A Bridge Just Far Enough: Adobe CS5 Mini Bridge
The file management capabilities of Windows or Mac OS are fine for most tasks, but both pale in comparison to what you can do with your images while browsing them in Adobe Bridge. But if switching away from Photoshop to a separate application strikes you as overkill, Adobe has an answer for you. Introducing Adobe CS5 Mini Bridge.
If you can imagine Bridge living inside a panel much the way History, Layers and Channels exist as panels, you've got the right idea in mind. Yup, Adobe has given us Bridge in a panel. Panels are really "in" these days. In Photoshop CS4 Adobe gave us the Adjustments panel. In CS5, they've gone even further by squeezing Adobe Bridge into a Photoshop panel.
From within Photoshop CS5, you can get to the new Mini Bridge panel in any of several different ways. There's an icon to launch Mini Bridge on the top Photoshop menu bar right next to the icon to launch the full version of Bridge. You'll find it right below "Browse in Bridge..." on the File menu as File >> Browse in Mini Bridge. It's also on the Window menu as Window >> Extensions >> Mini Bridge. And of course if you've been to Mini Bridge before but have it currently collapsed, you can re-open it from the panels fly-out menu.
When you first open Mini Bridge, you'll see a rather plain looking "Browse Files" button, and an even plainer looking "Settings" button. There aren't many settings but it's worth taking a look so you know what's there. The settings are split into two groups: "Bridge Launching" and "Appearance." The former allows you to control various aspects of when and how Bridge should launch and, as you might expect, the latter gives you basic control over the appearance of the Mini Bridge interface. You can specify the background color and brightness of the panel and control whether you want images in Mini Bridge to be color managed. Thankfully, Adobe made color management on by default so even if you never visit the Mini Bridge Settings you're images will look the way you expect them to.
The "Browse Files" button launches the heart of Mini Bridge, opening up a display that should look familiar to users of the full version of Bridge. You'll probably want to drag the edges of the panel to enlarge it some since the default size is rather small. Once you do, you'll notice that the content is split into Navigation and Content. For lack of a better term I suppose, Adobe calls these "pods." All together, there are three pods in Mini Bridge. The Navigation and Content pods you've now already seen, and the Preview pod which can display a larger version of the image you have selected in the Content pod. The Preview pod is hidden by default which is where it probably belongs if you ask me. Unless you drag the sides of the Mini Bridge panel out until it fills a large portion of your screen the Preview image is unlikely to be that much bigger than the thumbnails in the Content pod. If you do want to see the Preview pod though, you can get there by using the Panel view control on the top menu bar in Mini Bridge. It's the one just to the left of the Search magnifying glass icon.
Which brings me to the top menu bar in Mini Bridge. On the left side of the bar, you'll find the standard back and forward button to let you easily return to previously selected content windows, a more full featured control to let you easily get to the parent of the current window, one of your Bridge favorites, or other recently selected windows, a button that looks like a house to return you to the boring Home view of Mini Bridge where all that exists is the "Browse Files" and "Settings" buttons. Over on the right end of the top bar there's a button to launch the full version of Bridge, a Panel View button to let you select which pods you want to be visible, and a Search button to let you search your images in case the standard Mini Bridge navigation controls aren't getting you what you are after.
The Content pod itself has a number of additional button controls on its own menu bar as well as some on the bar underneath the Content pod image area. At the top you'll find a Selection control button, a Filter button to filter by rating, a Sort control, and a button to give you access to the Bridge Tools menu. Along the bottom, you'll find a slider to control the zoom size of the Content pod thumbnails, a button to launch the Bridge Review or Slideshow modes from within Mini Bridge, and a View button to let you switch the Content pod from the standard filmstrip mode to a thumbnail grid view, a simple list, or a detailed list with thumbnails and basic meta data.
If you double click on an image in Mini Bridge, it will open in Photoshop if it's of a type that Photoshop supports natively. If it's a raw file, it will open in Camera Raw.
When using Mini Bridge, be aware that Bridge is itself running in the background even if all you see is the Mini interface. Bridge isn't noted for being a small application and you may be wondering what benefit there is by using Mini Bridge at all. First, a good chunk of the memory that the full version of Bridge uses is the rendering of its user interface and Mini Bridge does cut down on that by keeping things light. But more importantly for me at least, Mini Bridge makes accessing my image files that much easier. If I have a lot of work to do on a collection of images, the full version of Bridge is great, but sometimes all I need is to quickly get at some image not already open in Photoshop, or perform some quick actions on a few images but don't want to switch completely out of what I'm doing in Photoshop.
Think of Mini Bridge as the File >> Open dialog you've long wished Photoshop had. Before Bridge was introduced, there was a Browse interface within Photoshop. Once Bridge came into being in Photoshop CS2, we got greater functionality, but it wasn't as easy to get to it. Finally, we've got easy access to Bridge from within Photoshop. Thanks Adobe!