In case you haven’t heard the news, Picasa is going away. In mid-February, Google announced that it would be discontinuing Picasa and focusing its efforts on Google Photos, the online photo management system that syncs photos across your computer, laptop, and mobile devices. Some people are happy about the change, or just don’t care, but there are good reasons to be disappointed that Picasa’s long run is ending.
More and more things are going to the cloud, from photo sharing to eBook reading. Picasa was nice in that it was a desktop app that didn’t require an Internet connection — you could edit your vacation photos on the plane ride home without paying exorbitant fees for in-flight Wi-Fi. Uploading photos from an SD card to your computer took place in a snap. And if you didn’t feel comfortable sharing all of your photos with Google, you didn’t have to.
Now that’s all changed. You need to be online to use the browser app, because everything’s in the cloud, though you can presumably use the mobile apps offline. Photos are uploaded to Google’s servers, which could take a long time if you’ve taken hundreds or thousands of pictures since your last upload (or if you just have a slow Internet connection).
And, if you use the new service, Google has all of your photos in their possession. Which may or may not be an issue, depending on how you feel about your information being out on the Internet.
One word that people have used about Picasa’s photo management capabilities is “intuitive,” which is something that Google Photos is not. Picasa’s sidebar full of folders and albums is easy to navigate and make changes to. The Collections explorer in Google Photos takes some getting used to, and does away with the distinction of folders and albums. Tags were good for keep track of specific types of photos or projects that you were working on, but those are gone, too.
Picasa made it easy to scan through thousands of photos by letting you scale the thumbnails down so you could see a bunch of them at a time. Scanning through large albums on Google Photos is not nearly as easy, as the photos are huge. And Google Photos lacks the ability to click and drag photos into new locations. It’s possible that the new service will get better in this department, but it’s far behind Picasa at the moment.
In addition to Picasa’s easy organizational tools, it also offered a number of photo editing options that you could access right from the photo view; fill light, highlight and shadow adjustments, red eye removal, color temperature adjustment, neutral color picker, and a number of fun effects like film grain, cinemascope, inverted colors, pencil sketch, and polaroid were a click away.
Google Photos instead gives you three editing tools and 14 filters. If you want a very specific look for your photos, you’ll have to look elsewhere for more editing power, because Google Photos just doesn’t give you much. There’s not even a histogram. It’s possible that Google will add more in the future, but Picasa’s dead simple and very fast editing tools set it apart from many of the other photo management software programs out there, and what was arguably its best feature is now gone.
Unlimited Photo Size
Picasa, because it worked with photos stored on your computer’s drive, would let you save and edit photos of any size and in any image format. And Google Photos lets you do the same thing… up to a point. If you upload photos at their original size and resolution, they count against your Google Drive storage. When you sign up for Google Drive, you get 15 GB for free, and that’s used for files stored in Drive, your Gmail account, and your photos. It doesn’t take long to get to 15 GB of photos (though you’re free to pay for more).
Google Photos offers free “unlimited” storage, but only if you allow the service to scale your photos down for you. The Settings panel doesn’t say how much they’re scaled, only that they have “great visual quality at reduced file size.”
Of course, Google is banking on the fact that so many people use their phones as their primary cameras and will be automatically uploading all of their photos directly from the Google Photos mobile app to their servers. If that’s the case, the automatic photo compression might not bother you, but if you use a DSLR or are trying to improve your photography, this could be an issue.
A Hands-Off Approach
Picasa, like most desktop software, just did what you told it to do. It didn’t try to hold your hand (at least not very much; few Google products are totally hands-off). You could use whatever kind of crazy organizational systems and make whatever edits you wanted, because you were just messing around with files on your hard drive. Google Photos changes that.
With its automatic categorization of photos, a heavy reliance on “Auto” editing, and the new Assistant — which makes collages out of your photos and shows them to you — Google is taking a much heavier-handed approach to the management of your photos. Where they’re stored, how they’re organized, and even what they look like is now much more strongly directed by Google. Again, this may change. But it doesn’t seem likely.
Time to Look for a Replacement
Picasa (and Picasa Web Albums) is going away on March 15, and I’d recommend finding a replacement as soon as you can. Google Photos is a decent idea, but it just isn’t a sufficient replacement for the perennial organization and editing favorite that it’s replacing.
Unfortunately, good replacements aren’t easy to come by — Picasa had a hold on the market for a reason. It might finally be time to start using a dedicated photo editing app like Pixelmator or GIMP and another cloud-based service like Flickr, which has a bunch of other cool uses, for organizational and sharing purposes.
Let us know in the comments how you’ll be replacing Picasa; I’d love to hear your recommendations, as I’ll be looking for a Picasa replacement soon myself!