GridIron Software’s Flow ($299 or $399 for three pack) is a groundbreaking application. There has never been anything like it. It’s like an operating system upgrade for users of creative software, as if Mac OS X 10’s Spotlight feature suddenly began tracking the relationships between your files, and the amount of time you actually spend working on projects.
Its interactive window shows you how your files are related to each other—for example, its “map” shows a flowchart of how the assets from one application are used in documents in other applications, files that were exported into other formats, and exactly where all those files reside. For the first time, you can see every aspect of every related file in a project, with no effort on your part. Flow also keeps revisions of every file you save, so you can go back to previous versions. And it also tracks the time you spend actually working on each document, which makes billing for your time much easier.
Flow analyzes each file in order to track it everywhere you may import it or place it into another document. It watches when you move files on your hard drive and it invisibly keeps original documents when you save over them, so that you may recover earlier versions of them later.
It works with almost every kind of file that a creative person uses: QuarkXPress, Adobe Creative Suite, video and sound editing applications from Adobe and Apple, Microsoft Office, 3-D apps, AutoCAD, CorelDRAW, Painter, text files, and even random files you choose to associate with a project — just drag them onto another document in Flow’s map to connect them.
Flow can give you reports on exactly how much time you spent actually working on specific documents — no more “guesstimated” time sheets. Flow can even report all the time spent on a set of connected documents, and it doesn’t include your idle time. You can automatically generate that report every day or week, and export it for use in a spreadsheet.
Flow keeps track of PDFs and other file formats you export from original documents. If three days ago you exported a PDF from InDesign, you can drag that InDesign file onto Flow, see the PDFs it exported, then right-click to show any of the PDFs.
If you open a Raw image file in Photoshop, then save it as a flattened TIFF, and import that TIFF into InDesign, you can drag the InDesign file onto Flow to find the Raw file. Flow will show the Photoshop file, and the Raw file it came from.
One limitation is that Flow doesn’t track research time spent on e-mail or browsing the Web, both of which you may want to include in your billable hours.
Flow can also do its magic for cross-platform workgroups. If you place its Share Map onto a dedicated file server, Flow keeps track of every change made and everyone will see updates to the map as they appear.
Uniquely, Flow can also display a floating map, visible inside Adobe’s Creative Suite 4 applications, that shows all the other documents that depend on the current file, all the versions of that file, time spent working on that file, and more. The map updates in real time as you work. Yet another floating window warns you as you use the Finder to move or delete files that are used by other files.
At $133 per user, I believe Flow will recover its cost for workgroups in a very short time, and then begin saving you time and money.
Jay Nelson is the editorial director of PlanetQuark.com, and the editor and publisher of Design Tools Monthly. He’s also the author of the QuarkXPress 8 and QuarkXPress 7 training titles at Lynda.com, as well as the training videos Quark includes in the box with QuarkXPress 7 . In addition, Jay writes regularly for Macworld and Photoshop User magazines and speaks at industry events.