I'm a web developer (diploma) and computer scientist (degree), so I know a thing or two about computers and software. I just got into photography in Nov '10, but have been using Photoshop and GIMP since 2002-03ish.
I was hired by a friend of a friend, who is a retiree/photographer, commissioned to set up a backup system for his laptop and desktop to an in-house backup server.
During this time I got to watch him use Lightroom 2.7 and we discussed the benefits of having a catalogue over individual photos in a folder and using Photoshop/GIMP.
Lightroom Upgrade Disaster
I also, unfortunately, got to watch him upgrade to Lightroom 3.0 and then to 3.2. I've never seen an upgrade go so badly. He had files scattered all over his computer (from the Desktop to C:/ to H:/) and Lightroom had linked to them from all these locations (but did not copy them to a single directory). Somehow, during the upgrades, a new library was created in D:/My Pictures and he ended up losing 500 of his best 4000 photos (the originals, but not the linked edits in the catalogue).
The benefits of Lightroom and Aperture are obvious, but as a computer scientist, I fear proprietary software because I don't know what it's doing. Right now I have hundreds of folders that hold all my photoshoots organized by "YYYYMMDD Description" with a sub-folder called 'edits' where I save my edits in .xcf (GIMP's equivalent to .psd), .png and .jpg. The problem is this is very time consuming and takes up a lot of space on my hard drive. So I'm looking to switch to one of these programs.
Benefits of Lightroom/Aperture
One of the biggest benefits of using Lightroom or Aperture is they save your edits as metadata in a database, so you go back and finely adjust edits that are years old at anytime. Even .psd or .xcf files don't save that data non-destructively.
My fear is a reliance on these programs and the fact that if the Lightroom catalogue were ever to become corrupt (via an upgrade, malicious program, accident, etc.), I could loose all my edits. Even if I back it up, I could have a catalogue that is a month old and all my most recent edits (possibly hundreds of photo edits), could be lost.
If I take my external hard drive to another computer that doesn't have Lightroom, I can't view my photos. Saving all my images in .jpg and .png allows me to view them on any computer via any medium. Now Lightroom has a 'Library' that allows you to export all your edits to .jpg (with your watermark and whatever else you want), correct? So that may appease my concern there.
When I make edits in GIMP, I touch two things: curves and levels (and brushes like healing, cloning, perspective, dodge/burn, etc.) When I downloaded a trial version of Lightroom, I noticed that I couldn't edit either as effectively as I could in GIMP. I felt lost without those two tools. What can I do to appease this?
What Can I Do?
I just want to know what others are doing or have done that fear using monolithic programs such as these and have a very real and avid fear of losing their data, including losing functionality that will be lost from switching from GIMP or Photoshop.
Lastly, it hurts that I'm an Ubuntu Linux user, but I need a real photography workflow program, so I'm willing to dual-boot into Windows or purchasing a Mac just for editing my photos.