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Manage photos with Google Picasa

Nowadays just about everyone has a digital camera. Whether you take the occasional fun snap with your mobile phone’s camera, or you’re a keen shutterbug with a top-of-the-range SLR which would make the paparazzi jealous, you could do with a good way of managing photos. Over a long period of time you’ll probably find that your photo files begin to build up in a chain of different folders. Whilst this system works, it’s certainly not the easiest to navigate, organise, and alter your images. Interestingly, Google Picasa is useful even if you don’t take photos yourself. It’s likely that you’ve been sent photos by friends and family; and you may be a habitual hoarder of interesting images from the Internet. Picasa isn’t limited to only photos – it will happily manage and edit any of the supported image file types. It’s got plenty of features, but it excels at organisation.

Picasa makes it easy to organise and view photos by browsing the folders or placing them into albums.

Picasa makes it easy to organise and view photos by browsing the folders or placing them into albums.

After installing Picasa and loading it up, it’ll either begin to automagically index your images, or it might prompt you and check what you want to index. Mine just goes scavenging around for any image files which exist on the hard drive. ‘Scavenging’ may be a misleading choice of word, however. It actually finds the files very quickly and shows them in their folders in the tidy sidebar. You can then scroll though these folders to see your images. This saves you navigating through different folders and their often confusing structures. It’ll also detect when any new images arrive and add them to its index. If you move or edit photos, it’ll notice that too and update itself. I was also impressed that it even saves screenshots – pressing the print screen button resulted in Picasa saving the screen capture. This could prove very useful if you need to take a number of shots, since it’ll bypass the usual gruelling process of pasting each shot into a picture editor and saving the file individually.

A feature which I really like is albums. Whilst you could (and probably do) organise your photos into folders which represent different events, places, or times, you may find that you’ve got a number of similar pictures in different folders. A recent example of this for me was the wedding I attended. I had photos from my camera’s memory card; photos from other people’s cameras; some I had downloaded from friends on Facebook; and a few folders containing images I used in the film I made of the day. Being able to save this mish-mash of images into one album made it much easier to find, view, and edit them in future. If you then want to keep a copy of your album or send it to a friend, you can have Picasa export the photos into a folder. It’s also worth noting that creating albums doesn’t affect the location of the photos – moving them into a Picasa album will not remove them from the original folder in which you saved them.

Importing photos was also a simple procedure. After popping a memory card into the slot it was just a matter of clicking the ‘Import’ button and telling Picasa where to look. It then automatically detected any duplicate photos so I wouldn’t end up with multiple copies of the same photos. If this was your intention, you can simply untick the ‘Exclude duplicates’ box, and then enjoy watching Picasa zip along as it copies the files to your PC and makes them nice and easy to access in future.

Editing a photo using Picasa's built-in tools is very simple

Editing a photo using Picasa's built-in tools is very simple

Of course Picasa will never match up to expensive software like Photoshop when it comes to editing your photos, but it works very well when it comes simple fixing and improvement. The red eye removal too was especially impressive; it automatically found the red eyes and turned them back to their usual, less demonic colours. If it can’t detect them alone, it’s a simple case of dragging the crosshairs to where the eyes are located. The other filters consist mainly of colour changes – things like shadows, brightness, and other effects. These fall under three editing tabs which become visible when a photo is double-clicked to view it larger. If you’re feeling even more creative you can create collages of chosen photos, folders, of albums. The collage I created of the wedding album looked very high-quality and would be well worth sending off to a friend or family member to briefly showcase your photographic skills or show them what a grand day they missed out on. Another smashing feature is the ability to create video slideshows of your photos. Music, titles, and captions can all be added to the stream of pictures before exporting the file in a video format that can be viewed in media players and potentially DVD players.

Yet another fantastic feature is the ability to upload your photos quickly and easily to Picasa Web Albums. Not content with providing photo software for you, Google also runs an online service where you can store your photos online to share with others. You just need to choose an album, folder, or image to sync to the web, set a couple of options, and then they’ll be safely stored on the Web. The privacy settings are simple but more than adequate – you can click the ‘settings’ button before syncing to choose who can see your album – everyone, those you give the link to, or allowed users who have a password. Picasa will then keep track of any changes that you make and keep the online photos updated as per your alterations. You an disable the auto-update of the online album if you wish by disabling the sync again. The photos uploaded can also be reordered or deleted by visiting your online albums page.

Having long avoided photo management software, I’m very impressed by Google’s offering, and therefore glad that I downloaded it and gave it a try. It’s got an intuitive interface, fantastic features, and it’s fully free. You can download it from picasa.google.com

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Find your best performing browser with Peacekeeper

All the browsers claim that they’re the fastest and offer the best Internet browsing experience. However, the performance of the browsers will vary depending upon your system. Therefore, you can test which browser gives the best performance on your system using Futuremark Peacekeeper. The site puts the browsers through a rigorous test which pushes them to the limits of their capability to do such things as: render websites fast, handle multimedia, and cope with data.

