Tuesday, December 14, 2004


I recently decided that my current software package for managing my digital photos was not meeting my needs. In my search for new software, I cast about to see what other people were using in the hopes that there was indeed better software out there. My father-in-law passed this question to a friend of his who has spent time looking for exactly this same type of software, and the recommendation that came back was Picasa, which is owned by Google and is freely (as in beer) available for download. While a very small download (much smaller than the software I was using, which came from the manufacturer of my camera), it has already sold me on its usefulness and easy interface.

While I am just starting to explore the functionality and have not yet used it to download pictures from my camera, I can already say that Picasa has several winsome features that, in my opinion, make it easy to recommend to everyone. First, it organizes your albums by year and month based on the dates on which the pictures were taken. I had dozens of folders of pictures taken over the course of three years. Each folder was titled according to the subject matter or event, such as "Christmas 02" or "Dallas Arboretum." As you can imagine, as the number of folders increases, it gets harder and harder to find the folder you want and to remember what you titled the album or when the pictures were taken. Picasa solves this quandry by looking at the dates on which the photos in each album were taken, and organizing your albums by month and year. My assumption at this point is that it looks at the earliest date in an album and uses that for the album date. There were a few albums where this did not make sense, as the pictures were taken over the course of several months and put together due to subject matter, but for the most part it is a great feature!

Once it has found your pictures and organized them by date, you can pull up a "timeline" of all your albums and scroll forward or back in time from album to album. Once you select an album, a single click on the slideshow button will start displaying all photos in that album. Or you can go to the album and see thumbnails of all the photos just as easily. In addition to being a great feature, the timeline has a pretty spiffy appearance.

Finally, the missing feature that drove me from my old software was the ability to read and write to network drives. While I don't think this is a difficult feature to implement, the makers of my camera and old software told me they could not provide this functionality. This is supported by Picasa, and is very useful indeed! I recently relocated all of my digital photos from the various PC's to a new hard drive on my server so that they are accessible from any PC in the house. I was tired of having to go turn on a different computer to look at photos because they were not stored on the laptop, etc. that I was working on at the moment. However, my old software would not recognize or list network drives when browsing for photos. Despite the fact that I was connected to it and had access through Windows Explorer, etc, the software refused to see the drive. After I installed Picasa last night, I pointed it at the Z: drive and it happily went out and cataloged all of the photos and included them in my list of albums. Looking at Picasa's interface, you can't even tell that they are not local! I have yet to see how Picasa will handle the scenario of not being able to connect to the network drive, but it seems "smart" enough to handle it.

In conclusion, my initial test-drive of Picasa was a great success, and I can't wait to continue to explore features. One example is a menu item I saw but didn't have time to investigate. Under the Tools menu was an item that read "Upload to TiVo Series 2 DVR"...