Mi Casa es Picasa

These days it is easy to accumulate large quantities of digital images. Hard disks are much bigger, digital cameras are ubiquitous and attached images are emailed in industrial quantities. The image viewing and search tools supplied by Messrs Gates and Jobs are functional, but often slow and not particularly exciting. Others have tried to fill this gap. Apple has iPhoto, Extensis has Portfolio and Adobe sells Photoshop Lightroom. A program called iView Media Pro was gobbled up by Microsoft, but still exists. All are excellent programs, but in our experience, they are just  not as fast and intuitive with large volumes of files as Google's (free) Picasa.

After installation, the user instructs the folder manager to watch specified folders on her hard disk. Picasa can also watch folders on networked drives and removable media. The initial index of all image files  on a given volume can take many hours. The resultant database built up by Picasa is often large.

The interface is extremely clean. The default option is rows of image thumbnails, but alternatives include timeline and slideshow.  Searches are carried out 'live' -- search results appear as the user types. Individual images can be opened and edited in a number of simple ways.  Scrolling through results or the overall image library is usually fast, particularly compared to previously mentioned programs.

Yet Picasa does have its flaws, or at least it can be pushed to breaking point. Image collections with more than ten thousand images may load quite happily in Picasa, but after a few searches, the program often slows dramatically. Picasa performs well in OS X, but even there, a very large image library can bring matters to a standstill.  Users are advised to watch only the folders they need, not the entire disc. It is also possible, if time consuming, to regenerate the database.

Picasa doesn't just sit on your desktop. As befits a child of Google, Picasa offers access to Picasa Web Albums, where users can  store up to 1Gb of images on Google's servers. Bloggers can also upload images from Picasa to their own blogs.

Useful how-tos for Picasa can be found here and here.

Overall, Picasa is a worthy and capable image viewer and suitable for the vast majority of computer users.