Crop, Sort and Share
Digital photo album programs can seem like tourist snapshots of the Washington Monument: At first, they all look alike.
Each of these programs can index every photo you've taken and make the usual fixes -- correcting red-eye and cropping pictures to the right size. Then they invite you to post the results to the Web, e-mail them to friends or crank out hard copies from your printer.
These programs, however, aren't commodities. In a market without any entrenched monopoly -- thank Microsoft for including such limited photo-management tools in Windows XP -- their developers have had to work to grab people's attention.
As one result, most of these programs are free. Some come from firms that can easily profit from your photography in other ways-- digital camera manufacturers and photo-sharing Web sites -- but one of the most popular does not.
That one, Google's Picasa, remains the best photo album program for Windows and the closest thing to Apple's Mac-only iPhoto. But a test of four other free photo managers -- Adobe's Photoshop Album Starter Edition, Hewlett-Packard's Photosmart Essential, Kodak's EasyShare and Preclick's Preclick Gold -- shows that Picasa's competitors have worthy ideas of their own and may be a better fit for some users.
These programs set themselves apart by how they gather your photo files. If you've already sorted your pictures into folders, stick to Picasa ( http:/
Picasa also works well for people in the habit of writing captions for their photos, thanks to its fast, comprehensive search function.
Then consider how you'd like to organize your pictures. If you remember your pictures by when you took them, you may prefer the simple timeline and calendar views of Photoshop Album Starter Edition ( http:/
But if you're less chronologically minded and instead recall photos by such criteria as who, where and what, you'll appreciate the way Photosmart ( http:/
All these programs offer tools to fix your photos, but each leaves out one useful ingredient or another.
Each program includes a one-click automatic fix and also lets you rotate and crop photos, fix red-eye effects -- Photosmart had the best interface for this task, but Preclick ( http:/
Picasa provided the broadest set of editing tools, including a useful "straighten" option to level out the horizon in your shots. EasyShare was not far behind, thanks to a palette of visual effects that can make a photo look like a cartoon or coloring book illustration.