Posted on Mar 21, 2007

Blurb BookSmart: The best Java app I have seen in a long time

I just got the photos from our photographer of the wedding and would like to get some books printed of them. So I have been doing the usual internet research reading up on all the services out there. There are about 60 of them in the US. There seemed to be 3 that stood out from the crowd for the best quality for a reasonable price. They all have very good comments on the forums and blogs.

I decided to go with Blurb as they have good reports and seem very reasonable. So off I went and downloaded their application for creating a book. After a few minutes using it I thought “Hey this is a nice app I wonder what it is written in” so looking at the about screen and seeing names like Log4j and iText it was obvious it was Java. It was very fast even with the 14Mpix Canon 5D images from the photographers only taking a ~5sec to load and display them. Overall it has a very nice feel to it. There are a few little annoying things and a couple of minor bugs that I came across but I would give it a 9.5/10 and I am sure by the time its out of beta a 10/10. Any of you who know me know I am very fussy about applications and am not easily impressed, but I would be proud to produce an application like that. It gave me that nice feeling that Java Desktop Apps are cool :-) and I am glad that I am now getting a chance to help make Swing better and make it easier for people to create more cool apps like this one. Three cheers to the Blurb team and keep up the good work.

So go download a copy and have a play:

Download Blurb

blurb-booksmart-small.png

Looks like its a custom L&F I have not seen it around before. Has any one else? Something like a cross between Picasa and Flash components.
The seem to be doing well with the image performance I am curious if they are doing any cleaver tricks. Looks like they are just using the JAI-ImageIO to handle more image formats than the core JDK can handle like TIFF and JPG2000. The impressive thing is it seems much faster than Apple Aperture to load and work with the huge 14Mpix images I have of the wedding. I have a been working on my image scaling algorithms I wrote for Imagery recently for another project. I will do a blog on them soon and opensource them. They are not faster general purpose solution but can make huge performance boosts in special cases like scaling large images down to thumbnails. They can generate thumbnails of several large digital camera images a second so great for thumbnail browsers.

10 Comments

  • jasper says:

    I had a email from Blurb, they are using a custom skinned LAF :-)

  • Brian Young says:

    I look forward to seeing your image scaling algorithms. Right now I do a two-step reduction from large images using JAI’s subsample average op. The quality is very nice but it is kind of slow.

    JAI is very powerful, perhaps Blurb is using it for everything. There are image viewers and similar products out there based on JAI that can display images that are a couple gigabytes.

  • ivan says:

    Hi, thanks for sharing. I tried it a few days ago, but I found it extremely slow on my computer (P4 2.8G, 1.5G RAM). It usually takes about 1 second to response after I click on the picture/text box. It does bring some fresh new look for java apps, but I doubt that it’s a mature product (or just a “beta” as they claimed?) . Or did I do anything wrong? I just download and install it…

  • wahid says:

    thanks for the link!
    The app itself is good but for some reason is runs incredibly slow on my machine,in fact it is next to unusable!
    My machine is spec is as follows :1GIG mem,6600GT video,athlon 64 3000+,300GIG HD.
    All other java code runs well with reasonable frame updates but this sucks (it can take a few secounds just to update the screen!)

  • [...] AJAX and Ruby on Rails may be the buzzwords in the Web 2.0 world, but Blurb BookSmart has recently earned some cred in the Java Desktop Community. Jasper Potts, Sun Microsystems’ software engineer and blogger, singles out Blurb in his blog entry Blurb BookSmart: the best java app I’ve seen in a long time. BookSmart engineers take this compliment with open arms. [...]

  • mike says:

    Cool4you,guys.

  • DevTop says:

    Blurb.com Booksmart v1.8 works well until the book you are building reaches about 60 pages. Then the app slows to a crawl. Loading the project takes 20-30 minutes (yes, minutes, not seconds) and consumes 95% of your CPU, essentially rendering your PC useless while Booksmart loads the project. Once the project is loaded, performance is terribly sluggish with every button click taking anywhere from a few seconds to a few minutes (!) to execute the associated command. This problem is documented in this thread on the Blurb forum: http://forums.blurb.com/forums/1/topics/256

    It took Blurb over two months to release the v1.9 update that supposedly fixes this bug, meanwhile they have multiple customers with half-completed books complaining about the problem. Luckily, I discovered the bug just as they were releasing the update v1.9. The update definitely solved the slow-loading problem, and I was able to add 40 more pages to my book until the sluggishness problem reappeared. Now I have over 18 hours invested in Blurb, all of which is likely wasted because Booksmart is now unusable. Also, the new v1.9 was one of the buggiest pieces of software I’ve ever used. Even simple things such as clicking on a template results in a different template than selected. There appears to be no quality control in the software division at Blurb.

    The worst part about this bug is that you don’t discover it until you’ve already invested many hours building your book project. And now I have an unusable 100 page book built and am likely forced to starting all over with a different service. Blurb tech support finally responded in email that they have escalated my problem and should get back to me sometime next week. Of course, that doesn’t help me now given that I have a two-day deadline. And given it took them over 2 months to solve the last problem, I don’t have high hopes that I’ll see a solution anytime soon.

    All I can say is, if you have a large book with more than 50 pages, avoid Blurb Booksmart at all costs!

  • tlccreates says:

    I just finished a 120 page book project with BLURB and didn’t find my system slow down too much. Certainly not as much as DevTop mentions in the above posting. It does use resources but my 3/4g ram was able to handle it without too much wait time. I did not use the newest 1.9 version because I had started the project before its release and didn’t want to complicate things since my book was started with the earlier version. All of my pages were full bleed/page spreads of 3000×2400 pixel resolutions.

    I am thrilled with the results. It is a book of my childhood and the few ancestor photos that we have. After the first book came in I ordered 6 more copies for my siblings. I am excited, can’t wait to send them off as Christmas gifts.

    BLURB has my vote !

  • Peter says:

    Very unhappy, soon to be former Blurb customer.

    Placed first order for a book, got the book but a number of images were corrupted. My fault for not proofing out the entire book, but since the images went into the software without the corruption…. Installed newer version of their software. This runs far less horribly, and does show the corruption when an image is corrupted, but still does not set any type of speed records. Definitely do NOT use PNG format for your images, this slows the software to a crawl.

    Placed second order, got the book in about 10 days. Image quality was substantially better on the pages, coming close to matching the cover image quality (unlike the first book which had very dull looking pages). Placed third order that sat in “Processing” stage for a week past the estimated ship date. And this is where Blurb lost a customer. I contacted customer service asking if my order could receive expedited shipping. Their response was that the creation of the books (not the shipping as requested) could not be expedited. I clarified my request and asked if a supervisor could be involved to see if anything could be done. No response, but Blurb “shipped” (in quotes since the status is shipped, but UPS knows nothing about the tracking number) my order the next day via ground. I was really unimpressed by the pretended non-comprehension of my simple request for expedited shipping.

    So, I am now looking for another solution to continue publishing my first book, as well as publishing the next three that are already in the works.