First impressions of Picasa - Google's first rate Graphics suite for Linux

May 26, 2006
Today, Google did something which would gladden the hearts of thousands of GNU/Linux users - well atleast those who are not as rigid in outlook about GPL any way. That is they finally released a version of Picasa for Linux. Picasa is a first rate graphics package rivaling even Adobe Photoshop Elements in ease of use,functionality and above all cost. Any one who has some experience in the graphics industry would be aware that Adobe sells a stripped down version of Photoshop called Photoshop elements for Windows targeted at home users. Picasa is a direct competitor of Adobes product and a worthy one too. Google has provided the installer in three formats which is a deb file for Debian and Ubuntu users, an RPM file for Red Hat users and a BIN file for rest of the Linux distributions. I downloaded the deb file from the Google's Picasa site since I run Ubuntu as my main GNU/Linux distribution. It was a 21 MB download. And the installation went quite smoothly.

Once the installation was over, I was pleasantly surprised to see the picasa link in the Gnome Menu. Clicking on it the first time brings up the licence agreement to which one has to agree. Reading the agreement, one realises that Google allows one to freely use this software only for non-commercial use. That is, one has to get Google's explicit permission to use Picasa in a commercial setup.
Fig: The Picasa icon in the Gnome menu

Once the licence agreement is out of the way, the software offers to scan the machine for images. The scanning is relatively fast with Google's superior search algorithm and shortly I found all the images on my machine indexed and accessible from the Picasa user interface which Google chooses to call the image library.

Fig: Picasa first scans for images on ones machine

One look at the interface will convince anyone why this software has become so popular. The interface is ideally designed to be easily used by even a person new to computers. Picasa is rather heavy in features too. For example, I can select a couple of images and create a collage of the selected images by the mere press of a button. Moving a collection of images from one location to another is also a piece of cake and is easily made possible from the "actions" drop-down button.

Fig: Picasa image library

Google has extended the Gmail's tagging feature using a star or a label to Picasa. This in my opinion is a time saver. In Picasa, one can tag important images with a star which helps one to keep track of the images. And a label could be applied to a collection of similar images.

But I felt the real power of Picasa when I selected an image in the image library and pressed the enter key on my keyboard. I found myself face to face with the image editor interface where I could do basic fixes of the selected image like crop the image to the size of standard photo prints, rotate and zoom the image, change the contrast, do further tuning like change brightness and apply different tints to the image. But the best thing I like about this software is that one can remove red-eye from a photograph with the click of a button which I believe would be the most used feature by any home user - considering that many photos shot by amateurs suffer from this most common defect.

Fig: Create a collage of images with ease

This software is quite intelligent and can find out if a photograph has red color or not and if it doesn't find any red in the selected photo, the red-eye correction button is automatically disabled.

Other tasks one can accomplish are publish the picture to ones Blogger.com blog by pressing the "Blog This" button, order prints of the photos online, email the picture to someone or take a local printout of it.

One also has the option of viewing all the images in the screensaver mode or timeline mode either of which are quite useful. But if that is not enough Picasa allows one to select a group of images and create a movie in AVI format by navigating to 'Create -> Movie' . One feature I really liked was the "export as a webpage" feature. When I selected a group of pictures and pressing Ctrl+W, Picasa seamlessly created thumbnails of the pictures and displayed it in a webpage in the default web browser. And by clicking on the thumbnail, I was able to view the picture in its original size.

Fig: Images exported to a webpage from picasa

Of course, a curious user will find that the Linux version of Picasa is actually the same windows version being run on top of GPLed Wine software. But Google has done a remarkable job in cleverly shielding this from the average user. And in all respects a user will feel that he is using a Linux native application.

Salient Features of Picasa
  • Speedy indexing of images
  • A good collection of image manipulation tools including the popular red-eye correction button.
  • Create an AVI movie of a collection of images.
  • Publish the images to ones personal blog at blogger.com.
  • View images as a slideshow or a timeline.
  • Import pictures from ones digital camera, scanner or even a mobile phone.
  • Order photo prints from your favourite online provider.
  • Keep track of the images by applying a star or a label - similar to what one finds in Gmail.
  • Batch edit a group of pictures.
  • Display files of type JPEG, PNG, GIF, BMP, Photoshop format and RAW image formats.
  • View movies in AVI, WMV, MPG, ASF and Quick time.
  • Email the images right from inside Picasa.
  • Export the images as a webpage.
Google having released this superior piece of graphics suite as a freeware, I will be amazed if it doesn't give Adobe some sleepless nights pondering about the future of their Photoshop elements software.

17 comments:

  • This sounds like a true competitor for Photoshop Elements indeed, however, when trying the link for the linux version, a 404 appears.

    I think google decided to pull the linux version. Why I don't know. http://picasa.google.com certainly exists, but it specifically states that M$ Windows is a requirement, and there is no mention at all of a linux version.

    Too bad. Perhaps if you have the .deb you could post it somewhere for us debian based distro users to try.

  • After a bit of searching, I found a link that works:

    http://blogs.zdnet.com/Google/index.php?p=205

    points directly to all three versions.

