use the vertical mouse scroll wheel to zoom out a little.  To see fewer photos in more detail, zoom in closer to the wall.

The wall is an infinite list, pulling image thumbnails from the web server as needed as you scroll through the content.  As more thumbnails are loaded ahead of your current view, older thumbnails behind your current view are discarded to save memory.  When you scroll back later, they’ll be reloaded very quickly from the local browser cache.

When you click on an image on the wall to take a closer look, PicLens 1.6 loads and displays the full-size image that the thumbnail links to.  Full sized images can be really big, so we currently only load the full-res for the selected item.  When selection moves to a different image, the previously selected image falls back to using its lower-resolution thumbnail.  We’ll be studying user feedback and memory performance “in the wild” to see if we can keep the full-res images around longer without stressing the system too much, but for now we’ll play it safe and stick to all thumbnails + one full size selected image.

The Wall is a significant step up in presentation and interaction from “just” a full-screen slide show.  Slide shows are passive.  The Wall is an active, engaging element that takes advantage of the most advanced image recognition system in the world – your eyes!

More Sites, More Stuff, More Lens Power

The Wall is the most obvious addition to PicLens, but there’s a lot more new going on under the hood.  We’ve nearly tripled the number of web sites PicLens can display images from, including the #1 user requested site, DeviantArt. Supported photo sites now include Flickr, Photobucket, DeviantArt, and others.  You can view photo albums shared on social networking sites such as Facebook, MySpace, Friendster, and others.  You can view image search results from search engines such as Google, Yahoo, Ask, Windows Live, and AOL, as well as search results from Flickr and other supported web sites.

PicLens also now supports loading images from paginated HTML pages for nearly all the supported sites – this means you can view all 300 of your Flickr doggie photos in one fell swoop in PicLens, instead of having to page through dozens of page results a few photos at a time using the HTML browser.

As always, the best way to get PicLens to view the photos on your web site is to implement a mediaRSS feed for your photos.  PicLens loves mediaRSS! If your web site is running on WordPress, you can install the PicLens WordPress plugin to generate a mediaRSS feed for your site’s photos automatically.

Tech Bits

The geekier folks out there (you know who you are) might be interested in what’s under the hood. 

For Firefox Mac, the answer is simple, clean, and reliable:  OpenGL all the way, baby.  You don’t have a lot of hardware options on a Mac, but the options you have run really, really well.   (damn you!)

For the Windows crowd, the hardware scene is a jungle.  Ten versions of DirectX/Direct3D, eight of which are no longer supported and none of which are available everywhere.  Multiple partial implementations of OpenGL hardware drivers, some of which outright lie about their capabilities.  You name it, somebody’s probably botched it. 

What can I say? I’m a Windows guy. Most of the time I don’t pay any attention to Macs. However, when I’m implementing equivalent functionality on Windows, I can get just a teensy bit jealous (aka “cranky”) that there’s really only one way to do it on the Mac, and it works.

For Firefox Windows, PicLens 1.6 uses OpenGL if your video card is beefy enough to handle the workload.  If you don’t have 3D accelerated hardware, PicLens 1.6 will render in 3D using a software renderer. 

Fun fact:  On late-model CPUs with economy graphics cards, rendering in software is often faster than rendering on the graphics card – even when the graphics card provides some 3D services!  This is particularly true for laptops, since laptop manufacturers often choose wimpier graphics chips to save on power / extend battery life.  There is nothing economical about the power consumption of a full-bore 3D graphics chip!

This 1.6 release is a beta, and as such we will be fine-tuning and adjusting things with minor updates on a fairly regular basis.  By all means, send us your feedback!  We need to know what you like best, what you find hard to use, and how smoothly our code runs on your hardware. Operators with very large hammers are standing by to smooth out any bumps you find.

Internally, this PicLens 1.6 release is the product of a major overhaul of the PicLens innards compared to the 1.5 release.  We’re now able to write and build PicLens code for multiple platforms simultaneously (IE and Safari coming soon!), and now have the internal infrastructure in place to support developing new modes and feature modules independently of each other and the core.

Now then, what sort of trouble can we get into next?