Picasa 2.0

The Picasa photo organizer is the first standalone, HD-installed software that Google has released, and it may be the start of an era for the search giant. Unlike earlier versions, Picasa 2.0 photo organizer has improved its editing tools and search capabilities considerably. Simply point and click to see real-time edits of your digital photos, lighten dark shots, use white balance, crop, straighten crooked horizons, zoom, and even add soft focus. If you don't know all of the above terms, that doesn't matter. Your options are displayed at all times so that you can see what you like, and if you don't like a change, there are multiple levels of undo. Picasa combines the deep-level editing tools of Adobe Elements with the ease of Paint Shop Pro and other popular apps, without the expense.

Upside: Drawing upon the vast engineering resources within Google, Picasa has transformed itself into a very intuitive app. For example, you see each edit you make to a photo in real time instead of waiting for the preview image to render. Want to send a photo to your blogger.com site? Direct integration makes it possible to snap a photo and post it on your site within minutes. Want to find all images with cats on your hard drive? Picasa's search quickly pulls those images together, using a variety of methods, including hunting for EXIF data contained with the digital image itself. The new edition of Picasa also burns albums to your computer's DVD or CD burner, something missing in earlier versions. For hard copies, Picasa links out to several well-known services, such as Ofoto and Shutterfly, meaning you don't have to open yet another print service account to make hard copies of photos edited in Picasa.

No mystery here; what you see is what you get with Picasa's editing tools.

Downside: Picasa 2.0 is available only for Windows and only in English. Other languages may be available later. There's also a slight performance drag on older computers running Picasa 2.0.

Outlook: Given that Picasa 2.0 is free and easily downloadable from Google, the outlook looks fantastic for this very easy-to-use photo album app. You'd be nuts not to give Picasa 2.0 a try.