Picasa, a $30 program billed as "the best home for your pictures," organizes your haphazardly stored digital photos under one roof. On the plus side, the app is competitively priced, good-looking, and fast. However, Picasa suffers from some awkwardly placed buttons and redundant menu options; plus, it won't let you burn your memories to CD or DVD. The software's tagging tool could use some work, too. Still, if you're an entry-level user whose No. 1 priority is to organize your photos in one place, check out Picasa. At the very least, give the free trial a go.
Clocking in at just less than a minute, installation was quite speedy on our Windows XP test machine. In comparison, installing Adobe Photoshop Album took close to five minutes. During the install, you can choose to grab all images from your hard drive, or you can have the program pluck photos from specific folders. Note that once you're up and running, you can have Picasa watch your drive for new pictures. As Picasa scans your drive, it displays an entertaining Flash presentation that explains the program's features, although our scan went by before it had a chance to finish. In about two minutes, Picasa grabbed all of the photos--around 100--that were stored in our hard drive's nooks and crannies and displayed them as time-stamped albums of thumbnails in the program's Album interface.
The clean, polished interface lets you arrange your photos in albums, which are easy to sort and search.
While we think that Picasa's interface is sleek, it could stand some fine-tuning. The app is weighed down by far too many options that are designed to perform the same functions. For example, the features available in the Actions button--which is situated to the immediate right of each album--are also available through the menus, albeit with slightly different names. Also, the Keywords tool is annoyingly tucked away at the bottom-left corner of the screen. And while the Picture Tray makes for easy exporting and e-mailing, when you highlight a pic, it's immediately queued up in the tray located at the bottom of the screen. It drives us crazy that you must click the Hold button to keep the image there; dragging and dropping is preferable.
If you want to manage your albums, click the Collections button at the top of the Album interface. You can sort your current photos by name and date, as well as create new albums on the fly. To grab pictures from a camera or a removable media card, click the Import button. Picasa then opens the Import Tray, which lets you preview your files before you add them to the mix. The program supports JPEG, TIFF, GIF, and PSD, along with the major movie formats: AVI, MPEG, ASF, and WAV.
The Timeline tool displays your albums along a rotating axis, which you can browse by moving the slider at the bottom of the window. While we appreciate Picasa's unique take on organizing time in space, we think that the program would be better off without the Timeline feature, which is snazzy but not especially useful.
Picasa's slide show could benefit from some tweaks here and there. Sure, you can highlight an album; click the Slideshow button; and generate a fast, friendly, song-and-dance number. But the app doesn't let you customize your slide shows much; you can't add frames, create a title slide, or throw in nifty transitions. Plus, you can't burn your slide shows to CD or DVD. Instead, you'll have to Export your images to a folder, then fire up your own burning software.
However, we do like that this program quickly optimizes your shots for e-mailing via either Microsoft Outlook or Picasa's own Express E-mail service (click the Tools menu and select Options to tweak your settings).
You can use the Fix Picture button to take care of three basic editing tasks: eliminating red eye, cropping awkward shots, and performing what Picasa calls enhancements. We think that the enhancing function is relatively useless; it makes some minor exposure corrections but not enough to matter. Another note on these editing tools: If you've mucked up your last edit, you can't undo just that one goof. You're stuck with one Undo All Edits button.
Your editing tools are limited to red-eye removal, cropping, and enhancing.
As is the case with most organizing tools, Picasa's search function is only as useful as the keywords that you enter. You can easily add keywords--names, places, or events, for instance--by highlighting a picture and clicking the Keywords button. You can use as many terms to describe the photo as you'd like--Eric, San Francisco, for example--but you can't add lengthy comments such as "Eric eats a burrito at a famous San Francisco taqueria." Still, while it's limited, the search tool is fast and accurate.
This program includes a built-in HTML-based support system, which is fairly helpful. For even more assistance, pop into the moderated online forums, accessible from Picasa's Web site. You'll also find detailed and well-written online FAQs, technical notes, workarounds, and information about upcoming releases.