Last week Google came out with a new service called Picasa Web Albums. It is the online photo album for Picasa users that has been rumored to be coming out for some time now. It is still in “Test,” which is odd since everything else google puts out there is in “beta,” so there are probably some features that are still coming. Digital Inspiration does a nice job comparing the new service to flickr (and how if falls short) in several key areas. But again, more features could still be on their way.
I got a test account with the new Web Albums and it gives you a new beta version of the Picasa application to download with some nice new features. The about screen shows this as version 2.5. So, while the web albums may be lacking, the new features that they’ve put into Picasa are actually pretty useful.
The first new item that jumps out right away are the new buttons along the bottom, where an appropriately named “web album” button has been added for your to upload your photos to the web. This button prompts you for your web album login/pass and then asks you for an album name, or allows you to put the photos in an existing web album. You’ve also got options to resize the photos for the upload, which is something you’d probably want to do based on the size limits in place for web albums.
Another nice organization feature is in the upper left corner of the program where they’ve added a couple new buttons and categories. First, you can organize your image folders and collections much easier by moving through them, or by clicking the new button to create a new one. There has also been and addition to the top of the album and thubmnail columns. There are now two new categories called Screensaver and Starred Photos. The Screensaver category will add any photos in that category to a screensaver that shows up in the Windows display properties. You can chose what photos you want to rotate through the screensaver. The other new category is the Starred Photos. Starring photos has always been an option in Picasa. You can add a star to the photos that you like the best or want to set apart from the others. In this new version, you can easily view all the photos that you’ve marked with a star in one place instead of digging through hundreds of thumbnails trying to find the ones you’ve marked.
The new Picasa also has a few new menu items added. Under the Tools menu, there are a few new items. The first is an option called “configure buttons” that lets you add, remove and rearrange buttons in the bottom menu. Right now there aren’t any buttons that don’t display by default. I hoping that down the road Google might open up this area for other developers to create buttons that will allow Picasa to be plugged into other applications. Another new menu under tools is the “Geotag” option. It pulls up Google Earth with a little cross-hair letting you find and mark where the photo was taken. Right now it seems to be a bit limited, but I can see this taking off more down the road as Picasa Web Albums become more widespread. Similar to what you used to be able to do with Flickr, you’d be able to see all photos geotagged in the area you’re viewing in Google Earth. The last new item in the Tools menu is the “Experimental” menu, which includes several options. Publish via FTP, should actually be called “Export as html page” since that’s what comes up when you select that option. At least in this version of the software (from what I can find) it doesn’t really do anything via FTP. Show Duplicate Files finds duplicate photos you have in your collection. Search for, brings up a list of colors and finds all the photos that have a large portion of the color selected in them. The last item in experimental is upload to google video, which again does what you’d expect it to do.
I’m sure I missed some of the new features in the special beta version of Picasa, but the ones that I noticed were definite improvements. There are a lot of little things that just seem to work smoother too. I’ve been using Picasa for organizing my photos about a year now (after Adobe Album corrupted its database one too many times) and like the direction things seem to be moving. It’s definitely my photo program of choice and will continue to be.