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Relaxing with Windows 8’s Photo and Entertainment Apps : Enjoying Photos (part 2) - Using SkyDrive to Connect to Other PC Photo Libraries, Viewing Photos and Photo Slideshows

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Using SkyDrive to Connect to Other PC Photo Libraries

By this point, you should have Photos configured to work with some combination of your local photos, SkyDrive-based photos, and possibly your Facebook and Flickr-based photos as well. That’s a lot of photos. But most people have two or more PCs, and if you configure these PCs a certain way, you can actually access the photo collections on your other PCs—or what we call your connected PC—from any of your PCs.

This assumes that the PCs in question are online, of course. If a connected PC is off or asleep, you won’t be able to access its pictures from the Photos app. On the good news front, these other PCs don’t have to be on your home network to work: One could be in Singapore, for example, and one in Boston, Massachusetts, and you’d still be able to make the connection as long as they’re both online.

So how do you connect PCs? There are two requirements:

  • Microsoft account: You must configure each PC to sign in with the same Microsoft account.
  • SkyDrive application for Windows: You must install the SkyDrive application for Windows (not to be confused with the Metro-style SkyDrive app for Windows 8) on each PC and configure that application to use a feature called Remote Fetch. This feature makes that PC’s files available to you on your other PCs and devices. You do this through the SkyDrive application’s Settings window, which can be seen in Figure 6, and accessed through the app’s system tray icon.

Figure 6: Make sure the SkyDrive application is configured to share its files with other connected PCs.

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When you do configure your PCs to use SkyDrive’s Remote Fetch feature, the photo libraries from those PCs will appear in the Photos app on your other PCs. It’s like magic!

Navigating Through Your Pictures Library, SkyDrive, Facebook, and Flickr

Once all of your photo sources are configured, you can use the Photos app as it is intended: to view your photos, regardless of their location. Well, assuming you’re online, that is: When you’re offline, only the Pictures library tile will respond.

Navigation in each source is similar: You’re presented with a horizontally arranged list of tiles, each of which represents a folder, file, depending on the source. These tiles are in alphabetical order, from left to right, with folders appearing before actual files. Consider the view shown in Figure 7, which displays the contents of the Pictures library.

Figure 7: Viewing folders in the Pictures library

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In this view, you can see two folders, which are represented as tall, rectangular tiles and a single photo, which appears in its native aspect ratio. If you find this view constrictive, you can view more folders (and files) simultaneously by using semantic zoom to pan back the view, resulting in the grid-like layout shown in Figure 8. Obviously, this option—which is available in virtually all Photos views—is more effective (and even necessary) when you have a lot of pictures.

Figure 8: You can zoom out to view more photos on-screen at once.

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You can enable semantic zoom in a variety of ways. With a touch-based system, you use the suddenly common pinching gesture, with two fingers, directly on the screen. With a mouse and keyboard, you can hold the Ctrl key and use your mouse’s scroll wheel. Or, with just the mouse, click the small minus (“-”) symbol in the bottom right of the screen.

And if you zoom enough in the correct direction, you can even use this feature to zoom into a photo! (If you do, you can use the small plus (“+”) symbol that appears in the lower right to zoom back out as well.

These basic views are true of all the photo sources, but of course each is a bit different in its own way. So here’s some information to consider about each:

