Picasa: Google to the Digital Photo Rescue

By Adam Stone
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Please be patient.

The first time you turn on Picasa, Google's image management software, it's going to scan your computer for every image it can find. In other words, depending on your photographic proclivities, this could take a while.

Is it worth the wait? We offer a tentative yes. While Picasa 2.0 has a few quirks, it delivers a smart, solid and — best of all — free way to organize and edit your pictures.

Picasa automatically imports images from practically any digital camera before creating a simple file structure that lets you quickly locate photos.

In addition to scrolling down a list of folders organized by date, you can also bring up a clever "timeline" — a sort of animated 3-D carousel that makes it possible to scroll through photos in chronological order. It's a fast and easy way to sort through masses of images. Adobe Photoshop Album offers a similar feature.

Once you find an image, you can edit it with any of a dozen or so basic editing tools — make the photo brighter, fix the contrast or modify the colors, etc. There are a few neat effects too, including a faux film grain, a soft focus effect, and "warmify," which makes colors "warmer" or, as far as we could tell, "more brown."

The software lets you easily upload images to a number of popular photo-sharing sites, including Shutterfly and Ofoto, or burn them onto CD or DVD. The software also integrates with Picasa's own photo-sharing client, Hello, a peer-to-peer, photo-and text-sharing program that works like instant messaging. (Hello has to be downloaded independently by both you and by anyone you want to share pictures with.)

Avoiding First Sweep Delays and Other Tics

As for the interminable first sweep in which Picasa catalogs your images, it's worth noting a work-around. Picasa gathers up JPEGs, GIFs and other formats, including video files. It defaults to scanning your entire hard drive, but you can limit the search to just the Windows desktop, My Documents folder and the My Pictures folder in order to speed things along.

Finding, filing and fiddling about with effects — all these features look good. But there's an annoying tic to Picasa that has to do with the status of an edited photo.

Say you have tweaked a photo until it's just right. There's no simple Save button to lock in the changes. Picasa will show you the changes and even let you undo those edits indefinitely — a very nice option. Leave Picasa, however, and you can't see the changes anymore. That is, the photo opens in its original state when viewed by any other means.

The only way around this that we could find was to use the Export function. This will move a copy of the edited photo into a new folder, leaving you with two copies of the picture floating around plus a whole new folder. The process starts out confusing and ends up awfully inconvenient.

As long as we're griping, let's talk about folder organization. Picasa organizes folders from the date of their creation. So if you snap a glowing portrait of your mother-in-law this week and put it in the folder MotherInLaw, then the next pic you snap and file in MotherInLaw two years from now will be located alongside that original shot, by Picasa's timeline, rather than being identified as a more recent picture.

Moreover, the chronological listing of folders in the main library is not always "chronological." Say you export a photo to new folder XYZ. Instead of showing XYZ at the top of the library with all the newest stuff, Picasa displays the folder at the bottom of the list, under a separate heading for exported pictures.

Things would be easier if Picasa would let you simply access a Windows Explorer folder tree view. Still, once you get your head around the logic of this timeline, it can be relatively easy to access and navigate.

Picasa won't be the software of choice for the serious photographer, but as a free application it will serve the needs of casual picture-takers. Find, edit, and share — if you're not looking for anything too sophisticated beyond these basic functions, Picasa will probably do the trick.

Pros: Makes pictures readily available for easy editing and sharing, advanced one-click editing features, handily organizes large collections of images, can't complain about the price (it's free)

Cons: Folder structure takes a while to learn and even then can be confusing, initial organization can take a long time if there are lots of images on your hard drive, saving edited images is cumbersome and counterintuitive

Adapted from winplanet.com.

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This article was originally published on March 06, 2006
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