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Google Picasa Web Albums Test Drive
by Ben Stafford -  7/6/2006

Google has decided to join the online photo album fray with an extension to their Picasa image organizing and editing software. It should be no surprise as Google continues their push to be ubiquitous in everyday computing. With a seemingly endless supply of online storage and plethora of other online resources, how do Picasa Web Albums perform?

Getting Started

At the moment, Picasa Web Albums is a "limited test". You can go to picasaweb.google.com to read about Web Albums and to sign up to receive an invitation on a first-come, first-served basis. If you don't already have a Gmail account, you'll need to get one in order to sign up. Once I entered my Gmail address, it took a few days before I actually received an invitation.

The invitation email provides a link to get started. The first step is to download and install the latest version of Picasa. The latest version includes all the "hooks" needed to use the software with Web Albums. Installation is easy and went smoothly. Even if you have a previous version of Picasa, the latest version will install right over the top of it, without the need to remove it first.

If you don't want to use Picasa to upload images, Google has supplied an ActiveX control that you can install so that you can simply use your web browser to upload images and manage albums.


Manage albums without Picasa software (view large image)

Test Drive

If you haven't checked out Picasa, then go ahead and play around with it. If you want more of an overview of the program, you can see the Using Picasa 2 to Organize, Edit, and Share Pictures article that I wrote in March of 2005.

When you're ready to upload to your Web Albums, uou can choose to upload a specific image, a specific folder, or all the images in your "Lightbox" at the bottom of the screen. You can either right click on an image or folder to see the "Upload to Web Albums" selection in the context specific menu, or there is a dedicated button in the Lightbox.

If you haven't logged in to Web Albums yet, you will be prompted to do so. You can tell Picasa to keep you logged in if you want to. A little display in the top right of the Picasa window (under the minimize/maximize/close buttons) will show your login status.

Once logged in, you get the upload dialog that lets you:


Upload dialog (view large image)

Most items are pretty self-explanatory, but I wanted to go over the security settings and the option to upgrade storage. When you upload images, your album can either be listed publicly (where other users can see your album at picasaweb.google.com/username) or they are unlisted. However, Google makes a very good effort to let you know that even though the album is unlisted, it can still be accessed if someone knows the album name.

To begin with, Google provides 250MB of storage space. Not a lot, especially given the huge storage capacity of Gmail accounts, but I assume that Google is looking out for their bandwidth usage. If you want more space, you can cough up $25 per year for an additional 6GB of space.


Upload progress (view large image)

Once you're all set, the images are uploaded to your Web Albums. If you want to view them, you can use the "Web Albums" link in the top right of the Picasa window. Once there, you can also delete albums, delete pictures, create albums, etc.


Album view online (view large image)

If you don't have your Picasa software handy, but want to upload pictures you can use the previously mentioned ActiveX control to upload and resize pictures.

Conclusion

The new (and of course still in "beta") Picasa Web Albums is, to some extent, yet another way to share your images. However, the integration with the Picasa software is very nice and easy to use. And, if you're away from your computer, you can still access your Web Albums account to upload and share your images. There are still plenty of things that Google can improve upon (like a way to delete select images within an album at one time instead of one at a time), but their philosophy is to get the basic functions there and then just keep on adding. If you're already a Picasa user, or even if you aren't, I would recommend trying Picasa Web Albums out (if Google lets you in).