  • Wow This is cool. Now there is one more reason for persuading others to try out Linux :)
    --
    Skinner

  • Photoshop Elements = $$ + convinence

    Google Picasa = Free + convinence

    Choose your pick. If you are a hard core GNU foot soldier, then you might as well stick to a combination of GIMP and Fprot.

  • Picasa does not function 100% as it does in windows. There are some features that aren't working, such as Picasa not being able to find or play movies. You should check the FAQ for Picasa, which should have been checked before the review was written.

    Overall, I definitely love the fact that Google finally released this. So far, it's better than other alternatives!

  • uhh... photoshope elements can edit picures... picasa only operates on the whole image or a single cropped region.

    picasa on the other hand has a killer database and organization of all your pictures, and fully non-destructive edits.

    apples and oranges, i'm afraid.

  • I have been using photoshop elements for quite some time now. And I can say with certainty that for what ever I use photoshop elements, I can do it with ease in Picasa. Anyway I have not used photoshop elements for anything other than cropping images to the standard 8x10 size fit for ordering prints or remove red eye from photos or rotate an image to straighten it.

    Also picasa has additional things like posting to a blog and buying prints of your photos online. I would go with the author when he says that it is a worthy competitior of elements.

  • Thanks to this review, I was motivated to download and run picasa on my machine. I used the BIN file by the way and it has all that I would want as a home user. An excellent non-cluttered interface, good indexing speed and Oh Boy! remove red eye with the click of a button.

    I wonder why google took so long to release it on Linux.

    The Picasa download location is accessible only in USA. So I had to download from a different location.
    BIN file, RPM file and DEB file.

    Enjoy!!!

    __
    Stiks

  • prefiero F-Spot. Better!

  • Mike Arthur

    This "port" doesn't have full supports, and runs from WINE, so references things like My Documents and C:, which make no sense on Linux. Also, the fonts won't be rendered properly, and other integrated features you take for granted won't work.

    How hard would it be for a company, whose livelihood depends on Linux, to actually produce working Linux ports of their applications?

  • Sony PS3 will arise with Linux integrated. I guess Google is reading Linux ports not because of sympathy but because PS3 is going to be the de facto new PC and they want to be the first to be there. Also Nokia is reading some spectacular and fancy Linux based widgets (770 is already a reality and more are comming soon.)
    Bye, bye Microsoft, it wasn't a pleasure to meet you.

  • Michel

    If you have a Google account, you can find Picasa for Linux in the "Lab" section

  • I doubt that Adobe would be worried.

    Picasa is more like iPhoto on the Mac than Photoshop Elements. Elements is a cut-down version of photoshop, which is a image editing application. It's image organising capabilities and desktop tools integration are rudimentary when compared to Picasa or iPhoto. They are not in the same market segment.

    I you are using Elements to only crop and fix redeye, you will love the extra Picasa gives you. But if you use Elements in any serious way, you would probably keep both of them.

    On linux, it seems to work seamlessly. There are other apps doing similar things, the most notable being Larry Ewing's project f-spot, which is quite good, but still in active development.

    Michael

  • Does it run under 64bit Linux ?

  • Carsten

    It's not bad that it isn't OSS, but it's not so good that it's WINE.

    Are the menus integrated into the desktop (e.g. HIG compliant)? Are the fonts (menu, dialog boxes) looking alike? Are the dialogs looking alike? How does the file dialog look? Is d'n'd to and from the desktop working? Is d'n'd to other applications working (e.g. Gimp)?

    As I know how WINE runs other application I suppose the answers are no or at least not completely, stable and performant. Using WINE is nice if there isn't any alternative available (like controlling rendering in IE if you develop web pages), but not if there is (if you're a KDE user there's digikam and for Gnome fans f-spot).

  • As for the "GPL way" comment:

    As far as the user is concerned, the GPL is simply one of many open source licenses. The issue is open source vs. no open source. The importance here is the difference in opinion over what constitutes a trojan or an invasion of privacy or of competitive secrecy as opined by the consumer vs as opined by the software creator.

    As an example of this difference of opinion, google may find it beneficial to the consumer for the software to upload a copy of all files with the words "private," with email addresses, or with dollar figures from the users computer over to one of its servers in google land. The information would be encrypted in a database so that only google could access it. Google could index it for you, and so that you don't have to bother or worry, could negotiate access to limited quantities of that information so that other companies could service you better.

    But I don't like to be serviced all that much anyway, so I prefer open source software.

    As far as the developer is concerned, GPL is simply one of the more popular licenses because it is one of those that does a fair amount to ensure that the company receiving the code and help does not gain too much of an unfair advantage over those helping out. The GPL is simply a decent motivator for the developers to help out with their time and expertise.

    Mocking the "GPL" conveniently downplays that fact that so many find so much use in much open source and GPL software. Software that would not exist under very different licensing conditions.

  • Picasa dosen't have all the Windows functions, but it does almost everything, and it does it well, at least on Kubuntu Linux, it just feel like a native application.