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Fast Forward by Rob Pegoraro

Headaches for Photo Filers

By Rob Pegoraro
Sunday, March 6, 2005; Page F07

When a program is bought by a company that issues mission statements like "don't be evil" and prides itself on finding new ways to provide free services, interesting things can happen.

That's the case with Picasa, a promising but still flawed photo-album application Google took over in July when it acquired the company of the same name. Instead of charging $40 for the program, Google began giving it away and, a few weeks ago, released a major update that adds a batch of photo-editing and sharing features.

Rob Pegoraro writes that Picasa makes a mess of a basic chore of photo-album software, organizing your snapshots. (BY JOELLEN MURPHY - THE WASHINGTON POST)

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In most respects, Picasa (Win 98 or newer, www.picasa.com) is an outstanding product, fast and elegant. But it makes a mess of a basic chore of photo-album software, organizing your snapshots.

Picasa 2 fails to solve the same problem that has defeated other photo-album programs: where to put pictures. Filing them into folders on your hard drive, as if they were expense reports or other humdrum documents, requires more diligence than most users possess. And even if you do motivate yourself to salt away pictures in an orderly way, that doesn't guarantee you can find them quickly later on. (Quick, is that cute picture of you and your spouse in the "Ireland vacation" folder or the "cute couple pictures" folder?)

For that reason, many programs -- notably, Apple's iPhoto -- use custom filing systems that can put the same picture in multiple albums, just as music programs can add one song to many playlists. But here another problem arises: Once you yank photos out of the standard file-and-folder system, you can't easily get to them in another program -- say, when you want to copy them to a handheld organizer or send them to a friend with your instant-messaging program.

Picasa tries to straddle this situation by using both traditional folders and its own labeling scheme, but gets each feature wrong.

Its first failing is the lack of any way to make sense of the clutter inside many people's My Pictures folders. Picasa is happy to import a set of pictures in a designated folder, on a digital camera, in a memory card or on a CD, then put each set into its own folder. But Picasa can't rearrange old photos into new folders; if your hard drive is already a mess, it will remain so post-Picasa unless you switch back to the Windows desktop.

The second problem is the chronologically obsessed way Picasa implements labels. No matter what type of label you want to create -- "August 2004 vacation," "Potluck dinners," "Skiing" -- Picasa will insist that you specify a year, month and day for those shots, even if the label groups pictures taken years apart. It will then sort these labels by year unless you change a half-hidden view option.

This also undermines the utility of Picasa's stylish, full-screen timeline view. By default, a label takes the date of its own creation, which is why my copy of Picasa is littered with "March 2005" labels and the timeline view suggests I've had a really busy month with my camera.

You can tag favorite pictures with a star icon, but there's no saved-search function to automatically bring up those pictures or those that match other criteria.

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