Picasa is still tops for privacy

THE great thing about digital photography is that it’s free — once you’ve paid for the camera, that is.

So, instead of deleting unwanted images or choosing your favourites, most people just keep everything they shot with their camera or cellphone. It’s good news for the makers of external hard drives, but bad news when you’re trying to find a particular image.

If you’re looking for that amazing picture you remember taking of your daughter but you can’t remember if it was at her school ballet performance or birthday party (along with pictures of all the other kids), you’ll have to manually scroll through all of them.

Previously, most photograph software imports your picture by “roll”, or lately by event — often requiring you to separately import different functions or events.

But last week I started using what must be one of the cleverest pieces of software I’ve seen yet this year. It’s an update to Apple’s iPhoto picture software that has built-in facial recognition and goes through your image library and identifies people’s faces. A secondary step allows you to confirm or deny if that image is really you or whoever is in that picture.

Gimmicky, I thought, when I first heard about it. Utterly brilliant, I thought, after using it for five minutes. The face recognition, called simply Faces, is compl emented by Places — a way to organise your pictures according to where they were taken (and easily updated after the fact). It plugs into Google Earth, so you get a map of the world and pins on all the places you’ve visited.

Faces, though, is the star of the show, and a great way to intelligently index your pictures by the people in them.

I’m a long-time fan of Google’s Picasa software, a free download, which became my default picture management software when I was still on Windows (it’s two years this month since I switched).

Google finally released a Mac version this year, and I’m pleased it is still as good as it was. One of my favourite features about Picasa — and it stems from it being a post- purchase installation — is that it scans your computer for images and displays them itself. I don’t just download pictures from a camera (for which something like iPhoto or Picasa are both ideal) but I get tons of images e-mailed to me, or I download from various manufacturers’ websites.

Previously, I’ ve had to view them in the folders to which I save them. If I want to e-mail a low- res version, it’s been problematic if I hadn’t imported it into iPhoto (which I generally don’t). Picasa, however, does all that for you. If you want to e-mail them, you can use your computer’s e-mail package or Gmail. I also like Picasa because of it s neat tie-in with its online photo-sharing site. Though iPhoto now does this with Flickr, I much prefer the privacy settings Picasa offers. I often take holiday pictures that I really only want to show my friends, not the whole world.

Picasa always had an easy way to add your pictures to other Google services like Blogger; while iPhoto adds Facebook and Flickr to its upload services (including Apple’s own iWeb, for building your own websites, and MobileMe synchronisation for multiple devices).

Both obviously let you edit and retouch your photos. I have been telling people for years to turn off the red-eye reduction flash on their cameras as you can sort it out with software instead of exposing people to that annoying double flash — iPhoto now does it automatically.

My only problem is that I like them both for different functions, so I’ve ended up using them both. It could be worse, I could have neither.

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Picasa is still tops for privacy