Picasa 3: Great Linux photo software

November 28, 2008 2:59 PM EST
I have a confession to make. There's no software on earth I can't make dance and sing ... except for photography programs. Whether it's Adobe Photoshop CS4 on a Mac or GIMP 2.6.3 on Linux, I'm a klutz. So, when I need to make my holiday photos look halfway decent, I try my best with easy to use photo programs like Photoshop Elements 7 or Google Picasa. While I'd like to see more Adobe programs on Linux, with Google's new release of Picasa 3 for Linux now here, I'm in no hurry to see Photoshop Elements on Linux.

Don't get me wrong, Picasa doesn't have all of Elements' features. After all, these days Elements is really just the low-end version of Photoshop rather than a program for casual photographers like yours truly. For me, and for the millions of others who find getting rid of red-eye in photos the biggest challenge they'll ever tackle, Picasa is more than enough program.

I installed the new Picasa, which like all Google programs is a free download and labeled as beta software on two systems. The first is my new main Linux desktop system. This is a Dell Inspiron 530s, powered by a 2.2GHz Intel Pentium E2200 dual-core processor with an 800MHz front side bus, 4GB of RAM, a 500GB SATA drive, and an integrated Intel 3100 GMA (Graphics Media Accelerator) running the Debian-based SimplyMEPIS 8. My other test computer is my openSUSE 11 powered ThinkPad R61 with a 2.2GHz Intel Core 2 Duo processor T7500, 2GBs of RAM, an 80GB hard drive and an integrated Intel 965 GMA.

Underneath the hood, Picasa isn't a native Linux application. It's actually a Windows program running under Wine, an open-source version of the Windows API (application programming interface). No matter, on both computers, the program ran flawlessly. And, better still, it did a flawless job of making my photos presentable.

Picasa includes all the tools you'd expect from an easy-to-use photo editing program. These include cropping, red-eye editing, straighten images, and so on. It also makes all these functions easy to use, including the somewhat fancier ones such as adding tints or turning a color image into black and white or sepia.

It also has features that are somewhat unusual in photo programs. For example, rather than moving your photos to another, self-selected directory it keeps the images in the directory you choose. I can't count the number of times I've had to track down photos from where Adobe has decided to hide them or ended up creating duplicate images. With Picasa, that's not an issue.

Another nice feature, as far as I'm concerned anyway, is that while Picasa saves your edits, it actually doesn't change the original image until you decide to print or export the photo. This way, no matter how ham-handed you are at photo editing, you have ample opportunities to go back and start again until you finally get it right.

Picasa 3 has also added multi-word and geo-tagging. As you'd expect from a Google program, you can use geo-tagging with Google Earth, which is also available on Linux.

The program also gives a great selection of ways to get your photos to friends and family. This includes slideshows, creating a photo collage, creating a gift CD, and uploading the shots of your favorite kids on Christmas morning to your free Google Picasa Web Album.

This really is a great program. Frankly, I would have paid good money for it. Picasa is simply the best, easy-to-use, simple photo editing program around. The fact that this free program runs on Linux is just the cherry on top of the sundae.