Picasa is as slick as anything that ever came from Microsoft or Apple. It's a joy.
Al Fasoldt's reviews and commentaries, continuously available online since 1983
T e c h n o f i l e
Got Windows? Got a digital camera? Then you need Picasa, especially considering the price
Jan. 7, 2006
By Al Fasoldt
Copyright © 2007, Al Fasoldt
Copyright © 2007, The Post-Standard
Sometimes I think the folks who make digital cameras assume too much. I get the feeling they think we're all experts in photography, when in fact many of us probably wouldn't know a lens cap from a fedora.
But the software experts at Google have an antidote. They're giving away a software program that makes no assumptions about how much -- or how little -- you know about digital photography.
The software is called Picasa -- a play on the name of Pablo Picasso, the pioneering Spanish artist who changed the course of Western painting in the last century. In a way, the Picasa software might do the same thing for digital photography. I first wrote about Picasa a year ago. Since that time, Google has improved Picasa in ways that make it practically essential for every Windows user who owns a digital camera.
Picasa, which you can download from http://picasa.google.com, isn't like most commercial freeware. It never pops up a message to urge you to buy a better version -- becaue there is no "better" version -- you get the big kahuna, free, without annoyware messages. And it never plays the kind of game that many "free" antivirus programs often do, "warning" you that your free subscription is about to run out.
And unlike just about all the other free commercial software I've ever tried, Picasa is as slick as anything that ever came from Microsoft or Apple. It's a joy.
What makes this software so important? Three features stand out:
You don't need to know anything special about photography or computers to use all of Picasa's powerful functions. No jargon gets in the way.
You don't even have to know where your pictures are stored on your computer. Picasa finds them automatically and sorts them. The software invites you to browse through your images, but never gets in the way.
You're not required to learn anything new when you want to fix a picture that's too dark or too light, or one that looks too green or orange -- common problems in digital photography.
Picasa does much more than this. Like iPhoto does for Mac users, Picasa frees Windows users from the oppressive tedium of keeping track of photos. Just as iPhoto does, Picasa lets Windows users rename, crop, sort, arrange and edit photos simply by double-clicking them and following simple prompts.
Just as iPhoto does, Picasa also provides an easy way to create albums of photos both on your own computer and on the Web. And there are many little features common to iPhoto and Picasa: Pictures can be stored in more than one album at the same time without the need for multiple photos (they are simply referenced in each multiple album from a single picture), and slideshows can be put together without any preparation; you simply click a few times and you're done.
But Google trumped Apple in the way Picasa deals with JPEG images. JPEGs are the bad boys of the photo world, losing some of their picture quality every time they're edited. If you don't know this -- if you simply make your changes or crops on the JPEGs that come from your camera -- you inevitably degrade all your photos, whether you're using Apple's highly touted iPhoto or another photo program.
But not when you use Picasa. It stores a list of your changes and applies them on the fly to a copy of the image, so that the original is never altered.
Google did an amazing job when it updated Picasa over the last 12 months. It made Picasa more powerful and faster while keeping it easy to use. In fact, when I checked an earlier version of Picasa against the latest one, I was surprised to find that the current version is not as much of a memory hog as the older one was. This let it work more quickly on a few of my older Windows PCs.
Considering the "price," Picasa is the bargain of the new year. It's especially attractive when you consider that Picasa makes the software that comes with many digital cameras look like torture. Even if you're an accomplished digital photographer, Picasa could well be the software that sets you free.