  • Pictures library: By default, the Pictures library consists of the contents of two locations, My Pictures and Public Pictures, but you can add and remove locations as well. Files and folders in a library are mixed together and arranged as one. So if you have folders named Alpha and Gamma in your My Pictures folder and then one folder named Beta in Public Pictures, they will be arranged alphabetically as Alpha, Beta, and then Gamma in the Pictures library in both File Explorer (on the Windows desktop) and in the Pictures library view in the Photos app.
  • SkyDrive: When you access SkyDrive from its normal web interface at skydrive.com, you’re given the opportunity to configure the “type” of each folder. One of those types is Photos. And only folders that are configured as type Photos will appear in the Photos app in Windows 8. So if you’re not seeing certain SkyDrive photos appear, make sure they’re in a properly configured folder.
  • Facebook: Everyone’s favorite social networking service organizes photos into albums, and what you’ll see in the Facebook view in Photos will correspond to that. You’ll see common Facebook locations like Cover Photos, Mobile Uploads, Wall Photos, and so on, as well as whatever albums you’ve manually created. The order here, however, is not alphabetical. Instead, they’re arranged by which most recently were accessed.
  • Flickr: Yahoo’s popular photo-sharing service provides users with a Photostream, which is basically just every photo you’ve ever uploaded. But it also provides folder-like containers, including sets, which can be further grouped into collections. So you might consider these folders and sub-folders, respectively. Looking at the Flickr view in Photos, you’ll see a tile for your Photostream and then tiles for each collection and set.
  • Connected PCs: As with your own Picture library, your connected PCs will present an aggregated list of folders, sorted alphabetically.

Viewing Photos and Photo Slideshows

Each of the supported photo sources provides nearly identical features related to viewing photos and photo slideshows. So you can browse into any source, and eventually you’ll be presented with one or more actual photos, in a folder. At this point, you can perform some basic activities related to individual photos or groups of photos.

To view a photo full-screen, simply select it. This works exactly as expected, but if you open the app bar (Winkey + Z) while viewing an individual photo, you’ll see some interesting options, as shown in Figure 9.

These options include the following:

  • Set as … Lock screen: While you can always use the PC Settings interface to select a favorite photo for your lock screen image, oftentimes you’ll think to do this while actually viewing photos. This menu item, found by tapping the Set as button, lets you do so.
  • Set as … App tile: By default, the Photos app tile will shuffle through photos, presenting an animated view. But you can configure a single picture to be the permanent tile image if you’d like.
  • Set as … App background: As you’ve seen, the Photos app provides a nice photographic background image in its main view. But you’ll probably want to change that to a favorite photo of your own. When you do, this view will change to resemble Figure 10.

NOTE that this delete button is not available when viewing photos on connected online services or PCs.

  • Delete: This button deletes the file from your PC, after a quick confirmation.
  • Slide show: This button triggers a slideshow of the photos contained in the folder that contains the picture you’re currently viewing.

Figure 9: A single photo viewed full-screen

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Figure 10: Customizing the Photos app with your own picture.

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Of course, you can also trigger slideshows from a folder view, and when you access the app bar from this view, you get a different set of buttons, and thus capabilities. A few are notable.

In this Browse by Date view, you can also reverse pinch to zoom out and see more on-screen at once.

The first is a Browse by date button, though it only appears in the Pictures library view. When you activate this button, the view switches so that each “folder” tile now represents a month, as in Figure 11. (And there’s now a new Browse by album button in the app bar so you can switch back.)

Figure 11: The Pictures library, viewed by date

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This is a neat feature, but it works only within a single source. You can’t mix photos from, say, Facebook and Flickr into a single slideshow. You’ll be prompted to that effect if you try.

There’s also a power-user feature of sorts that lets you collect photos from different folders (within a single photo source) into a basket, like that in the Metro-style File Picker, so that you can run a slideshow of photos from different locations.

To use this feature, enter a folder or view that contains photos. Then, select individual photos, as you would when selecting Start screen tiles: by right-clicking them, tapping and dragging down a bit, or by pressing the Spacebar; as you select a photo, a selection rectangle will indicate success. Or you can select every photo in a folder by opening the app bar and pressing Select All.

Either way, as you select photos, you’ll see two new buttons in the app bar as you go: a Clear Selection button for clearing the selection and a selection thumbnail that indicates how many photos you’ve selected; these can both be seen in Figure 12. Once you’ve selected all the photos you want—again, from multiple folders—you can tap the Slide show button to start this more advanced slideshow type.

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