Results from the browser tests performed on my laptop

Results from the browser tests performed on my laptop

Peacekeeper is rather a joy to watch; whilst it’s taxing your browser by testing its capabilities, you receive a rather dashing show of colour, text, data, and at one point a beautiful video. These are designed to test your browser’s capability to handle the demands of the modern web. Leaving the browser alone whilst the test runs is your best bet, since using other websites whilst the test runs may slow down the test slightly and therefore cause an inaccurate result. Before you run the scan you have the choice of doing it with a system scan, or without. I chose without, since this saves installing a Java plugin. The scan runs fine and is just as accurate without the system scan, since it only serves to provide Futuremark with more data for their overall statistics.

You may be wondering what the point in all this is. Other than a rather pretty display of content, it’s actually very useful in terms of finding out which browser will perform fastest for you. Since the tests conducted by websites and magazines generally only test on their computers, their results may not be as useful to you. However, being able to test multiple browsers on your PC could prove very helpful in choosing which browser you’re going to use on a regular basis.

The test takes about five minutes to complete, and after doing so you’re presented with a screen which shows you on a graph the overall rating of the browser. You can click on the bar to see a breakdown of the scores to see how well the browser did in each area. Below that graph is a list of the top scores on the top processors. This is probably not of much use other than to make you drool over the expensive processors. You can also click the ‘Benchmark another browser’ button which gives you a URL to copy and paste into another browser. This then compares the results of all the browsers you’ve tested on a graph, allowing you to see a comparison of each browser you’ve tested.

I was surprised to see that Firefox was lagging a long way behind Chrome and Safari. However, this may be partly due to the fact that I use it most often and have quite a few addons installed. However, the overall statistics show that Firefox is markedly slower than Safari and Chrome. Whilst the tests tell you about speed and performance, you should also take into account the other features of the browser which the test doesn’t take into account – such as customisation.

You can run the test from http://service.futuremark.com/peacekeeper. Give it a go and see what results you get.

Has Firefox burnt out?

It seems like it’s everyone and their dog’s favourite bit of open-source software. It’s been the choice of both basic users who were pushed to change, right up to professionals who know that it’s better then Internet Explorer. However, with a horde of new browsers released recently, and a lack of updates and new features from Mozilla, is it time we doused the flames of our firey chum?

Version 3.1 might be released by the time I’m using a zimmerframe and moaning about children being on my lawn. But I wouldn’t bet on it. There’s been setback, after setback on this release, and even when it is released, no features which are not currently available in other browsers will be added. With Mozilla’s interface designer, Beltzner, now saying there will need to be fourth beta (fourth!), surely it’s time for all of us to reconsider our choice in browser?

With other browsers offering more features and faster browsing, has Firefox lost is spark?

With other browsers offering more features and faster browsing, has Firefox lost is spark?

Chrome is faster, Safari is faster, Opera 10 is faster. The only thing slower is the elephant desperately masquerading as a browser: IE8. Speed is a key issue for many users – we’re all obsessed with it: if we can’t get there in the blink of an eye, we’re not interested. 3.1 is set to have a massive speed increase, but with current alternative browsers, or at least reliable betas, in the case of Safari, offering a massive speed increase, Firefox certainly can’t cling onto users due to its speed.

Firefox’s betas aren’t approachable to the ordinary user: it’s not linked to or even mentioned on the homepage, and the whole beta testing process at Mozilla appears to be geared towards those with an IQ higher than that of Stephen Hawking: with all the jargon and incessant technical babble, it’s difficult for an ordinary user to find the download, let alone help to improve it.

Speaking of which, Firefox isn’t targeted enough towards consumers. This is epitomized by the lack of a new tab button being present by default. When I get friends or family to switch browser, I always add a new tab button to the toolbar, and/or install an extention which adds one in a sensible location: to the right of open tabs. If users are switching from IE7, they’ll want the same simple tab functionality as they were accustomed to: they simply won’t be interested in fiddling around to add buttons or installing extensions to do something that was so simple in their previous browser. Simply adding a new tab button to the browser by default would make the whole thing more approachable to a typical convert.

Addons have long been a key reason for users sticking with Firefox. However, the average user neither knows about nor is interested in addons. Again, I draw the example from my friends and family: they only know about or use addons if install them for them, and then they just create an extra hassle due to Firefox’s cumbersome addon update methods. Certainly some users love addons, I use a fair few in my Firefox, but they’re on their way to Google Chrome, where I can get both a faster, easier browsing experience, plus addons very soon.

Mozilla hasn’t done anything new or innovative with their browser in a long time: all the new features coming in 3.1 have already been implemented by other browsers. By contrast, the newest contender, Safari 4,  released many new innovative features. I think we could well see Firefox’s browser share dropping soon unless the snail that Mozilla has become recently makes a turnaround. Fast.