Price: 185 . 250
Pros: Keeps projects organized; behind-the-scenes time tracking and versioning; works almost seamlessly.
Cons: Won’t appeal to all creatives; lacks support for some applications, such as QuarkXPress.
When was the last time you bought a piece of software that changed the way you work? Launches of innovative tools that make a fundamental improvement to how you spend your hours in front of a computer being creative are rarer than a client who’s happy with your first version -- and pays in advance. It’s no surprise, then, that there’s a huge buzz around GridIron Flow: it’s a groundbreaking technology that fulfils a genuine need within the creative community.
At its core, Flow is an asset-management system, which you’d think makes it as exciting as this year’s Big Brother. But what’s fantastic about Flow is that it’s been designed for real people. It knows that project organization and admin are dull, so your file organization is probably best described as ‘experimental’, and that you’re likely to be frequently working across multiple projects at the same time -- often using the same files -- which makes things extra messy.
Unlike most media-management tools, Flow doesn’t attempt to change you or force you to work a certain way -- instead, it works around how you work now, keeping track of everything, ready for when you need it. If you’ve ever found yourself scouring the scattered bits of projects for elements that are ‘around here somewhere’, or inadvertently deleted files you need because tidying your desktop usually involves deleting everything on it -- Flow is for you.
Flow knows your projects better than you do. It runs in the background on your Mac or Windows PC, constantly monitoring the applications you use and identifying the elements of your projects and linking them together. The list of applications Flow knows and monitors is impressive for a 1.0 release, including the majority of the CS3 and CA4 versions of Adobe’s Creative Suite applications -- including Photoshop, Illustrator, InDesign, Flash, After Effects and Premiere Pro – Apple’s Final Cut Studio 2 and Shake, Microsoft Office, Cinema 4D and Nuke. The greatest omissions here are QuarkXPress, Acrobat Distiller, 3DS Max and Maya – but GridIron says that it’s working on adding more applications.
If your desktop looks like this, you probably need Flow.
Once Flow knows which files are linked to which project, it can stop you from deleting them by accident. An on-screen widget called the Flow Dashboard (above) will let you know if you’ve done this, and can quickly reclaim the file or files with the press of a button. Unfortunately you can’t tell Flow to ignore certain folders, such as the one you export low-res files to for emailing to clients, which can be annoying.
You can get Flow to scan one or more of your drives -- or just specific folders -- when you first install the application, so it knows about all of your previous projects. Unlike with current projects though, Flow can’t discover links to exported files such as PDFs from InDesign or web images from Photoshop, or identify elements copied from one document to another.
Installing Flow is simple. Our only issue is that the manual refers to the initial scan of old files as a Backtrack Scan, a term not used in the interface, which left us unsure if we’d forgotten to do something. Thankfully the excellent video tutorials cleared this up.
Most of Flow’s power is accessed through the core application, which quickly loads when you drag a project or media file onto the Flow desktop icon (or a Finder window icon on the Mac). The easy-to-understand interface sets panels around a central Map flowchart that details your projects.