Sunday, February 05, 2006


When I woke up this morning I wasn’t feeling a lot of love for Google. Blogger, the host of my blog and a subsidiary of Google, had been down each day for the past 3 days (status) and a search of the blogsphere revealed that problems are more common that one would expect. I'm not sure why Google would go through the trouble of acquiring a company and then not follow through with the basic hardware required to support it, but let me offer an apology to those who have been unable to access my blog over the weekend. By contrast, let me also tell you about something Google has done very well: Picasa2.

In July 2004, Google purchased start-up Picasa for $4.7 million in pre-IPO stock. I tried an early version of the free photo-organizing software and promptly ignored it, so I didn’t pay that much attention when they released a major upgrade last year. This morning, though, I decided to give the latest version a spin.

I have Photoshop and, after much effort, I have mastered the basics. It still takes me a long time to touch up a photo, however, and I have never tried batch editing. Too bad for me, because today I needed batch edit for size. There were about 100 photos I planned to add to Flickr and I wanted them at 1024x768.

Rather than create a Photoshop macro, I downloaded Picasa, stepped through the short install and then let it find my pictures. Immediately, my photos seemed better organized and more accessible. With "Timeline" everything was grouped and laid out by creation date. With one more click I could create slideshows, and when I wanted a folder view that was just a button press away too. Tags, ratings, comments - all possible with Picasa.

That was only the beginning. I had a task, and with the excellent, intuitive UI I was able to export a folder of photos to new files at the correct resolution without trial or error. Start to finish the entire process took about 2 minutes.

Better still, I discovered the powerful editing options. Google has taken the magic “I’m Feeling Lucky” button and applied it to photos. The option provides auto contrast and color correction. Need to add a little fill light, darken some shadows and touch up the highlights? Sliders are there for the sliding if you want to fine tune. Want advanced effects like sharpen, glow or B&W? Picasa’s got you covered. Importantly, all of the editing is non-destructive and the transformations are very fast.

I felt luckyOther software (Adobe Photoshop Album and Elements) has tried to simplify editing, but Picasa does a much better job. I was surprised at how well “I’m Feeling Lucky” worked. Unlike Adobe’s auto-fix buttons, the changes were applied in the correct proportion and not overdone. (see theTokyo skyline above right for a split before and after example.) No digital artifacts, no hyperrealism or cartoon coloration. The only weakness I discovered was that red eye correction does not work that well on people with glasses.

If you are like me and have tons of pictures filed away on your computer in the hope that one day you will edit and organize them, try Picasa. It’s free, very easy to use and ultra fast. I touched up 50 photos in less than 15 minutes. It also has cool little features like a collage maker and an ability to print CD covers. For very artistic projects there is no substitute for Photoshop, but the needs of the hobbyist are very well served by this excellent application.

n.b. Picasa is a windows-only program. No Macintosh version is available